High school sucks.
How did we ever survive it? Why do we subject our children to it? High school should be about finding yourself, but instead it’s a four-year cage match against a grizzly bear. Not only do you have to worry about what your peers think of you, but you also have to worry about what colleges are going to think of you. So you join a shit ton of extracurricular activities, take the SATs a bunch of times, and hope the colleges you applied to like your meaningless test scores enough to grant you the opportunity to pay them hideous amounts of money to attend. On top of all this, your body is changing, your hormones are exploding, you need to find a prom date and you’re constantly trying not to be a complete fuck-up. Once you actually get to college, you’re at the bottom of the food chain again. It’s an endless cycle of worrying about a distant tomorrow.
High school was never the way the movies told us it would be. We’re not all beautiful actors in our mid-20s, we’re just acne-riddled dorks. (I might just be speaking for myself.) Movies about life in high school rarely touch upon the real struggles teenagers face. Instead, they tend to amplify the silliness of coming of age. For those of us who grew up in the ’90s, it’s hard not to think about high school without thinking of movies like Can’t Hardly Wait, 10 Things I Hate About You, and especially American Pie, the unexpected smash hit which turns 20 this July. American Pie graphically depicted the awkward and downright absurd life of being a horny teenager in the late ’90s, poking fun at the existential crisis of being a high schooler and embracing the ridiculousness of it all. As the centerpiece to what has since been dubbed as “The Summer of Raunch,” American Pie will forever be remembered as the movie that introduced us to “this one time at band camp,” Stifer’s mom, and the haunting image of Jason Biggs trying to have sex with an apple pie.
In one of the most memorable scenes from the movie, Jim performs a strip tease for Nadia, the foreign exchange student he’s pursuing and who he was recording on his webcam two minutes earlier (maybe some aspects of the film haven’t exactly aged well). With the webcam still rolling, Jim accidentally livestreamed it for the whole internet to see, including an unnamed high school band who stopped mid-practice to check out the nerd from trigonometry class getting his groove on. The band, of course, was Blink-182, making their first major appearance with new drummer Travis Barker. It’s a fitting cameo, because of course they’re in a raunchy movie about horny high school teenagers trying to make the most out of their salad days. They made a whole album about it.
High from the success of their 1997 breakthrough hit “Dammit,” Blink-182 found themselves with a game-changing new drummer in Barker and a big ol’ recording budget from MCA. Bassist Mark Hoppus and guitarist Tom DeLonge set out to make a big, loud, catchy pop-punk record “that sounded like nursery rhymes on steroids,” as DeLonge once put it. That’s exactly what they did. Working with Green Day’s Dookie producer Jerry Finn, Blink put together the strongest set of songs they ever wrote or have written since.
Not a minute is wasted on Enema Of The State, which turns 20 years old this Saturday. Each song is tightly wound, barreling from room to room at the kegger, driven by memorable riffs and frenetic drumming. It’s almost hard to keep up as the songs bleed into the next. Barker drums like an absolute motherfucker, and the chemistry between the three members is instantly gratifying.
It was clear that Blink-182 were picking up where Dookie left off, but while that album focused on the anxiety of relationships and growing up, Enema Of The State was too naïve to care about any of that. Green Day were starting to mature in 1999, but Blink-182 were refusing to act their age. They weren’t worried about tomorrow, but rather what’s going to happen tonight. They were singing about aliens, poop jokes, going after the girl, then refusing to go after said girl to watch TV instead. From the captivating opener “Dumpweed” to the party sign off “Anthem,” it’s not hard to see why so many kids connected to these tracks. The album’s instantly relatable pop songs were hopped up on Mountain Dew and covered in snot, and for all the immaturity, there was also a healthy dose of puppy love. Songs like “Going Away To College” and “All The Small Things” played like Valentine cards you’d send to your crush, or wistful notes you’d write in someone’s yearbook. Each song on Enema Of The State perfectly encapsulated all the restlessness and silliness becoming a teenager in suburban America, perhaps better than any ’90s teen movie ever could.
It was an album you and your friends all owned. Even if you didn’t own it, you had that one cool friend burn you a copy on one of those original old boxy CD burners. It brought Blink-182 to unprecedented heights. Suddenly, their songs were all over the radio, and their videos, in which they ran around naked or mocked fellow TRL staples like Britney Spears or Backstreet Boys, were all over MTV. Enema made Blink-182 stars and trendsetters. While this time period may be rued as the birth of nu-metal, let’s not forget that in 1999, Blink-182 kicked off what became the massively popular trend of jovial, mainstream pop-punk. It’s a sound that spawned imitator bands like Simple Plan, Yellowcard, Sum 41, Panic! At the Disco, and Fall Out Boy, who went on to have numerous hits of their own over the next decade, to varying degrees of success. “What’s My Age Again?” and “All The Small Things” are rivaled only by “Mr. Brightside” for rock songs that make millennials go apeshit at a bar. It’s also not a stretch to say it’s a sound you can still hear in bands like PUP, the Menzingers, or Charly Bliss. For an entire generation of kids discovering their tastes in music, Enema was their Nevermind.
An album like Enema Of The State doesn’t become this successful simply because kids want to party to it (although that was a big selling point). It also has to connect in a more meaningful way. Remember, high school isn’t always about all the small things. For many, being a teenager can be a lot to handle. As kids, we look for something to latch onto, for something that speaks to us in a way that assures us we aren’t alone in our struggles.
Despite the surprising success of the band’s previous album, Dude Ranch, Mark Hoppus was having a hard time dealing with depression and the loneliness of being on the road. “Tom and Travis always had girlfriends waiting back home, so they had something to look forward to at the end of the tour,” Hoppus told Rolling Stone in 2000. “But I didn’t, so I was lonely on tour. But then I got home and it didn’t matter, because there was nothing there for me anyway.” So he channeled his depression into the album’s most important track, “Adam’s Song,” a suicide-note-as-song that is just as unsubtle as everything else on the album, yet wise beyond its years.
“I never thought I’d die alone/ Another six months I’ll be unknown” is a hell of a way to start a song. Upon initial glance, it probably doesn’t belong on the same album that jokes about your neighbor humping your dog. DeLonge and Barker reportedly didn’t think it should be included. They worried it would be too depressing, and the music itself — more indebted to the Cure than NOFX — is a lot different than the rest of the album, which, again is titled Enema Of The State and features a porn star in what amounts to a “sexy nurse” Halloween costume on the cover. Still, Hoppus insisted that “Adam’s Song” be included, because you can’t just gloss over these issues. Perhaps he knew this song needed to be heard, because there were kids that needed to hear it.
There was a period of time where many derided this song for glorifying suicide. In 2000, the song took on a different meaning after the death of Greg Barnes, a Columbine High School student who a year after the mass shooting, took his own life while “Adam’s Song” was reportedly playing on repeat. There was also a period of time when the band couldn’t bring themselves to play it, following the death of their friend Adam Goldstein aka DJ AM. It’s a tough song that deals with a tough issue, but it doesn’t glorify suicide. For many kids, this is the song they latched onto when they were feeling alone. It was the aural equivalent of getting a semicolon tattoo. This is the song that saved them.
There is this beautiful moment in the bridge, as “Adam’s Song” breaks down, where a perfectly placed twinkle of a piano comes down like a beacon of light, and the tune pivots into what it truly is: an anthem of hope. “I never conquered, rarely came/ Tomorrow holds such better days/ Days when I still feel alive/ When I can’t wait to get outside.” There was light at the end of the tunnel all along; we’d survived. “I think of it more, now, as almost a celebration,” Hoppus recounted to NPR in 2018, “of hardships gone through and friends lost.” “Adam’s Song” doesn’t dwell on the darkness for too long, and for once, Blink-182 allowed themselves to bask in the promise of tomorrow.
And that’s the underlying message to Enema Of The State, isn’t it? Blink-182 buried the lede, and on the darkest song of the album lay the true value of youth: the wide-eyed belief in a new tomorrow. That’s what makes this album so special. Who wouldn’t want to live like that every day, to wake up and not be afraid of what’s to come? To believe in tomorrow is to be fully optimistic — and to be optimistic, there has to be a bit of youthful naiveté involved, right? I guess if there’s one thing I miss about high school, it’s the belief that anything was possible. What I wouldn’t do for a bit of that optimism today. In 1999, it was hard not to be optimistic about the new millennium. After all, the ’90s brought us the internet, Dave Grohl, and Furbies. The summer of 1999 was the final party of the decade, and Blink-182 were there to play until the cops came. It was the last chance to just say, “what the fuck,” kiss your crush, and dive headfirst naked into the pool. That’s the spirit of Enema Of The State. Worry about the consequences tomorrow, because like they say, tomorrow holds such better days.