You're a young musician and your rock band has been booked on "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno," a gig that promises a national audience and a tiny slice of TV history. You travel to NBC's Burbank studios, walk past Tom Brokaw's parking space and the Milton Berle mural and take your place at rehearsals. How cool is this? And, wow, look here comes Mr. Leno himself to welcome you.
So what are your first words to him?
"Uh, you see these nine dudes here?" (You point to your nearby bandmates, publicist, tour manager, etc.) "Out of these nine dudes, eight of them have seen my naked penis. How gnarly is that? Isn't that funny?"
Well, now, that depends. But if you're Mark Hoppus, one of the class clowns in Blink-182, that's very funny and very in character.
The multi-platinum-selling band is one Bart Simpson would love--there's a lot of loud, punky guitar and a fascination with body functions. Parents cringe and critics wince, but Blink's music and mien are so loopy, so unabashed, there's a temptation to call the band a breath of fresh air. But what can you say about a band whose name is a reference to the number of times Al Pacino's character says a certain obscenity in "Scarface"?
Put simply, this is a band that likes to potty--and they're confused when others don't play along. "Was that bad . . . the penis thing?" Hoppus asks after Leno has quickly retreated to the company of adults. "Do you think he walked off because I said that?"
The bassist, who at times resembles actor Johnny Depp, furrows his brow like a dejected schoolboy. But in the span of a few puppy dog heartbeats, the 27-year-old grins and yanks his jeans up to his rib cage. The self-inflicted wedgie creates an, uh, unusual celebrity profile. "Want to play a few rounds of 'Guess which side it's on'?"
With hits such as "What's My Age Again?" and "All the Small Things," the group's latest album, "Enema of the State," is just north of 3.1 million copies in U.S. sales. ("Not bad for moron music for kids, right?" cracks Jerry Finn, the album's producer.) Now the group is primed to launch its latest tour, which includes a Friday show at the Great Western Forum, ensuring a steady dose of Blinkmania for the summer. What better time to tag along with the trio for a few hours to probe their thoughts as they bring their Shemp rock to Leno's mainstream America couch?
10 a.m.: Blink-182 fans, many tattooed and clutching CDs, posters and T-shirts, are already scurrying on and around the vast NBC lot. The less-than-stellar lineup of guests scheduled for the show (those British matrons who posed nude for a calendar and a supporting actress from "Sex and the City") ensures that the crowd will be largely Blink devotees and unsuspecting Midwestern tourists who would probably prefer Shania Twain.
10:20: The morning is not going well. According to the taping schedule, the three men of Blink--Hoppus, guitarist Tom DeLonge and drummer Travis Barker--are supposed to be ready and waiting at the Burbank sound stage. DeLonge has driven himself from his home in Encinitas. But the cars sent to pick up Hoppus and Barker never show at their homes in Rancho Bernardo and Chino Hills, respectively, and now the whole affair is more than an hour behind schedule before it starts.
10:45: DeLonge, idly strumming his Stratocaster, is hanging out with the band's gear in a breezeway adjacent to Studio 3, home of "The Tonight Show." A few fans approach gingerly to ask for autographs, and the lanky, long-faced star gives one of them a graphic dissertation on tattoo infection and how to avoid it. He says later that after the band was greeted with near-riots in Italy, it's nice to hang out with low-key fans. "Milan was crazy, there was like 5,000 screaming kids in the street and these riot cops with machine guns. . . . We kept trying to yell to the kids, 'Hey, we're just stupid idiots,' but they didn't understand because, y'know, they're Italian."
11:00: Eric Stein, a publicist for MCA Records, tells DeLonge about a bizarre Blink-related trend: A medical professional group has recently tracked a twofold increase in the number of young people receiving colonics nationwide. "There's some thought that 'Enema of the State' might be one of the factors," Stein says. The conversation soon shifts to the recent eBay sale (for $32) of a half-eaten Pop Tart that Hoppus tossed into the crowd at a recent show. It's not clear how these topics are connected or whether either report is, in fact, remotely true.
11:20: Still no Hoppus, still no Barker. The group's tour manager, Alex Macleod, gives a nonchalant shrug and says he's not worried, but he says it with a wide-eyed intensity. Later, it becomes apparent that this is his typical expression after years in the business, including a stint shepherding Nirvana from crisis to crisis. "I'm an architect of order," he offers. "This is a hectic start, but things will get better."
Noon: Things get worse. The car ferrying Hoppus is stopped by a highway patrolman for speeding and tailgating, Stein learns via cell phone. Plus: Hoppus has laryngitis. So instead of singing "Adam's Song"--whose teen suicide lyrics surprised some Blink observers with their weightiness--the band will go with "Aliens Exist," a harder-rocking, slightly less serious song. "It's about aliens that come down to Earth and fly up your butt," DeLonge confides. "And it's true."
12:15: Barker arrives. Much rejoicing. He piles a commissary tray high with pizza slices, a thick brownie and three bananas. The gentle-voiced Barker is the quietest of the trio, the spiky-haired Harpo teamed with two Grouchos. DeLonge huddles at a table with two collaborators on a film project he and Hoppus hope to see on the big screen. John Sclimenti, the writer on the project, later describes it as "Wag the Dog" meets "Spinal Tap." Blink has film experience, Sclimenti notes: "They played guys watching a girl masturbate on the Internet in 'American Pie.' " How could we forget?
1:20: Hoppus arrives. More rejoicing. Macleod, the tour manager, looks visibly relieved. Hoppus is accompanied by his fiancee and a gaggle of family members, many of whom will spend much of the slow-moving afternoon perusing flooring samples for a remodeling of Hoppus' home. The bassist,meanwhile, spends much of theday showing off his new watch tofriends and strangers. "Hey, put in the story that I was really hammered," he says. "Or that it was obvious that I was up all night doing massive drugs and hanging out with models. . . . I want it to be really interesting." His fiancee, Skye Everly, rolls her eyes.
1:40: More than an hour late, the band finally does its sound check. An engineer for the show holds a meter to monitor the sound in the relatively small studio. The needle wiggles between levels that correspond to "a riveter" and "pain threshold" in the staffer's sound manual, making Blink-182 one of the loudest acts in the show's history. During most of the song, Hoppus bounces with a silly grin on his face. "We'll hand out earplugs for the grandmothers," the sound guy says--and he, for one, isn't joking.
2:30: A round of dirty jokes is cut short as Leno stops by to say hello and, after Hoppus' bizarre observation, everyone is treated to the sight of the comedian's famous jaw dropping.
3:30: Time to kill. Back in the commissary, Hoppus is asked what he wants to be when he grows up and he answers quickly. "When I was in the second grade I wanted to be a priest or a tap dancer. Really, I don't know where it came from. . . . Now I kind of have both. I mean, we got a lot of little boys at the shows and I can bust a mean move." Another eye roll from Everly. Hoppus begins taking pictures with The Times photographer's gear.
4:00: DeLonge and Hoppus, getting bored, are in the parking lot between the studio and the commissary. They ask for a hacky sack. Barker gets a couple of bananas.
4:10: Barker changes his shoes and is asked about the band's looming one-day trip to Miami, where they will be photographed for the cover of Rolling Stone--with pop singer Christina Aguilera as their co-model. "Yeah, weird," Barker says solemnly. "Very odd." Hoppus is pragmatic on the topic. "Rolling Stone calls and says they want you for the cover, you go."
4:25: The day's bizarre zenith: Richard Simmons suddenly appears. The night's show falls on Leno's 50th birthday and the quirky aerobics icon (dressed in just a towel) will present the host with a cake--but first he wants a photograph with Blink-182. Gales of laughter fill the band's two dressing rooms as the visitor scurries around seeking the band for a picture. DeLonge, for the first time, is speechless. Hoppus calls Simmons "Dickie" and asks him for weight-loss help. The exercise guru warns the rock singer that he's old enough to be his father.
5:10 Everyone gets ready to head downstairs for the taping. Hoppus takes a moment to issue a public challenge to physicist Stephen Hawking. "He's the only guy I know I can beat up."
5:50 The men of Blink finally perform for the show. Crowd goes wild, song goes off without a hitch. Afterward, they amble across stage to the fabled couch, sit down, look into the camera and, for the first time all day, really don't have a lot to say. None of them cuss or even take off their clothes. Leno thanks them with an expression not unlike that of a relieved parent.
Blink-182, with Bad Religion and Fenix TX, Friday at the Great Western Forum, 3900 W. Manchester Blvd., Inglewood, 7:30 p.m. Sold out. The three groups return June 22 to the Long Beach Convention Center, 300 E. Ocean Blvd, Long Beach. 7:30 p.m. $25. (562) 436-3636. They also play June 25 at Universal Amphitheatre, 100 Universal City Plaza. 3:15 p.m. $27.50. (818) 622-4440.