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Growing Pains

Bands' Websites come in many configurations: from lifeless layers of static pages hyping outdated tour schedules and lame photos to tantalizing, up-to-date, Java-enhanced affairs with eye-popping graphics, video clips, and megabytes of press clippings. The occasional site even connects to its own chat room, where die-hard fans can debate the finer points of said group's music, instrumental prowess, social relevance, and on and on.

As in most other chat rooms, however, the banter sooner or later turns to sex. "He's a perv," proclaims one recent posting at blink182.com, in reference to Blink-182 bassist and lead vocalist Mark Hoppus. "He's so horny," reads another, as fans with pseudonyms such as lilwild1 and LagWagon reminisced about their encounters with the San Diego-based pop-punk band.

Determining whether lilwild1 or LagWagon's rendezvous were real or imagined would require the sleuthing of a tenacious independent counsel. And beyond that, convicting Hoppus as charged might prove even tougher, but perhaps some clues can be gathered from his band's lyrics (which he writes with guitarist Tom Delonge). On Dude Ranch, the 1997 release that has scored much MTV and radio airtime with the songs "Dammit" and "Josie," the majority of the cuts worry themselves sick over failed or fantasized relationships. Two either hint at or mention masturbation, and one, appropriately titled "Voyeur," tells of a "lonely guy" peering in a girl's window. "I can't be too cool in a tree with my pants down," the protagonist remarks, hoping the girl's big brother or father doesn't come outside to beat the shit out of him.

But Hoppus and bandmates -- Delonge and new drummer Travis Barker -- are far from dangerous sex offenders. They're more like bored teenagers, even though they're in their early- to midtwenties. "We're really, really immature people," Hoppus admits during a phone interview from New York City, between shows on an East Coast club tour. "That's what makes it fun. That's the kind of stuff we write about. I think we'll always have the high school mentality."

Mark Hoppus (bass, vocals) and Tom Delonge (guitar, vocals) met four years ago at an annual Future Proctologists of America camping trip. Gathered around the campfire, these two disturbed kids recognized in one another the same love for songs involving girls, friends, life, and chronic diarrhea. On that night a legend was born.

After a short-lived turn as El Cuatro and the Cajones, a mariachi band available for weddings, birthdays, and ritual circumcisions, the boys put aside their sombreros and plugged in their amps, hoping to spread their goodwill, positive attitude, and fondness for toilet humor throughout the world.

So reads the Blink-182 biography, kindly provided by a publicist at MCA Records in New York (the band is actually signed to San Diego's Cargo Records, a small subsidiary of the label). Hoppus claims to have written the bio. He says the profile is typical of the band's humor.

"That's absolutely how we are. It seems like most band's bios are basically brag sheets: 'We've played here, we've toured with these people.' We just wanted to make it funny. But what's really funny is that a lot of people will read the bio and think it's true. They start asking us about mariachi bands, medical school, and all kinds of stuff. We're like, 'Come on. Obviously it's a joke.'"

What's not a joke is Blink-182's musical aggression. In 45 minutes, over the course of fifteen tracks on Dude Ranch (the band's second full-length effort for Cargo/MCA), the trio does its very best to obliterate the senses. Subtlety and temperance are not in the group's repertoire; dynamics make only a fleeting appearance. All fifteen songs seethe with raging impatience and expressions of youthful energy. But despite the incessantly punkish, double-time kit-bashing of original drummer Scott Raynor (replaced by Barker three months ago after a "mutual parting of the ways," according to Hoppus, who refused further elaboration), melody still flashes its well-baited hooks.

"Dammit" is full of smart tunefulness, especially when Hoppus bursts into the lines that underscore the song's chorus: "And it's happened once again/I'll turn to a friend/Someone that understands/Sees through the master plan/But everybody's gone/And I've been here for too long/To face this on my own/Well, I guess this is growing up."

The album's second single, "Josie," follows the same pattern, with a brutally crunchy rhythm tempered by Hoppus's melodious vocal lines. Lyrically the song is somewhat out of place -- it's Dude Ranch's lone happy tale about a good relationship, with a girl who "doesn't get all jealous when I hang out with the guys" and "takes me home when I'm too drunk to drive." But in keeping with the self-deprecating philosophy that pervades the band's music, Hoppus is quick to add, "And it doesn't seem to matter that I'm lacking in the bulge." Like any sex-obsessed juvenile, the singer's acknowledgment of his genitals is never more than a minute away.

Hoppus has had plenty of time to ponder such important issues the past couple of years. Blink-182 first began to gain notoriety by appearing in various skate, surf, and snowboard videos (more recently the band's music has surfaced on the soundtracks to the movies God Money and Can't Hardly Wait). Since Blink-182 broke out of the San Diego club circuit with its 1995 major label debut, Cheshire Cat, they've left the road only rarely. They take skateboards on tour with them, do a little surfing when they can, and hit the slopes as often as possible. Excursions such as the February '98 Snowcore tour, as well as other treks sponsored by various snowboarding-equipment manufacturers, have taken them to hot boarding destinations such as Jackson Hole, Wyoming, north to Alaska, and throughout the Utah Rockies. Hoppus believes that exposing Blink-182 to the extreme-sports crowd was essential to getting his band's career off the ground: "It seems like the music and the sports really go together. It's all intertwined. So coming out of that scene, being part of it, has introduced us to a lot of those people."

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