Green Day

I was nine when I heard my first curse word in music. I had kept a mental catalogue of all the words my mom castigated my dad for saying in front of me as I was growing up, and had built a highly effective radar that caught any uses of said words in the world around me. Through my sister’s then new Sony headphones (the kind with the removable fuzz pads for the ears and the highly-bendable-but-easily-breakable headband) launched a slingshotting guitar riff that was to give way to the oncoming profanity, as my older sibling stared at me and smiled with the hope that she could pass her interests on to me.

I had yet to become a fan of music at the time. I mean I enjoyed listening to music, but it was always in a passive capacity. My dad would only infrequently interrupt the usual radio programming with an ABBA or Beatles Greatest Hits CD, and if my sister was in the car we would always hear the latest modern rock hits from the local FM stations. I never had any agency in choosing what I listened to, but I knew I preferred “Paperback Writer” to the traffic report when being driven to school.


American Idiot came out at the end of September 2004 — it was a blockbuster album that turned Green Day into a household name, winning over a teenage consciousness that in turn launched them to the top of the charts. The release of the band’s grand-scale rock opera felt like a millennial shift — a pop-punk version of how Nevermind alienated everyone except for those who felt like aliens, and subsequently dethroned Michael Jackson on the charts. Students in middle school broke anti-weaponry dress codes in mass by proudly displaying the album cover’s iconic bleeding heart grenade across their chests. At an age where many kids tend to define themselves by how they differ from their peers, American Idiot created a widely accepted monoculture.

I was too young at the time to think anything about Green Day beyond the scope of being the best modern rock on modern rock radio. To parents — who suddenly saw plastered on their child’s wall this trio of black-nailed and condescending-eyed “rock stars,” going by names like Tré Cool and screaming about being “faggots” and calling out to “idiot America,” — I can imagine opinions differed. For me, however, hearing “American Idiot” felt like the first time music had any sense of urgency. Here I was at age nine, with my twelve-year-old sister trying to teach me about music, and sinking in to my eardrums were the words “Can you hear the sound of hysteria?/The subliminal mind fuck America.” There was reason for parents to be afraid.

So that is how I stumbled across Green Day. I followed very closely my sister’s musical path afterwards — she was to be the one to introduce all the new media in my life. I shadowed her through bands like Fall Out Boy and Panic! At the Disco, taking in all the power chord pop she would share with me. When my sister downloaded iTunes for me she loaded it with a “starter kit” of music — featuring the likes of All-American Rejects (which before I knew how to shuffle was all I really listened to because it was the first album to come on when you initially pressed “play”) and, of course, American Idiot. With my new (yet severely limited) library, Green Day became a daily fixture in my after-school routine, getting constant rotation while I worked on math assignments. I particularly fixated on the riff on “Holiday,” and later it was one of the first songs I learned to play on guitar when I picked up the instrument.

Eventually, I began to expand my musical tastes beyond my sister’s — discovering my original favorite band in The Red Hot Chili Peppers, as well as related artists (at least according to Pandora) such as Weezer and Sublime. Faithful ol’ Pandora was my entryway into the world of Dookie — my first experience with a Green Day album that wasn’t American Idiot. I didn’t even know those existed. For someone my age, Green Day burst into relevance only in 2004, and to consider they had a past that predates that bleeding heart grenade never even crossed my mind.

Yet here I was hearing for the first time this undeniably catchy and snotty three-minutes of music that took hold of me stronger than anything off American Idiot ever did. Green Day was speaking directly into my introspective angst with lyrics like “Sometimes I give myself the creeps/sometimes my mind plays tricks on me,” as opposed to political commentary that went way over my childhood head. As a kid I didn’t fully understand media conspiracies and the invalidity of information streams, but I sure as hell understood that I was an anxious wreck who more often that not scared myself to ruins.

I looked up the rest of Dookie on YouTube (I had iTunes, I didn’t have money), and researched it extensively on Wikipedia (where all my information about culture came from at that age). I learned that the album, with its lyrics about masturbation, weed, and bisexuality, had been certified diamond. All the mythology about that album’s colossal explosion onto the scene and the rise of radio punk-rock in its wake was beyond me — I hadn’t been born when most of that took place — but what I immediately knew when I discovered the record was that it absolutely kicks ass.

When I became old enough to also have a say on the radio stations my family tuned into, I swapped my sister’s modern rock for the alternative channels. Suddenly “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” gave way to “When I Come Around,” — as if each station had custody of only one era of Green Day. While American Idiot revolved primarily around political frustration, Dookie played with personal inadequacies, angst-induced laziness, and laziness-induced angst. I obsessed over it.

What I think was most significant in making Green Day so essential to so many, and so much more so than other bands talking about the same themes and acting the same way, is that the band could write a hell of a hook. The prime example is “Longview,” with its rumbling toms providing the perfect platform for Mike Dirnt’s stupidly catchy bassline to bury itself into your head. Armstrong’s voice was flawlessly casual enough to be friendly to notoriously judgmental teens, who would have instantly labeled him uncool and trying to hard had he let out another ounce of effort. He sang about what you wanted to hear about, exactly as you wanted to hear it — with awareness that you are focusing on “stupid shit,” but with the understanding that sometimes “stupid shit” is what matters.

Even though I was born closer to the American Idiot generation, I always longed to be of the Dookie generation. I just missed being the right age to fully feel the impact of Green Day’s politically charged punk awakening, giving me a slight hint of jealousy that subsequently reduced it’s meaning to me. At the time I felt as if everyone else around me could have American Idiot though, cause I had the better record anyway. No one else was air drumming “Having a Blast” on the way to school during middle school. Kids emblazoned that bleeding heart grenade as a proud symbol of musical taste, but I knew it as a way to recognize the “posers” in my life. I wondered if had I been present for the drop of Dookie in 1994, I might have felt different. That record was huge from the outset. It spawned five singles and won a Grammy. Maybe everyone was air drumming the same Tré Cool parts I was in 2005 back in the nineties.

But there is no way they would have gotten over the record. While the same generation who cherished American Idiot have grown to love it more for it’s sense of nostalgia than it’s musical merit, Dookie still sounds just as volatile to everyone. Sure the band faced serious local backlash in signing to a major label to release the album — a move that got the band kicked out of Berkeley’s DIY punk venue 924 Gilman Street at the time — but the same people who embody the spirit of that whole scene in the present are likely spinning Dookie these days instead of Kerplunk (the band’s underground second record that inspired major label interest in the first place but kept them very in favor of their Gilman peers).

Dookie is turning 22 this year, and it is absolutely wild to think of Green Day as a band in their 40s. Last year they entered the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, as part of a class with Lou Reed and Ringo Starr no less. The band is old by punk rock standards, but even by a lot of other metrics. Hell, there are now Green Day tribute shows! UnderCover Presents is hosting one such event at the Fox Theater on February 19th — inviting 14 Bay Area bands to perform Green Day’s third studio album from front to back. Dookie is one of the Bay Area’s shining treasures of musical output, and has inspired a number of local contemporary acts — so the homage is understandable.

While no one likely still displays their American Idiot posters without mild embarrassment on their bedroom walls, I don’t personally know of a single soul who won’t proudly sing along the bassline to “Longview” when it bursts onto a set of speakers. That’s the everlasting magic of Dookie.

A Tribute to Green Day’s Dookie
The Fox Theater
February 19, 2016
7:30 PM, $38