From Punk to Prophet: The Story and Message of Tom DeLonge

From Punk to Prophet: The Story and Message of Tom DeLonge December 1, 2011

Editor’s Note: This post was written by Guest Writer, Steven Sukkau.

When pop-punk pioneer Tom DeLonge broke up Blink-182 to spend more time with his young family, no one could’ve predicted the new spiritual direction his life would take. Now, DeLonge’s new band, Angels & Airwaves, (or AVA, stylistically shortened to the name of his daughter) is beginning to sound more like a voice crying out in the wilderness than a shot at fame.

While on tour in Europe in the last years of Blink 182, DeLong found himself addicted to pain killers, missing his family half a world away, and slowly growing apart from his bandmates. These pressures pushed DeLonge and the band to a breaking point in 2005, when Blink-182 went on “definite haitus” in what looked like a career-killing move. But out of the ashes of Blink-182 arose Angels and Airwaves.

While you’d never know it listening to Blink-182 and their embodiment of teenage anarchy that shot them to superstardom during the late 90’s, DeLonge grew up in a religious home. So maybe it’s not surprising that in post-blink interviews DeLonge has shared about overcoming his addiction to painkillers with supernatural help, though DeLonge has made it clear, he didn’t find God; rather, God found him. The event helped inspire a new band and a new purpose for his life. One of AVA’s earliest songs, “Lifeline” speaks of walking alongside a savior and choosing to accept a new calling, to become more than just a punk rocker, to become a messenger of hope.

Like a true prophet, DeLonge and company are not chasing the spotlight like they could be, “the message is bigger than the band,” they’ve said in interviews. This is remarkable, considering DeLonge’s descent from stardom–selling 30 million copies of the latest Blink 182 album, to just 3 million over the course of AVA’s four releases. Still nothing to laugh at, but it’s a significant step down from Blink’s peak during the crass chaos of 90’s punk.

But his post-Blink 182 band, Angels and Airwaves, is his means of declaring truth. From the visions of doom stripped from Revelation, to the criticism of organized religion, to visions of hope for a better world, AVA’s latest offering, LOVE pt. 2, finds the DeLonge exercising a prophetic role.

But what exactly is AVA’s message? Their first album, We Don’t Need to Whisper begins with an introspective journey, built on songs like “The Adventure,” and “The Message” that shed light on DeLonge’s own re-discovery of purpose and new emphasis on the positive side of life after the Blink break-up. Their sophomore release, I-Empire takes the positive inner change outside themselves with songs like “Secret Crowds” and “Everything’s Magic,” singing about changing the world around you. Finally, Love pt. 1 explores perhaps the most Christian message of all: our relationship with others.

Together, AVA’s albums have touched on the power of beauty and the mystery of life, wrapped up in the majestic crescendo of synths, soaring guitar riffs and pounding drums. And while the new sound has sent many teenagers seeking a spiritual experience, like a true prophet, his message is often rejected or dismissed, by both the church and non-christians. DeLonge has admitted, singing about love and hope is not cool, and his legions of punk fans have not all made the jump to Angels and Airwaves.

Similar to John the Baptist’s reception from the Pharisees, AVA doesn’t jive well with religious crowd either. Like John’s locust eating and camel hair fashion, Delonge flies in the face of church leaders with his anarchy encouraging Blink-182 background, baggy pants and potty humor. Both DeLonge and John offer some harsh words for the organized religion of their day. For John it was the Pharisees and Sadducees, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?” (Matt. 3:7 NIV) he says, going on to expose their double nature of looking spiritual on the outside, but not producing good fruit. DeLonge criticizes the Church, namely the hypocrisy and double nature of Christians as he sings in “Surrender”:

There is a crowd in here, that fooled themselves/ they brought their friends, and they made their hell/ they fake their grin, it’ll only sell.

The Church, much like John the Baptist’s day, is full of “handsome and calloused, young believers/hiding, plotting schemers/and rotting out like fruit/that was left here to die” as DeLonge sings in “Anxiety,” the first single released for LOVE pt.2.

His lyrics conjure up images of the backbiting and the desire to appear righteous when our actions speak otherwise. DeLonge reminds us we do no good in putting on a fake grin, pretending we’re ok, when we are really hurting and broken.

DeLonge, in his prophetic role, shares something in common to the Bible’s other John, the writer of Revelation. The apostle and former disciple of Jesus is privy to frightening visions of the future, of wars and violence, but also hope and truth. Such things are too much for mortal men—this comes through in “Anxiety” as Delonge sings, “I’m running from the truth/Cause it f$%&s with my mind.”

The revelations burning in DeLonge’s mind come in the form of hope, love and the end of the world. “Behold a Pale Horse” describes the scene of Revelations 1, as DeLonge recounts John’s visions of a terrifying future event,

I see the seven stars/ I see the seven stands/ I hear a deadly voice/ I count the sins we have/ I am the living one/ I am the first and last

The seven angels sing/ and several billion die with the earth shaking/  yeah they know who we are and they will set us free.

DeLonge is refreshingly honest here—this is a strange way of celebrating Christ’s return. But instead of sweeping those feelings under the rug, AVA explores the genuine human emotion and questions that arise from the text.

And AVA’s end of the world discussion doesn’t dwell there, instead, on The “Revelator,” Delonge sings of things to come,

When the show will arrive/ It will be right on time/ So you better sit tight/ It will be a great ride.

The revelation? The world’s ending, but it’s not the end of the story. DeLonge jumps headlong into the anxiety Christian discourse often ignores, but comes up with answers that feel sincere.

The final song on the album, All That We Are speaks of a child and a mother trying to decipher what it means to be human in the midst of sadness and despair.

We are/ All that we are

But what are we? The answer may be found on “Some Origins of Fire” from Love pt. 1. DeLonge sings, “We all are love and love is hard/ We’re hard to love … It breaks my heart.”

Despite the horror of life and anxiety of the future that can’t be addressed with easy answers and sappy Christian songs, AVA remind us of our purpose by naming their massive double album simply, LOVE. And love is all about relationship; simultaneously acknowledging it’s centrality as well as the difficulty involved with loving people on “Some Origins of Fire.”

In the end, even as it seems the world is tearing itself apart and we find ourselves carrying the burden of living in a cold world without love, DeLonge hangs onto hope. On “One Last Thing” DeLonge sings, “but I found, one last thing to believe in . . . I was told/ To breathe in the most righteous breath/ A feeling of heartfelt purpose/ A sense of hope/ For something bigger than ourselves.”

If a prophet proclaims God’s truth and we can glean some goodness, some beauty in AVA’s music, whether intentional or not, wouldn’t DeLonge be a candidate?

LOVE pt.2 is a frightening, hopeful, inspiring and apocalyptic end to the double album. It is underscored by grandiose, though sometimes meandering synth themes and majestic space rock. It is a spiritual experience.

AVA uses Christian themes in their lyrics, song titles and message, and while not overtly Christian, if they serve the same purpose of giving listeners hope while challenging them to make the world a better place, does it matter what band it came from or if the singer used to run around naked on MTV? As Paul writes, some preach the gospel out of rivalry, but others out of goodwill. But what does it matter? Either way Christ is preached. (Philipians 15-18).

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  • Great article. I would add that I’ve found that Angels and Airwaves takes huge cues from modern Christian worship music as well. While one could certainly say that modern Christian worship music, in turn, took huge musical cues from U2, Angels and Airwaves consistently aligns itself with Christian worship music (and this is excluding all the spiritual themes in the music itself).

    In my mind, when Delonge says the band wants to give fans a “near-spiritual experience”, they end up using many of the same musical techniques that Christian musicians have used to do that very same thing. The funny thing, is, Angels and Airwaves’ often secular audiences don’t even know it.

  • Steven Sukkau

    Thanks Luke, I was inspired by your piece on Coldplay’s Xylo Myloto and “Big Music” or the epic stadium-sized rock that borrows Christian themes and spirituality to make a deeper connection with listeners.

    I think you wrote, “For us as Christians it’s okay for us to let Coldplay and other “Big Music” point us to the grand, epic, and massive thing it is imitating.”

    In a comment from another CaPC, reader Max Haben suggested true prophets are often behind the scenes, and I would add, sometimes even outside the Church, like “voices crying out in the wilderness.”

    But if music isn’t from a blatant Christian source, is it edifying?

  • Hinesmdc

    Not to be mean, but AVA has nothing to do with Christianity. They’ve even said “We’re not religious by any means.”

    Not to mention you misquoted many lyrics, band members, and even spelled Tom DeLonge’s name several hundred times.

  • Stevensukkau

    I guess the point of the article is, when you quote the Bible, use religious imagery and language while exploring spirituality in both music and message, at what point does a band become religious? (whether they try to deny it or not)

  • Shane

    While Tom did say he’s not religious, he did say he’s very spiritual and in fairness, he does use a lot of religious imagery. One song I’m surprised you didn’t use as an example is “A Little’s Enough”. It’s one of the few songs of AVA’s first album that has obvious religious imagery with lines like “The silence came with the brightest eyes / And turned water into wine” and ” Where every thing is not so bad / Every tear is so alone / Like God himself is coming home”.
    Anyway, great article!

  • Hinesmdc

    “We Don’t Need to Whisper” and “I-Empire” both have the message that if you can see the world differently, you can affect the world around you. If you can affect the world around you, you can affect the world itself. While “LOVE” and “LOVE Part Two” are about the importance of human connection, and not being alone. Seen quite clearly in their feature film of the same name.

  • Stevensukkau

    Ah, good call Shane, “A little s enough” is a fantastic song, packed religious imagery. It’s just too bad AVA s lyrics sometimes fall short of poignancy and end up being a little too fluffy. But I think we’re being deceived when bands like AVA claim to be spiritual and not religious. You can’t address God directly like on “letters to God pt. 2” without being religious. There s no middle of the road to walk here, you are acknowledging your belief and articulating your theology. Either you re saying God exists or doesn’t (belief) and describing Him as trust worthy or not (theology). Sitting on the fence “spirituality” doesn’t exist. But I like to believe DeLonge falls on a certain side.

  • chelswil27

    Ok this is great and all, but in august I went to the blink concert and he dropped the f bomb like nobody’s business. I mean if he’s changed and accepted Christ that’s awesome! But his behavior at the concert sends a totally different message

  • Steven Sukkau

    I completely agree with you, we can’t defend behaviour like that. And I pray God uses Tom mightily for His glory, and gives him a Saul-Paul transformation by the same grace we all need.
    But I hope we don’t, as Christians, write off someone by their outward appearance. Jesus hung out with a lot of bad people to the chagrin of religious leaders at the time. I wonder, if Jesus went to a Blink 182 concert and hung out with DeLonge backstage, would the church get just as upset and confused?

  • Hinesmdc

    WHAT God!?

  • Steven Sukkau

    Oh, my assumption throughout was that AVA believes God exists and songs like, ‘letters to God’ are symbolic of a kind of prayer.
    But you bring up an interesting point, if AVA or fans don’t believe in God, how do they interpret songs that refer to God or heaven etc?

  • chelswil27

    I’m not writing him off by his appearance. It’s got nothing to do with that, I’m understanding him through his actions. What he does, speaks way louder. He can have Christian themes all he wants, but if he isn’t living in a way that backs that up then its worthless. Faith without works is dead. Second of all Jesus wouldn’t be confused. He’s Jesus. Him and God are one in the same and God is omniscient. Yeah he would be upset if he didn’t ask for forgiveness. You don’t think it upsets him to see the ones he loves living in sin? Third, I get the Saul Paul idea you’re talking about, but Saul didn’t proclaim Christian ideas. He murdered Christians. Then completely changed his ways. Tom is riding the fence or even hopping back and forth over the fence.

  • Steven Sukkau

    As a fan and a Christian, it hurts to see someone you admire talk about God, love and the importance of relationships, and then swear and make dirty jokes. But while Saul was a murderer, he thought he was doing God’s will. I wonder if it’s the same with AVA, they are very spiritual, but not hooked up to Christ. And you’re right, actions speak louder than words. But if we can judge by the fruit of his actions, how do we interpret his uplifting songs/movie? Is this good fruit?

  • Tyler

    I think the key is that Christianity is not about religion; it’s about relationship. Religion says rules, Jesus says relationship. Religion says law, Jesus says grace. Try looking up religion and then think what your Christian life is to you. And don’t know about you, but I definitely am not “religious”, and really do not want to be.
    Anyway, fantastic band. And I believe they are glorifying God, whether they know it or not. =)

  • Tyler

    Maybe they do believe in God, but don’t want to be labeled “religious”

  • Steven Sukkau

    Yeah, and I can see why. Religion has a lot of negative connotations these days, so to be labeled “religious” really wouldn’t be doing anyone any favors. And I was struck by what you said about glorifying God and not knowing it. I wonder if when do something with passion, and sincerity, whether it’s sports, or music etc. we honor God when we do it with honesty.

  • Tyler

    It’s so true. The term religion brings to mean judgement and rules and tradition.
    Exactly! I think just using the gifts God gives in a pure way glorifies God! And Angels and Airwaves music is particularly impacting. It gives you a desire for something MORE. Something BIGGER.
    Just imagine how powerful Tom would be if he was consciously/intentionally glorifying God =)

  • Tyler

    It’s so true. The term religion brings to mind judgement and rules and tradition.

    Exactly! I think just using the gifts God gives in a pure way glorifies God! And Angels and Airwaves music is particularly impacting. It gives you a desire for something MORE. Something BIGGER.
    Just imagine how powerful Tom would be if he was consciously/intentionally glorifying God =)

  • Melinda

    Great convo guys!

  • This is Amazing!
    I pray he finds the Lord for real and start writing songs not just to make feel people good or more spiritual, nah, I pray that the Lord would touch his heart to sing praises and glorify Him in Spirit and Truth! And start announcing that Jesus is coming soon!
    Lord, please touch Tom’s heart, he is your son, I pray you would change him from the inside out, I’ll be the first one on buying that new cd in Jesus Name!!

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  • Tom from AVA is not a christian, he is a FREE MASON. Search it up, it’s everywhere. He is far from a christian.He uses free mason symbols and there are photo’s online of his guitars covered in free mason symbols .he doesnt talk about it much but its obvious, search it up for yourself.

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