Since the quarantine started, I’ve been waking up every morning to an alarm in my head of Tom DeLonge repeating Ev. Ree. Thing. Has. Fall’n. To. Pie-ces. Ev. Ree. Thing. Has. Fall’n. To. Pie-ces. I haven’t listened to Blink-182 in years, but each day the latest news makes “Anthem Part Two” seem more and more prescient. All 2020 plans are cancelled and the future of pretty much everything is uncertain; the dread of being unable to control what’s happening around me is back with a vengeance. And it still looks and sounds like being a teenager, grounded in my room with nothing but cartoons and pop-punk to keep me company.
In 2001, I related so intensely to every song on Take Off Your Pants and Jacket that it was as if they’d made an entire album for me and no one else: just sixteen-year-old Dylan, the lanky suburban high schooler who desperately wanted a girlfriend but was too scared to talk to anyone in class, the kid who was indisputably dumb but also in the middle of learning a lot about himself. What I didn’t consider then was that they might have also been targeting an older me, one nostalgic for sixteen-year-old me. (I didn’t get the joke in the album’s title until roughly a decade after the album came out; when it clicked, out of nowhere, I said, “Ohh,” out loud to no one in particular, and smirked.)
Tom was twenty-six in 2001; Mark was twenty-nine. Take Off Your Pants didn’t deal with the band’s present; rather, it looked back to a traumatic time in their lives, on which they could only now ruminate properly. No one in the thick emotional fog of high school can write songs with the narrative lucidity of “First Date” or “Anthem Part Two,” but that doesn’t mean the perspective necessary to do so doesn’t exist—it’s there, just dormant. Salinger didn’t write Holden Caulfield, the archetypal modern teenager, until he was twenty-six.
A funny thing happens when you hit your late twenties, and not unlike the myopic solipsism of adolescence it’s impossible to realize it’s happening while you’re trudging through the muck of it. There’s that dreadful feeling of embarrassment for ever having been a teenager, for ever having liked Blink-182 now that you’re a discerning college music fan with broadened horizons of aesthetic sensibility and a couple of Captain Beefheart and Philip Glass records under your belt. Suddenly philistinism has become the greatest sin. You’ve entered the joyless stage of pretentiousness, which demands the pruning of all that was mindlessly fun before it can give way to mindful self-purification.
This stage is tragically common. It’s how it went for me, though I see now that it didn’t have to. Instead of going down the self-purification route, Mark and Tom chose the much riskier and more vulnerable path of self-exploration. They made an adult cartoon of their coming-of-age years, one that didn’t pander to sixteen-year-olds but somehow reassured them they weren’t alone in their feelings of isolation. And today, in isolation once again, I feel more grateful than ever that they made it.
Take Off Your Pants connects with immature teenagers not because Mark and Tom were immature adults, but because at one point they too were immature teenagers. The seriousness in their art comes from confronting the possibility that immaturity is okay, nothing to be ashamed of. Adolescence is as serious a time as any other stage in life, as essential to development as infancy; in engaging with the truth of it, of the period which unavoidably precedes maturity, these guys were doing the work that only mature adults can do. Honestly, it took a lot of balls.
— Dylan James Peterson
Berlin, day 47