A lot of things happen to people at age 12. It’s the beginning and the end of a lot of situations, as puberty comes through for most, and school becomes systematically harder. For a young lad, venturing into the world is tough, and that’s where I was in 1995. I was venturing out in a tough place, and not sure where I belonged, stuck between worlds. The same could be said for young bands, and one such band was about to put out a record that would create a wave of punk rock music that is still alive today. That band of course is Blink-182, and the record was “Cheshire Cat”. But what does that have to do with anything that I could say about it? It’s a starting point towards a bigger story about who I am, why I love music, and nostalgia. The launching pad for what would be a staple of music festivals, was something needed at the time for music in general (Dowd, Liddle, & Nelson, 2004).
Rewind to Los Angeles in the mid-90s. I went to my first show on the Hollywood strip in 1997, when a young band called MxPx was playing at the Roxy. That was a few years after Blink-182 had set their full length hopes at Westbeach Records, a Los Angeles based studio famous for all things new school punk rock. Their debut for Cargo Records, which went on the subsidiary of Grilled Cheese, would have to be done in 3 days, and in a frenetic pace. The band was able to pull everything together, even with the last hora of their drummer Scott Raynor, who would eventually get replaced by the stellar drummer of The Aquabats. Some personnel changes ensued, but Raynor came back for the initial touring schedule, and didn’t get thrown out of the band until “Dude Ranch” needed touring for support.
While the record process went along, and the band grew, I was in another part of Los Angeles. I was growing up on the west side of Los Angeles, going to a religious private school, and trying to find my place amidst strict academia, and Christendom. Not my favorite places to be, but I was able to be surrounded by surfers, and skateboarders. They influenced me greatly, and I would start skateboarding and learning tricks, alongside trying to get to the beach here and there to learn how to surf. While surfing didn’t take me to new heights, skateboarding drove me into a new arena, and it’s something that I still do on occasion, although not with the same intensity as my youth. In 1995, the initial release of “Cheshire Cat” occurred, and I was only 12, which meant that I was not quite ready to get my musical landscape moving. In fact, the band would be far greater by the time I caught onto this record than when it was first released. I do recall seeing advertisements in Thrasher Magazine, for example, but I didn’t pick up the record until around 1997.
“Cheshire Cat” had 16 initial tracks, with their strongest one coming straight up first, like a fast ball in the hands of a major league pitcher. Moving along the 41 minutes of music, you get a disjointed track listing, and it shows. Reviews of the record from Rolling Stone to Spin to All Music seem to point towards that, giving the record mediocre ratings across the board. But by the time I got around to purchasing the record in 1996, I had found something that met the criteria of cool, and I didn’t even realize that it was the start of a collection of records that would only grow and grow until 2011, where they were sold off cheap.
Santa Monica, California in 1997 was a lot different than it is now. The outdoor mall now there, wasn’t there, and the skateboarding culture had me going through the downhill slope of third street. Before corporations moved in and took out all the cool stores, the area was home to a small record store that sold used and new records. The store was called Penny Lane Records. This record store was the inspiration for my jump into music, as I was able to purchase “Cheshire Cat”, and “Stomping Grounds” from the Southern California band Goldfinger. Alongside the rows of vinyl, the singles, cassettes and compact discs, there was a small section of punk rock. That section included standouts from “Down By Law”, “Bad Religion”, “Dropkick Murphys”, and more. However, the track “M+M’s” struck me enough to start my record collection. From that point forward, I was buying records all the time, until that small store shut down.
To think about my first post on this blog, I wanted to go back to a record that really changed my musical perception. “Cheshire Cat” by Blink-182 is raw, energetic, and immature. It lacks polish, but some of the best of Blink’s catalog can be traced to the initial songs that they were trying to put together for this release. It’s a throwaway record for some, one that doesn’t seem to have the weight that their other releases have, but when you combine memories to it, it’s nostalgic. For me, the guitar is distorted, raw, and balanced with Mark Hoppus and his bass guitar work, with a lack of technical support from drums, yet it still holds together as an example of a young band with a bright future. The original Penny Lane Records is no longer there, and in its place is a boutique clothing store for women. Such is the fate of record stores in most cities, long and gone, replaced by clothing stores.
“Cheshire Cat” is one of the best examples of the launching pad for the “mainstreaming of punk rock in the 1990s”. It was the initial push that brought together bands that used melody and pop, with punk rock speed and discourse, and embraced by a larger audience. Bad Religion, Nofx, and even the Ramones had moments of pop and melody, yet they were not getting the audience that Blink-182 would amass, even today. This is a note that even scholars argue about, including a note in Popular Music and Society from 2007, in which one author discusses the reorganization of punk rhetoric in light of the popularity of pop and punk in the 1990s (Matula, 2007). The radical ethos that made the 1970s, 1980s, and even some bands in 2000s, was lost amidst the sophomoric antics of what Blink-182 started, and still continues to push at times. But then again, I needed that in 1997, and need it today, which is why I still listen to “Cheshire Cat” and you may want to listen to it too.
Curious about “Cheshire Cat” by Blink-182? You can download, stream, and listen to the record by clicking here.