There was a negative attitude surrounding 1997. I was 14 years old, I was trying to make sense of my surroundings, as I was left behind a year at school. My religious school had determined that I wasn’t good enough to proceed into the next grade, so they left me behind the rest. I had lost a year somehow, an orphan year that I don’t really remember too much about, but 1997 was an interesting one. I was in eight grade, being left out of high school, and placed in a class of over achievers. It was 1997, and I had started collecting records, some of which were not on compact disc, but rather cassette. Two cassettes stand out from that era, and for very specific reasons. The first was “Dookie”, the incredible major label studio debut of Green Day, and the second was the 1997 record that was the major record label debut of Blink-182, “Dude Ranch”. The year is important for me because it is one that creates a pivot in terms of my belief systems, popular culture’s continued progression into the commercialization of punk, and counter culture that seemed to infringe on the Christendom that my school was trying to establish. To understand the importance of “Dude Ranch” for me, I’ll need to juxtapose several components from academia to culture at large, as this record is more than just another pop punk classic, it becomes the underlying soundtrack to events from many people’s world.
What was important to me in 1997? I was being held back by my parents. They didn’t want me to listen to music, they didn’t want me to play videos, and wanted me to spend more time outside. A skateboard helped me do just that, and a Walkman carefully hidden under my pillow also assisted with that. My stepfather did not let me watch MTV, but I would stay up late and watch the punk rock television show, “Punkorama”, which played mostly bands from Hellcat Records and Epitaph, and that really broadened my love of punk, and hardcore. I would secretly order cassettes, and vinyl, and hide them underneath various elements in my home. I also loved professional wrestling, which I was told was homoerotic and would make me gay. To this day, I don’t agree. Skateboarding, punk rock, pro wrestling, and going to school were the mainstays of my time in 1997.
While I was trying to figure out how to circumvent the rules of my parents, the guys in Blink-182 were allowed a great deal of money to record a new record, since their previous effort “Cheshire Cat” had amounted to over 70,000 records sold on the independent scene (Wikipedia contributors, 2019). This is an incredible feat, considering underground bands don’t get heavy radio play, or anything along those lines. However, touring heavily with mainstay punk bands like Pennywise, and the Warped Tour’s push towards large scale festivals, really helped the band go from Cargo to MCA and nearly sign with other major record labels. Despite the notion that Blink-182 were a bunch of degenerate punkers, their producer noted in interviews that they were the most “business” minded band he’d ever worked with. That’s high praise, considering Mark Trombino had helped Jimmy Eat World record “Static Prevails” in 1996, an excellent example of melodic alternative rock. The subject matter on “Dude Ranch” reflects the signature angst, and ideas that are universally accepted in punk, pop, and teenage years, and it still holds true. Many of the tracks are focused on love, lust, comedy, jokes, and the elements that the band would become famous for years after this record’s shelf life would start to wane.
“Dude Ranch” came out in 1997, and that was the year I started to watch a lot more pro-wrestling on PPV. The month the record would come out is memorable for me, as I was alone watching WWF King of the Ring, an event that was exciting for me because it involved the King of The Ring tournament, and the first major meeting between Shawn Michaels and Stone Cold Steve Austin, which were the biggest names in pro-wrestling not named The Undertaker and Bret Hart. The story lines would bleed into each month’s events, and this was particularly great, because I was able to tell my friends about it the next day at school. I mention this because punk’s ethos mix well with the counterculture and brash style of the WWF “attitude era” (Malott & Pena, 2004). The mainstay being an edgy, no-nonsense, adult product that featured swearing, women nearly naked, and violence that is not scene in pro-wrestling today. “You know it’s fake, right”, was a resounding question I would get back then, and even now. As soon as “Dammit” hit KROQ radio in Los Angeles, I was all over the cassette, and heard it so often, it eventually broke. Wrestling and punk? The two elements don’t really get compared to one another, but if you really think about the notion of what teenage males are into, specifically in 1997, then you’ll understand why I chose to contrast the two.
As I look back and try to make sense of “Dude Ranch” by Blink-182, I am reminded of something that a lot punk bands go through, and something that I have distinctively told people directly, and that’s selling out. I’ve had friends which I’ve told to their faces that they sold out. I felt the issue as well, and thought of myself as a sell out in many ways. The band had to deal with this notion, and even their drummer dealt with that issue. When the band didn’t sign with Epitaph records, things started to unravel and that would lead the way for Travis Barker to fill in full time. Selling out is not a new idea, since the 1970s, bands have been accused of selling out punk, economics, and is seen as a market failure (Thompson, 2001). I’m hoping that somewhere along the way, I can shake the notion, and not feel like I’m selling out as a corporate worker, or even a professor. Higher education is interesting, in that it could very well embrace the notion of punk, and yet, people don’t realize it. T. Parkinson, for instance, argues that the opportunity of punk rock ethos and higher education works out to be quite the combination (Parkinson, 2017). There is hope for me yet!
Revisiting the record in my late 30s, trying to figure out what the larger picture is with “Dude Ranch”, I can see where the band was. I understand the lyrics better, I relate to them, and whenever “Pathetic”, “Boring”, “Apple Shampoo”, “Jose”, and of course, “A New Hope” play, I’m reminded of hiding under my blankets trying to listen to the cassette to go to bed. I was chasing anything distorted guitar in my youth, and now, I appreciate the complexity of the record’s ups, downs, and the fact that Scott Raynor recorded the drums with two injured feet! The record, the attitude, the progression, and everything that comes along with a band’s growth is represented with “Dude Ranch” and Blink-182 has a special place in my own life, and future, even if many will disagree with my juxtaposition of worlds.
“Dude Ranch” by Blink-182 is a record that has a lot of lyrical prowess, especially if you put yourself in the position to understand it as a teenager, then a young adult. Many people jump over the words, and don’t really give the band a chance, but there some lyrics that still ring true in my head, and they would for you too if you revisit it.
Wikipedia contributors. (2019, May 17). Dude Ranch (album). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 13:19, June 14, 2019, from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Dude_Ranch_(album)&oldid=897509770