Certain rock songs develop their classic status in part because they are built upon riffs so genius in their dumbfounding simplicity that every teenage guitarist in America is inspired to hack away at them. Nirvana’s “Come As You Are” is the gold standard in this category, or at least it was in the ’90s when I was encountering pubescent guitar-slingers on the reg (and was living that life myself). The descending power chords of Green Day’s “Brain Stew” were another fave amongst those who played Squier Strats through cruddy practice amps. Today we are celebrating a song that gave us yet another iconic amateur guitar staple: Blink-182’s “Dammit,” which was released as a single 20 years ago this Saturday.
If you’re reading an appreciation of a Blink-182 song, you probably don’t care about whether the version of pop-punk presented on “Dammit” is Truly Authentically Punk — and clearly neither do I, and thank God — but its central guitar riff definitely taps into punk’s anyone-can-do-it ethos. Let me put it in a language six-string strivers of all ages will understand:
(Feel free to play the last couple notes on the A string instead if the spirit moves you — adjusting each note up five frets, of course.)
Although it isn’t as easy to play as, say, Blur’s “Song 2,” most middle-school hacks can easily bang it out after a few minutes of practice. Many of them could write something similar. Chances are it wouldn’t be quite so stupidly infectious, nor would it probably arrive attached to a song so bracingly alive. Anyone can string together some notes in C major; it’s a testament to the writing prowess of Mark Hoppus, Tom DeLonge, and not-Travis-Barker that they flipped that rudimentary guitar figure into one of the greatest pop-punk songs of all time.
In one sense that riff is the engine driving “Dammit” along, popping up now and again to lift Blink’s basic bash-and-pop to levels of transcendence they’d never previously attained. In another sense, it’s just a Trojan horse to get us inside the song, where Hoppus proceeds to unravel a made-up narrative any teenager or former teenager could identify with. His words are nearly as simple as the music, but they’re specific and relatable enough that they evoke adolescent frustration with a surprising freshness and intensity even two decades later. Hoppus uses evocative scenes (running into your ex at a movie theater on the arm of their new significant other) and smart little one-liners (“Did you hear he fucked her?”) to depict the messy and drawn-out aftermath of a messy and drawn-out romance. It concludes with a lyric that cast the song as not just a vignette but a generational anthem: “Well I guess this is growing up.”
Blink-182’s foremost legacy will probably always be the juvenilia described in “What’s My Age Again.” People know them as the band that named an album Take Off Your Pants And Jacket and turned the lyrics “I wanna see some naked dudes/ That’s why I built this pool!” into the entirety of a 14-second song. There were a lot of those hijinks on Dude Ranch, the album that yielded this song and set Blink-182 on the path to the TRL-era ubiquity they’d achieve with 1999’s Enema Of The State. If you want to blame Blink-182 for ruining punk or whatever, this is the song that started it all, the moment they figured out how to transcend their roots as suburban San Diego punk jackoffs and channel all that arrested-development angst into solid gold pop music.
“Dammit” was juvenile too in its own way, but its particular form of immaturity reminds me what a great storyteller Hoppus could be. The song is like a coming-of-age movie in miniature — fitting since a lot of people discovered this song through the soundtrack for the teen drama Can’t Hardly Wait. I haven’t watched it in years, but based on this trailer I’m guessing “Dammit” probably holds up a lot better than the movie does. Maybe it’s just because I was 14 and nursing assorted unrequited crushes when the song made its way to MTV, but returning to it now, all the sensations associated with high-school drama come rushing back with visceral force. It’s not a feeling I like to return to often, but three nostalgic and ultra-catchy minutes at a time, it never ceases to be a blast.