ACCIDENTALLY SEMINAL: ENEMA OF THE STATE AND HOW PUNK NEVER EXISTED
At some point in 1999, I bought a t-shirt with a Velcro strip on the front. Seriously. It came with a pack of letters and symbols to be affixed, and with it I was free to illuminate the world in the glare of my hilarious witticisms. I later abandoned it, overtaken by the allure of introspection, what Kurt Cobain branded “the comfort in being sad” and a period of time that rendered me incapable of allowing myself joy without the flagellation of guilt. By the time I finished my first year of university in 2001, grinding cynicism and cannabis psychosis guided such final t-shirt gems as “FUCK ELVIS HE’S DEAD” and “ATROCITY EXHIBITION” but when we approached the precipice of the century I had no such concerns. Despite the multitude of options available, there was only one phrase I wished to display.
“WHAT’S MY AGE AG@IN” (there were only three As in the pack) remained emblazoned on my chest through the summers of 1999 and 2000, as permanent as anything made from Velcro had any right to be. At 16, confronted with the freedom offered via the first year of college, that phrase alluded to sex, drinking, acting like a child, and Blink-182. Nothing else needed to be said.
Enema of the State was released half my life ago, and the incredibly brief obsession I had with it led to its presence remaining untainted by my adult self. As much as I feverishly adored it and forced it to soundtrack my every move, I then discarded it at an equal rate. Blink-182 were suddenly puerile, uninspired and lacking in any kind of substance. Even worse than that, they were popular.
Browsing through a selection of music sites recently, I noticed a retrospective from May of this year that acknowledged Enema’s 15th anniversary. Realising I hadn’t listened to it for around 14 years, I absent-mindedly brought it up on Spotify. What followed was a wave of memory so potent that I genuinely forgot where I was for the duration of the record. When the end of ‘Going Away to College’ segued into the ‘What’s My Age Again’ intro, I thought I was going to fucking cry. I’m fairly certain no one has ever said that.
It was 1999 when I solidified friendships that last to this day, and they were built around this album. We played it on shitty cassette players in fields while we drank cheap cider and hurled ourselves into hedges, utterly convinced of our invincibility. We played it on a week-long holiday by the beach that consisted of exactly the same thing, but felt revelatory. We played it as we skipped college to watch American Pie, pour Martini Citro into a bottle of lemonade and stumble into town before our parents came home.
It’s incredible how quickly you forget the importance of certain albums, and how much they’ve unconsciously informed who you are. Even looking beyond simple nostalgic pleasure, Enema was a gateway to every facet of punk waiting to be explored. I was into Green Day for a bit, but they never really encouraged me to look beyond Nimrod. Enema is directly responsible for me discovering Jawbreaker, The Dead Kennedys, Black Flag, Descendents, Minor Threat, Drive Like Jehu, Quicksand, Ramones - even The Stooges.
Paradoxically, I despised punk as An Important Movement as much as I liked the bands above. For a lifestyle / genre / attitude / whatever that so many equate with freedom and rebellion, there were rules everywhere. You can’t be punk if you listen to Joni Mitchell. You can’t be punk if you want to put a keyboard on your EP. You can’t be punk if you express the slightest desire to walk along anything other than a prescribed, already well-trodden route. Confusingly, that sort of conformity isn’t punk, either. I drew pictures of acoustic guitars and wrote PUNKNEVEREXISTED over them, sticking them to my college folders. I enjoyed telling people that the Sex Pistols were a manufactured boy band. My attitude was directionless, of course, and I accomplished nothing. That wasn’t important, though, because I felt like I was right. Years later, John Lydon appeared in adverts for butter and no one said a word. He went on I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here and no one said a word. Everything he did was subversive, apparently. Maybe there was outrage within the punk community; maybe thousands of people sold their original pressings of ‘God Save the Queen’ and finally took that job in the financial industry; maybe sales of extra-strength wax and glycerin plummeted overnight and the underground was littered with the corpses of a million amputated mohawks. It didn’t filter through to me, though. Even as someone with no great affection for the Sex Pistols, it still bothered me. I found it hard to believe Lydon’s recent TV motivations were aligned with either the intention or legacy of the Sex Pistols / Public Image Limited. Everyone mellows as they get older, and no one can be judged for that. What grated about Lydon was that he was clearly trading off his punk reputation to sell dairy products. Either be a spokesman for butter or continue what you started in the music industry, but you can’t do both. No one knows what punk is anymore, if they ever did to begin with. Maybe it’s been about great butter all along.
For all of these conflicted emotions, I hold Blink-182 responsible. In keeping with that conflict, I also thank them wholeheartedly. Enema of the State was my Arrowhead Project – it opened a door and all of this shit came spilling through the other side, clinging to everything it touched. It’s not an album that tops polls outside of pop-punk, or one that usually evokes misty-eyed romanticism. Until recently, I’d actually forgotten I even owned it. Following my reunion with it and the single run-through that inspired this, I haven’t listened to it again. I’m not going to, either. I feel that if I do, the memories it conjures will somehow connect to the present and I’ll lose something of my teenage self. And with many years ahead to fall in line, why would you wish that on me?