Psst . . . Blink-182 Is Growing Up

Steve Hochman is a regular contributor to Calendar

The house is one of hundreds just like it in a development in this North San Diego County suburb: your basic two-story, stucco scoop of middle-class vanilla set at the edge of a golf course, with a white SUV in the driveway and some new flowers in the small yard fighting to add a little color.

Inside, homeowner Mark Hoppus puts the Tupperware away in the kitchen, while his business partners Tom DeLonge and Travis Barker sit at the breakfast table going over plans for an upcoming trip.

For all you can tell, the three might be in retail clothing or something.

Except for the tattoos that cover most of Barker and much of DeLonge, that is. And except for the stack of X-rated DVDs sitting on the kitchen counter.

Those are good clues that within this shell of respectability is a punk-rock band. This is Blink-182, which over the past two years has become the torchbearer for arrested adolescence, on the strength of its 800,000-selling 1997 major-label debut album "Dude Ranch."

While the Offspring tackled social issues and Green Day created a sensitive, acoustic anthem, San Diego-based Blink rode forth as irreverent, unapologetically puerile Peter Pans, writing songs about bodily functions and problems with parents and girlfriends.

So what are they doing here?

"It's suburban," says Hoppus, who moved here a little more than a year ago. "It's quiet. It's, um, safe."

That's hardly the aesthetic of the band's new album (due Tuesday), though. Its title: "Enema of the State." Its cover photo: adult film star Janine wearing a nurse's outfit, an evil smile and a rubber glove as she prepares to examine the band members. Its sound: blazing guitars and snotty vocals.

But behind its leering, sneering veneer lies clear evidence of the dreaded M-word.

Maturity.

It's a bit hard to get them to admit it.

"This record is about pretty much the same things we said on the last one," says Hoppus, 27. "Which was [that] girls hurt your feelings and free-form masturbation."

But what about "Adam's Song," about a teen contemplating suicide?

Hoppus relents.

"I wrote 'Adam's Song' because I was reading a magazine where some teenage kid had killed himself and left a letter for his family," he says. "It's about how kids feel hopeless and like there's no other way out. But they're wrong. There's always something better on the other side of whatever you're going through."

On the other hand . . .

"I'm a poet," says DeLonge, 23, an inveterate wisecracker whose dry Mona Lisa grin betrays the sentiment of his declaration-in-progress. "I have some beautiful pieces of work on this album. And I'm really proud of some of the great lines I've come up with using the words 'diarrhea,' 'penises' and what have you."

The deal is, they are doing their best to have it both ways--taking on maturity without sacrificing their prolonged childhood.

"We attack everything with a sense of humor and lightheartedness," Hoppus says. "But on this record we have a couple of songs that are more serious, and we're not afraid to try that. At the same time we want to write songs about girls and food and farting and masturbation and whatever else we're into at the time.

"I think everyone should be young as long as they can," he says. "I don't want to be like a Mountain Dew commercial or anything. But you only get one chance to be young. You can be old forever."

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The trio certainly looks like the youth they're bonded to, with Hoppus and DeLonge lanky twin towers in backward baseball hats--though they come off as clean-cut, polite and seemingly well-adjusted.

"People go, 'Aren't you guys too old to write about high school events?' " says DeLonge. "And now that I think about it . . . "

"No," interjects Hoppus.

Adds DeLonge: "Right when I got out of high school I started playing in a band and never had time to go to college or grow up or anything. That's why I'm still really immature."

DeLonge had wanted to start a band ever since he was turned on to punk rock in seventh grade. It became a reality in 1992, while he was still in high school in the San Diego area, when a friend introduced him to Hoppus, who was making a short-lived attempt to go to college at Cal State San Marcos.

With DeLonge on guitar and Hoppus on bass, they began jamming with drummer Scott Raynor and soon started getting punk club gigs. A deal with San Diego-based Cargo Records ensued, with the label releasing the group's first album, "Cheshire Cat," in 1995.

That got the attention of MCA Records, which made a deal with Cargo and released "Dude Ranch" two years ago. A slot on the Warped Tour--showcasing punk and alternative music and extreme sports exhibits--was a perfect match. (Blink will be back on Warped this year, including July 1 and 2 dates at the Orange Show Fairgrounds in San Bernardino). The song "Dammit (Growing Up)" soon became a modern-rock radio staple, ranking as the No. 2 most-played record of 1998 on L.A.'s trendsetter KROQ-FM (106.7).

The success surprised a lot of people, including the band itself.

"I remember right before Christmas [1997], we sold 40,000 copies in one week," DeLonge says. "That's when I went, 'Oh my God, this is heavy.' That and when I had a gold record and gave it to my dad. My dad was all about business and getting a career, go to school and everything, and he was not always as supportive about the band, never understood. Then when I gave him a gold record, he was kind of, like, emotional. He was all proud of me."

It's a lot more than the musicians ever expected.

"I remember driving around after we finished 'Dude Ranch' and thinking that if this sells 200,000 copies, I'd be blown away," Hoppus says.

"There are so many bands from the scene we came from that haven't had that chance, and we think they're so much more deserving than we are," DeLonge says. "But if that means we end up becoming multi-multimillionaires, so be it. We'll live with that."

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Joking aside, with success come new expectations and new responsibilities. Sales targets are higher. The day-to-day business of being Blink-182 involves more duties, and more people on the payroll depending on the band for their livelihoods.

"It's scary that anyone depends on us--or at least me," DeLonge says.

The musicians are sanguine about chances to repeat or exceed the sales of "Dude Ranch," noting the always-shifting sands of pop culture and that they've already done better than they'd ever anticipated. They're not projecting a future of undiminishing stardom. To that end, they've made moves to reach beyond the capricious world of hit songs and turn their success into a foundation for other ventures.

In fact, they are going into the retail business. Coinciding with the new album's release, Hoppus and DeLonge officially launch a Web site in conjunction with the Internet music-related firm Ultimate Band List. Through the site, http://www.loserkids.com, they will sell apparel, extreme sports accessories, music and even a new cosmetics line. And drummer Barker, 23, who came to the band from the comical Riverside ska group the Aquabats, has started Famous Stars and Straps, selling belt buckles and other items using hot-rod-related iconography.

"We're really spoiled in Southern California, where there are thousands of skate shops everywhere and you can get anything you want, but everywhere else in the world it's like, kids say, 'Where did you get that T-shirt?' " Hoppus says. "So we're trying to bring all the cool stuff to kids everywhere."

Adds DeLonge, "We've been working on this for months and months, learning as we go along. It's been a massive undertaking."

Not to mention a mature undertaking.*

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