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The Most Punk Rock Thing You Can Do Is Be Normal

Musicians who embrace the passage of time and mature with their craft are infinitely more ‘punk rock’ than cynical, neurotic rockstars.


In December of 1997, Florida alt-punk band New Found Glory released its debut EP titled “It’s All About the Girls.” And it sounds exactly how one would think a punk band’s first recorded release ought to sound — rough and chaotic.

The extended play’s first track is “Shadow,” and it gives listeners a crash course as to what New Found Glory is all about. It opens with a member of the band absolutely botching the 20th Century Fox theme on a wind instrument before bragging about never having “one lesson” before vocalist Jordan Pundik begins to lament his existential malaise and personal frustrations.

“Starting at my shadow, I see the world around me / Never felt as if my existence reflects these walls so proudly / Intentions of the past defined so quickly it’s hard to change myself.” 

To be sure, New Found Glory’s production improved dramatically with subsequent releases, but they were sure to maintain the whimsy and chaos. 

“Shadow” would go on to become “Hit or Miss,” which would be the first track on the band’s debut album “Nothing Gold Can Stay” (1999) — released on the independent label Euology Recordings — and would later be remastered and rereleased on the band’s self-titled album “New Found Glory” (2000).

The self-titled album, according to songwriter Steve Klein, is “Just about relationships and growing up — things everybody knows about. This is a record about looking forward to new things and moving forward in your life.” A fact that is emphasized in both the aforementioned song’s lyrics and the album’s cover art, which prominently features colored latex condoms and an Atari joystick. 

“The needle on my record player has been wearing thin / This record has been playing since the day you’ve been with him.”

New Found Glory’s unique blend of lyricism, high energy, and whimsy had a massive appeal and would go on to dominate the sound of alternative music throughout the late 1990s and early 2000s as it found its way into nearly every home through the cultural phenomenon that was the touring music festival known as Warped Tour and on the soundtracks of films such as “American Pie 2” and “The Benchwarmers.”

Their peers — notably Blink-182 — experienced a similar effect. 

The first track, “Carousel,” featured on Blink’s debut album “Cheshire Cat,” opens with founding member and co-frontman Tom Delonge singing: “I talk to you every now and then / I never felt so alone again / I stop to think at a wishing well / My thoughts send me on a carousel.”

Early on in their career, Blink-182 produced songs like “Dammit” about the deterioration of romantic relationships and subsequent personal development and “What’s My Age Again?” specifically about the frustrations stemming from being an emotionally immature man-child.

Shoes to Fill 

Both of these bands would go on to experience great success as they would write about relatable topics such as personal shortcomings and frustrations while maintaining the irreverent whimsy necessary to keep existential dread at bay.

They also undeniably had a profound effect on and paved the way for the artists who would follow them, such as The Story So Far (named after a New Found Glory song), The Wonder Years, and others whose music — which started to gain traction in the years following the 2008 financial collapse — prominently featured the existential frustrations of living in a world seemingly bereft of sincerity.

In 2011, The Wonder Years released “Suburbia I’ve Given You All and Now I’m Nothing,” featuring the song “Local Man Ruins Everything,” in which vocalist Dan Campbell professes, “I’m trying to hold it together but irony’s found cracks in the foundation / And you know I try so hard to be some great white hope / But I can’t shake the feeling that tonight I’m gonna end up shaking in bed alone.”

The Story So Far’s second studio album, “What You Don’t See,” opens with the song “Things I Can’t Change,” which has vocalist Parker Cannon bemoaning frustration with ostensibly interpersonal communication issues. 

“This twitch in my fingers / Love/hate, it lingers / Sent it direct but the point must have missed her / Gave up and lost ’cause of timing and pressure / And now I’m gone.” 

And to be sure, it’s not as though New Found Glory or Blink-182 have a monopoly on boyish charm or are immune to sorrow.

New Found Glory and Blink-182 are just as responsible for the assimilation of “emo” into the broader spectrum of 21st-century punk as they are for perpetuating painfully elaborate oral-sex jokes

Songs like Blink-182’s “Adam’s Song” and “Stay Together for the Kids” are, respectively, about teenage suicide and a child experiencing the divorce of his parents. The somber lyrics and slower tempos are a stark break from the guys who became known for elaborate tomfoolery while on tour. And New Found Glory’s “It’s Not Your Fault” is believed by many to be about a young couple experiencing a miscarriage.

Growing Up

These more somber recordings were made — it pains me to say — over a decade ago. And they show that artists who get typecast as purveyors of the immature are able to, in fact, mature into nuanced and reflective craftsmen with age. Blink-182’s seventh  — and Grammy-nominated — studio album, “California,” and New Found Glory’s recent acoustic album, “Make The Most Of It,” epitomize this. 

On “California,” Blink explores themes like middle-aged anxiety (“Bored To Death”), paternalistic pride (“Home Is Such A Lonely Place”), and ambivalent nostalgia at the passage of time

“Beige little boxes in a row / Neighbors and friends that you don’t know / Here’s a form, go wait in line, can’t you see I’m doing fine? / It’s what I’ve always wanted / Two little kids out on the lawn / Once we had love, and now it’s gone / Good things haven’t happened yet, I’m as empty as a movie set / It’s what I’ve always wanted.”

On “Make The Most Of It,” the song “Mouth To Mouth” shares sentiments from members of the band as they experience failing marriages and rediscover and cherish love in middle age. 

“Mouth to mouth you save me / Heart to heart you change me / Hand in hand we walk through fire / Now side by side / The Rest of our lives / We’ll never take a thing for granted / Don’t ever take a day for granted.”

So What?

As previously noted in these pages, modern music frankly sucks. It’s filled with algorithmically put-on copycats and cynical hypocrites who sold out to become The Man.

In an era where its easier to simply churn out generic rock that could be played in the lobby of a bank or at a religious gathering, it is both humbling and moving to see groups like Blink-182 and New Found Glory simply accept their station in life and create art that reflects that.

Considering that one of Blink’s most popular gimmicks is a music video in which the three band members are running around Los Angeles fully naked, and for years New Found Glory’s was having their overweight bassist play without his shirt on, hearing them grapple with life’s ups-and-downs is refreshingly austere.

These guys have “made it,” and instead of becoming neurotic crybabies who perpetually try to exert themselves unto the world, they are aging with grace while not losing any of the whimsy or energy that characterized their original endeavors. 

In 2023, the most “punk rock” thing someone can be is genuine.

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