June 23, 2016


Tom DeLonge Is Fine: In Defense Of The Blink-182 Icon

Rebecca Sapp/WireImage
Rebecca Sapp/WireImage

Blink-182 is aging dangerously. You could write a book about the ongoing drama between the band's remaining members—bassist Mark Hoppus and drummer Travis Barker—and founding guitarist Tom DeLonge, but the quick synopsis is: On January 26, 2015, news broke that DeLonge had left the band. Hours later Tom revealed that he had no idea what was going on and that he was still a member of Blink-182. It's been back and forth ever since. Travis said Tom had quit three times before the official announcement; the band replaced him with Alkaline Trio's Matt Skiba. Even in the midst of chaos, there are respites... followed by inevitable tension (at press time, the guys are good, or at least acknowledging each other. Tom and Travis have even shared a friendly exchange on Twitter).

At the heart of all these arguments—and it is a heart, you don't fight like this unless there's love underneath the vitriol—is a sub-conversation about why it's all happening. Travis has indirectly hinted at artistic differences, claiming that DeLonge wanted the band to sound like Coldplay. Tom has said that he craves new challenges. There's probably truth to both of these conclusions. Here's what we do know: 

1.) Friction between DeLonge and Hoppus goes back to at least 2004, the year prior to DeLonge's mostly-private battle with pill addiction

2.) Tom sees Blink's past as, well, in the past. In a recent Rolling Stone feature, it's revealed that his only relic from those quote-unquote "glory days" is a framed illustration of the band in a 2003 episode of The Simpsons.

3.) DeLonge has not been sitting around doing nothing. He is busy. And he's still viewed as the villain in all of this, a crazy man with crazy obsessions. That reaction is probably birthed from disappointed fans craving the OG Blink lineup, but it's an unfair reading nonetheless.

In the five years since Blink-182's last album, the critically panned Neighborhoods, DeLonge has published a children's book, The Lonely Astronaut on Christmas Eve. He's written and produced an award-winning animated short film, Poet Anderson: The Dream Walker (not to mention, the three comic books tied to it) and launched Strange Times, a website devoted to extraterrestrial life, paranormal activity, cryptozoology, and conspiracy theories. He's currently working on a live-action film with Teen Wolf star Tyler Posey. When we spoke to Tom last fall, he was getting ready to release a upcoming sci-fi novel Poet Anderson: The Dream Walker (tied to the film, out now, the first in a trilogy). 

This spring he released another book, Sekret Machines Book 1: Chasing Shadows. All of this can be found under the company he launched to support it, To The Stars. All of it can be found under a central interest in space.

The immensely exhaustive series of projects hasn't been part of the mainstream consciousness of who Tom DeLonge is in 2016, and how could it? That's a lot of stuff, and none of it is a catchy new single. The issue is how DeLonge's activity has been interpreted and misinterpreted, and how quotes have been taken from the man himself and presented like tracings of psychosis.

The immensely exhaustive series of projects hasn't been written into the mainstream consciousness of who Tom DeLonge is in 2016. The issue is how it's been interpreted.

In a recent interview with Mic, DeLonge was asked what he's always asked—where his fascination with space and extraterrestrial life began. He answered:

"We don't really call it 'aliens.' In pop culture, that's a term people throw out there, and rightfully so because the government spends a lot of time and a lot of money throwing that term out there. But it's much more complex than that. I first got into it in junior high. I don't know why. I just had some free time on my hands and I found myself at the school library looking for books on the subject matter. [In] the beginnings of my career with [Blink-182], you have a lot of free time in the van, traveling across the country for 12 months, so I found myself getting a lot of really interesting books that challenged the way I thought about stuff."

The conversation shifted towards Blink-182 directly, with the journalist mentioning that DeLonge put the band on hold to focus on the book Sekret Machines. He replied:

"Well it's not so much about Blink. It's about what I'm doing with my life now. When you're an individual like me, dealing with something that's a national security issue, and you're being gifted with the opportunity to communicate something you've been passionate about your whole life — something that has the opportunity to change the world over time — being a small part of that is enormously important for my life path. 

But I can't do everything. I can't tour nine months out of the year with enough time to do the enormity of what I'm setting out to do."

This is where is gets tricky.

The story was immediately picked up as "Tom DeLonge Leaves Blink-182 To Study Aliens." The fact that whatever he's exploring that he himself referred to as a "national security issue" has lead people to question his sanity, in addition to mocking his interests. It has left Tom in a cycle of reactionary quotes, informing all of us that UFOs are not the reason he's no longer an active member of Blink-182, and that he is simply interested in following this particular passion right now.

After all, it's not a very popular time to be Tom: People look at Blink-182 and want the band as it's existed for two decades. They fail to realize the human aspect of being in a band, that it is totally fair that DeLonge is pressing pause on the music that made his career to pursue other interests. People forget that he's not just one of the numbers 1, 8, or 2.

What's perhaps most mind-blowing about the entire situation is that DeLonge has been talking about UFOs and such for decades, and has done so eloquently. In the video above, a young Tom is seen discussing his involvement with government officials, dedicated to outing the secrecy of UFOs. It's from over a decade ago (judging by his appearance, we'd place it around 2001, Take Off Your Pants & Jacket-era Blink.)

In 2000, a year after "All The Small Things," in Blink-182's now-infamous half-naked Rolling Stone cover story (penned by Gavin Edwards, who would go on to co-author Travis Barker's memoirCan I Say: Living Large, Cheating Death, and Drums, Drums, Drums,) DeLonge brings up an interest in UFOs. It occurs near the end in a conversation about Tom's first Valentine's Day with his wife, Jen. 

A young DeLonge tells the publication, "There were aliens on TV, but my chick was right there, almost nude, you know? I couldn't decide what to do! If you can get me to not pay attention to the UFO show on TV, you've got me for life." Even then, it was complete obsession. The story also includes a parenthetical where Edwards writes, "He's 100 percent convinced that the U.S. government has concealed information about the existence of aliens."

Blink-182 without Tom DeLonge feels like it's missing a crucial energy. DeLonge founded the band, once called Big Oily Men, in Poway, a suburb of San Diego in 1992. It was the dynamic duo of Tom and Mark that made the band and their beloved extramusical elements (a dick joke here, a nude move there). Hell, it's Tom's nasally mispronunciation of "voice inside my yeeeead" in the song "I Miss You" that made their self-titled record meme-worthy before we had the word. Blink truly belongs to the three of them. By creating a mockery of the dude for something he's been upfront and vocal about since day one feels like an attack... and has the potential to write him out of his own history.

Furthermore, by focusing his energy on something not "believed" by a large population of people (re: alien existence,) DeLonge has been branded with the "crazy" tag. That reaction and proliferation of condescension actually serves to marginalize those with real mental difference. Dissing him means dissing other people, too. It's a symptom of a larger conversation.

The most recent tidbit of Blink news comes straight from the mouth of Mark Hoppus, courtesy of Spotify's mini-documentary on the band, as it exists now. In it, Hoppus says, "Legacy is a subject that's come up a lot in the past few years. It was crazy important to us that we keep creating new music. We didn't ever, and don't ever, want to become like a greatest hits band." 

That desire to move forward, evolve, and to borrow a phrase from Tom, to be challenged, is still intrinsic in all the guys. While we don't know what the future of Blink will look like, it feels like Tom's story is still being written. Perhaps the guys will record together again later down the line. For now, let the dude study some goddamn UFOs.