In miles, it’s not all that far from the outskirts of San Diego to the lights of the Strip. But, figuratively, the journey from angst-ridden, lower-middle-class San Diego suburbia to the glittery rooftop of the Cosmopolitan Resort is one hell of a jaunt.
Tom Delonge, guitarist and frontman for the punk-pop band Blink 182, is probably too young to be thought of as a senior statesman of his musical genre, and while he and his bandmates still like to have their share of fun, they are — dare we suggest it? — much more mature about things like fame and fortune than many, or most, of their contemporaries. In fact, their lives could serve as a road map for how rowdy young rockers can still be creative and relevant but not end up dead or discarded.
The fact that a certified geezer like myself has even heard of Blink 182 is a strong indication of how popular the band has been over the past 20 years. Blink has sold more than 35 million albums, and could have sold millions more if they hadn’t split up for a few years before informally reuniting for occasional mini-tours, including the one that will land them at the Cosmo on September 19.
The main reason I know about Delonge is because he called me up a few years ago, out of the blue, and wanted to chat about UFOs. “The very first money I ever made from the band, I spent on a computer so I could look up stuff about UFOs,” he told me earlier this week. “I had heard about the guys who fly out of McCarran Airport every day to fly up to Area 51, and I thought, these guys are gods because they get to work with aliens.”
His views about ETs and flying saucers have certainly evolved since those heady days when Blink hit the big time. (Delonge wrote a song about space aliens for inclusion on the band’s first album.) Tom has read so much, chatted with so many researchers and pursued so many lines of inquiry since then that it is not unusual for him to be interviewed on the UFO subject. The student has become the teacher.
“I’m obsessed with connecting the dots between physics, history, religion and other disciplines, finding out what are the links between UFO and paranormal tales and, say, stories in the Bible or Greek myths,” he says. “I’ve never been abducted, am not sure if I have ever seen a saucer, but ever since I was a kid I’ve been fascinated with this subject.”
Okay, a rock star who is obsessed with stories about UFOs might not sound all that surprising, or particularly stable, but there is much more to Delonge than what appears on the surface. He knew at an early age that the rock and roll life might not last forever, so he went into other businesses. He founded a company that is part marketer, part fulfillment house, part tech advisor for other entertainment giants. His clients include Nine Inch Nails, Pearl Jam and Kanye West. The company does a lot or a little, depending on the needs of the client, selling T-shirts and other themed merchandise, running websites, managing fan clubs, whatever the rock acts don’t want to do for themselves.
“My part in it is very creative. I get to bounce ideas around, suggest marketing themes, and it can be fun,” he told me. “And we work with nonprofit groups, too. We helped sell 40 million of those ‘I Love Boobies’ bracelets to benefit breast cancer research.”
If he never sold another album or concert ticket, Delonge would be financially secure, something that few of his rock peers could say with confidence. But, as it happens, things are heating up again for Blink 182, which played a series of shows in New York this past week and will be heading west to the Cosmopolitan in a few days. Even though the band hasn’t recorded any new material in years, reviews of the recent shows have been glowing, a record company has come calling about a new album and the more mature incarnation of the band simply sounds better than it did before.
“We’ve grown up. Two of us are married. All three of us have kids. Travis [Barker] is flat-out one of the three best drummers on the planet and always has been, but Mark and I would get by. We were self-deprecating about it, but we weren’t all that good or that serious when we started out,” Delonge says. “This time around, we’re playing like we always wished we could, and the audiences are really responding.”
In his spare time, Delonge fronts another band, called Angels and Airwaves, produces independent films, and — for a time — oversaw one of the largest paranormal websites in the world. In years gone by, it might have seemed uncool for a punk band to end up playing on a rooftop on the Las Vegas Strip, but he and his bandmates know that times have changed, that hard-edged bands can play Las Vegas while still maintaining their credibility.
“The Cosmopolitan isn’t a normal casino-type show,” Delonge suggests. “We’ll be playing on the top of a building on the Strip, poolside, with everything blasting out on these gigantic video screens. It’s going to be great.”
And, the fact that he will be on a rooftop will mean he can keep an eye on the skies, you know, just in case.
The Las Vegas 51s ended a terrific season this past weekend, losing in the playoffs to a scrappy Salt Lake team. The finale was a played on a cool and cloudy day and ended just before it started to rain, but it was disheartening to see so few fans in the stands. I don’t know what the official count was, but it looked like there were maybe 2,000 people in the audience. The team certainly deserves better than that. Maybe when they move out to the hinterlands on the western edge of the valley and are reincarnated as the Summerlin Howards, they will attract bigger crowds. … Those North Korean counterfeiting factories might have to retool soon if they want to keep on flooding Las Vegas with bogus $100 “Supernotes.” … The outrageous assertions made by Sun publisher Brian Greenspun about the shortcomings of TV news outlets in comparison to his own staff show just how out of touch he is, both with TV and with his own newspaper. It’s probably a waste of time to even respond at all to the gigantic, steaming piles of absolute BS Greenspun regurgitated in the past week. It makes me feel all the worse for the immensely capable but sorely underutilized journalists who are still clinging to their jobs at the Sun.
GEORGE KNAPP is a Peabody Award-winning investigative reporter for KLAS Channel 8.