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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