In 1999 I was fifteen. On the day in question my best friend was due home from a year in the US. Sitting in the now defunct Ansett terminal of Adelaide Airport I wore a two-toned brown polo shirt, a pair of khakis and grey Airwalks (Vans rip offs). My hair was gelled to within an inch of its life and I tapped my feet to an imaginary drum beat.
We’d written to each other a few times while he was gone, but in those days, without social media and fees of 20c per text message, there wasn’t much else you could do to communicate.
“Does anyone have any gum?” he kept saying in possibly the worst Arizona accent I’d ever heard. But I could tell in the way he said it, this was ostensibly the same guy who’d left a year earlier.
We picked up pretty much where we left off. He got a job at the Hoyts movie complex in our local shopping centre, complete with two free tickets a week. So that Summer we spent an unnatural amount of time in the cinema and loitering around that mall. We both started our own movie review websites, built entirely from scratch with primitive HTML.
One day while playing TOCA Touring Car Championship, he pulled out a CD that he’d got in the states. It was the new Blink 182 album – Enema of the State. The image of a half naked nurse on the front cover was more than enough to get me interested at 15.
He played it through the PC speakers and over the next 35 minutes and 17 I had my first genuine life changing experience.
Some important context at this point. As a primary school kid I had been a Top 40 disciple. I’d sit in my room every night with my cheap TEAC mini hi-fi and manually record to cassette every song from the SAFM countdown that I wanted to hear again. In the final year of primary school, one of my classmates would bring his older brother’s CDs in and we’d spin them while playing dodgeball in the hall on Friday afternoons. This is how I met Nirvana, Pearl Jam, The Offspring and Green Day.
As I hit high school, having been exposed to this whole new world of music, I seamlessly made the transition from what was known back then as a ‘teeny bopper’ into a moody sack of alt rock angst.
Girls wouldn’t talk to me, and when they did they’d just get my hopes up and then dump me. Sometimes multiple times in a row. As if obliterating my heart once wasn’t satisfying enough. Bullies made my life fucking miserable for large parts of the tenth grade and so by the time my best friend came back from stateside, I’d been screaming Live, Metallica and even Marilyn Manson tracks into the remote of my hifi every night for months. It was all I could find that alleviated the despair I felt. I was clearly headed for the life of a bitter anti-social metal head.
But on that fateful day in my friend’s study, the course of my life was completely altered by this one album. Enema of the State. I must have read the liner notes about 10 times over that afternoon. And by the time we’d played it through three full times, I was addicted in the best way.
“What is this?” I remember asking my mate about half way through the first playing. “It’s Blink 182 idiot,” he retorted. Of course, I had heard of Blink 182. After all Dammit had been a reasonably big deal in Australia. “I know who it is smart-ass, what genre is it?” I said. “Oh, they’re calling it Pop-Punk.”
Like so many angst-filled teenagers, I felt like they were singing directly to me. At that point in my life what I didn’t realise was that Punk had being doing that for young people for decades. In what I can only imagine was a very common revelation amongst Punk fans over the years, I felt as though they had been somehow observing my life for the past year and decided to make an album about it.
Refrains like, “I said don’t let your future be destroyed by my past, she said don’t let my door hit your ass,” and “Mom and Dad possess the key, instant slavery,” reached directly into the most severe of my teenage heart’s open wounds and salved them in a way no other music had ever done. They said, ‘it’s not just you pal,’ and ‘we know life can feel like a piece of shit, but we understand and we’re on your side’.
Yet, whilst the lyrics resonated deeply within me, it was the unique combination of those sentiments with that sound that clinched it for me. It was completely unlike anything I had ever heard before. Later, I’d realise that’s because it was mostly unlike anything anyone had ever heard before. Plenty will disagree with this statement, but with Enema of the State, Blink 182 gave birth to a brand new genre.
“What is this?” I remember asking my mate about half way through our first playing. “It’s Blink 182 idiot,” he retorted. Of course, I had heard of Blink 182. After all Dammit had been a reasonably big deal in Australia. “I know who it is smart-ass, what genre is it?” I said. “Oh, they’re calling it Pop-Punk.”
Fast drums, loud guitars. Not a new concept. But this wasn’t just fast drums and loud guitars. It was a level of musical ability that Punk music had never seen before. Despite what the die-hards will argue, there had never been a drummer even half as talented as Travis Barker in a punk band before Enema of the State. In fact, that level of tight clean percussion had been largely frowned upon by Punks prior to that. They saw over-produced music as a tool of the capitalist music industry machine and sought to rail against it. And there’s no disputing the production value on Enema was several levels above anything ever heard on punk music before. It had all the hallmarks of punk. It was fast, loud and belligerent. But it sounded really really fucking sharp, and that was new.
Most of all it delivered me something I didn’t even know I was looking for. It gave me lyrics that I could cleanse my woes with, but it put them to music that gave me hope. Whilst the minor chord dirges of the heavy bands I’d been listening to had been cathartic to a point, they had actually begun to make me depressed.
Had I never heard Enema, I may never have realised this. I dread to think what that may have meant.
So this new genre, this revitalised band and this ground breaking album literally picked me up and slapped me back to life. In one summer I went from being a moody fuckwit fifteen year old who must have been an absolute nightmare to live with – my poor mother – to a bright, switched-on, engaged sixteen year old. I went from being mad at the world to being mad at the man. It gave me a sense of direction and purpose. It taught me that the best way to be free was to retain a healthy sense of cynicism about power structures, but to also always be informed. Instead of screaming about hurting people in minor chords, I chose music that took the piss out of the cool kids with the same three major chords.
It made me better, and I’ll always have Mark, Tom and Travis to thank for it.