“Genius” is a term that’s often thrown around for no reason. Very rarely is it applied to the right person, someone who’s earned the right to this title. That’s why I’m here to say Tom DeLonge is a genius. A straight-up rule-breaker who doesn’t care what you want him to do, or what you think. He does what he wants, when he wants.
Why does this make him a genius? What exactly makes Tom stand out from the rest? Well, from the beginning, he’s played by his own rules. Way back in 1992 when he met Mark Hoppus in Poway, California, and they, along with Scott Raynor, formed Blink-182, things were always destined to get shaken up. By taking his experience of growing up in a suburb, something that happens literally every day, and putting it to raw and rapid punk music with his broken voice, the fire that was lit inside Tom began to burn slowly — before suddenly becoming a booming bonfire generations have gathered around.
If you want a real idea of where things began, head to his solo 2015 release To The Stars… Demos, Odds And Ends, a small collection of assorted ideas. Here you’ll find a track called “Suburban Kings,” filled with lyrics that talk literally of himself growing up, buying a shit apartment and how he’s “gonna build a punk rock band.” It’s a dreamland biopic where he builds the future he’s currently living, a world he’s created for himself out of those suburban nights; but instead of having a sound filled with youth and angst, it’s almost sad and yearning. It flickers back to that classic Blink staple “Carousel,” where Tom, at the young age of 18, first penned words that yearn for school days and an ideal life you know has always been so close to you but never offered the happiness you need — and keeps you pushing for more. It’s these words that have resonated with multiple generations of fans. Parents who now introduce their children to Blink will know what their kids are going through because of this bridge Tom and co. created.
In 2001, when he and Travis Barker formed Box Car Racer, it was Tom moving to new realms, realms he couldn’t see Blink entering — a fair shout, considering at the time they were still branching out of the happy-go-lucky, self-deprecating humor we all became enamoured with. Take Off Your Pants And Jacket certainly broadened Blink’s horizon, bringing with it another foray into the darker emotional side with the opener “Anthem Part Two,” the hungover realization to the Enema Of The State closer “Anthem.” Tom’s post-chorus call-out of “if we’re fucked up, you're to blame” rings truer and truer as the years pass; and by having that as their opening statement for the follow-up to their breakthrough album—an album that saw them not propelled, but rocketed to the forefront of just about everything—was an incredibly bold move. There was no messing with Blink, not with Tom beckoning a call-to-arms for the disenfranchised youth that they appealed to with such amassing vigor.
When Blink went on hiatus in 2005, Tom went his way and Mark and Travis went theirs, and a whole new realm opened up for him. Angels & Airwaves (AVA) was always going to be viciously compared to Mark and Travis’ project, +44, who played up far more to the Blink sound than AVA. But that’s exactly what helps make Tom a genius. He followed his own path and built a literal world. The AVA saga allowed Tom to follow his passion for science fiction and the belief that life is out there. Musically, it experimented with the previous melody-rich sound that got him this far but also toyed with atmosphere — bringing his world to life.
As the AVA years passed, each project grew in its ideas with debut follow-up I-Empire bringing the rebirth of life that We Don’t Need To Whisper celebrated and showing what comes next; though it was third outing, 2010’s Love, that held the most weight. Releasing a concept album free of charge due to corporate underwriting was a bold move in itself for a project that held such weight to its creator, but it was followed a year later by Love: Part Two, which coincided with a film adaptation. Tom had finally seen his works come to life; a longtime vision was now a reality. Every gamble he took to that point had paid off, and it all seemed a lifetime away from albums such as Dude Ranch and Enema Of The State.
Neighborhoods, the reunion album that Blink released during this time also, felt like a marriage of both +44 and AVA, a development of the story that brought Tom here. His iconic voice, one that’s been imitated the world over, sounded mature, though there was also a yearning. Wearing his heart on his sleeve is something he’s never been afraid to do. His lines in “Wishing Well” are attributed to the feeling of AVA never really hitting their true potential, while callbacks to Blink’s eponymous 2003 album in “After Midnight” hit with the line “I can’t find the best in all of this” — a purported throwback to deep cut “All Of This.” Writing words that hold enough meaning for us to actually delve so deep — and find a framework to hold on to — has always been Tom’s strength. His delivery, though—that’s where the real magic lies.
The previously mentioned solo demos, tracks that could’ve been the road that Blink was heading down, feel lonely at times, but still instilled with hope. Tom sings with a freshness that gives you the feeling of living that life with him, be it building a “New World” or dreaming of being “Suburban Kings.”
Even right now, Tom is teasing and playing by his own rules, looking toward to the future with AVA and the next record. While he may have been crowned UFO researcher of the year, and in-deep with the U.S. government on classified extraterrestrial research (special guests on the next AVA album, anyone?), he’s not giving things away, nor ignoring what came before. He may be a published author, with more ideas than he can physically handle, but he still has that teenage feeling that you can’t grow out of. He's keeping that magic alive, and that is exactly why Tom DeLonge is a genius. He’s our voice—always has been and always will be.