They have only come because everyone told them not to. They arrive from Albany by helicopter, straight into most expensive and technically complex rock music event of all time. Out in front of the South Stage at Woodstock, the audience of 300,000 are chanting "Green Day! Green Day!"
The trio take the stage. There's the geekish lead singer, hair dyed blue, his covered with stickers of bands that almost everyone dosen't know. There's the green haired drummer, dressed in baggy, unwashed beach punk T-shirt and short pants. And then there's the lean clean bass player, looking somehow out of place until he leaps recklessly into the air for the bands opening song 'Welcome to Paradise.'
It's 1994. A year in which America is celebrating Ace Ventura and Forrest Gump heros; and it's the year in which Green Day have skewered the rock world with a few well-timed reminders of punk rock vitality. They're dumb, they're unpredictable stragight from the animal house, with dookie for brains.
Down below the stage, the crowd is working itself into a frenzy. The security team is grabbing flaling arms and legs, pushing them back into the heaving mass of bodies as the audience seems determined to take over the show. Pretty soon, lumps of mud from Saugerties arena are splattering on to the stage. What had motivated the crowd to throw mud was the abscent minded Billie Joe Armstrong telling them to "throw mud that's fun!" and "see how many stupid things you can do to each other at one time!"
The crowd needs no further encouragment. Billie Joe races the band through a set of high octane punk pop and the mud packs keep coming, raining down arouned the tattooed trio as they goon around stage as melodic Paper Lanterns dissolves into a riot of noise, the stage, and everyone on it, is sticky with dirt. Billie Joe puts down his guitar and starts pelting mud back into the pit. Both he and the crowd were in rock and roll heaven. The security team and pay per view cameramen, crowding under big sheets of clear plastic, don't seem to sure.
Pretty soon a crazy fan get's by the peace patrol and gets on stage and decides to give bassist Mike Dirnt a encastic embrace and as the peace patrol guy sees that he tackles both Dirnt and the crazed fan and knocks out Dirnt's front teeth.
The music stops. It's all over. Green Day have turned the worlds most state of the art concert into a messy, ludicrous joke. Billie Joe's face is beaming thinking that his work here was done.
Rodeo, California is not an exiting place, and Billie Joe Armsrong and Mike Pritcherd were both itching for a little rock and roll when they met in 1983. Living in a mind-blowingly boring suburb of Berkeley can effect you for the rest of your life, but these two 11 year olds were willing to do anything to stir up a little action. Later BJ's mom bought BJ a guitar which he still uses today and was someones originally from a band called "Big Bang Beat"
Billie Joe was born on Febuary 17, 1972, the youngest of a family of six kids; his father was a jazz drummer and a trucker and his mom was a big elvis fan and liked country because she was from Oklahoma. After a few years his father died of cancer, when BJ was 10 years old, his mother remarried and began waitressing to support the family. He reportedly began his musical career at the age of 5 when he used to sing in children's hospitals and old peoples homes.
Mike Dirnt's childhood wasen't an easy one. His mother was a heroin addict who gave her son up after his May 4 1972 birth. At age seven, Dirnt's adoptive parents divorced, and he was shifted back and forth between his father and his biological mother. Her rather choice of a stepfather for her son a few years later was not a plesant suprise for Dirnt, although years later when his mother moved out, he and his step-father remained togetherand became friends. Finally tiring of his ever-shifting parental scene, Dirnt left home for good at the age of 15, living with the Armstrong family before moving in a squat building full of punk rockers. Dirnt finished high school while living on his own. He took a job as a cook to make enough money to get by and convinced his mom to sign a few forms necessary to keep the school authorities from asking any questions.
Billie Joe followed in his friends footsteps when he and Mike moved into an Oakland squat apartment. Not long after, he followed his mother's footsteps by dropping out of high school. He recalls handing his drop out paper's to one of the teachers whose comment's were "Who are you?" This move to the squat on West 7th Street, which also functioned as a hotel, was the inspiration behind a song to appear years later on two Green Day albums entitled 'Welcome to Paradise'
In the meantime, the two young independants had found a home in the established underground punk scene centered around the side enterence to the wicker caning store. This doorway opened onto a microism of antics, attitude and music: the Gilman Street Project. The club was open to all ages, run by volunteers, unlicensed to sell alcohol, and has been attracting the punk minded on an international scale ever since inception. The seemingly neverending stream of punk bands that turned up to play in the cramped, graffiti-covered interior of the club spilled outside onto the street to in a swig of beer--or, if they lacked the funds or the fake ID--a gulp of cough syrup. According to Billie Joe, the drug of choice of the Bay Area punk scene was speed. Spending their weekends at Gilman Street invetebly led the two friends to join in the do it yourself wave and in 1987 their own band Sweet Children(Both founding members were 15) began playing anywhere and everywhere they could.
Over a year of late nights sped by. Alternately one ofe bands on a club's long bill or one of the crowd whenever they could scrape enough money to get in the door, Billie Joe and Mike became loyal regulars on the punk circut. Bands like Berkeley's Operation Ivy became their role models. In 1989, apparently feeling like they had outgrown their original moniker, they rechristened the band Green Day after thier song the same name about a day devoted to smoking pot. They then decided they were ready to get serious and managed to get an audition for independant label LOOKOUT! Records' presedent Lawrence Livermore. The only drawback was that the audition took place in a shack 200 miles away from Mendocino County sans the one staple of most gigs. That and the fact that it was pouring with rain and the powerless venue was also missing a roof would seem to spell disaster and a distinct lack of record deal; it did not, however, phase the band. With the help of a generator and a canndle for the twelve members of the audience, Green Day went ahead with it. Within days they were signed with Lookout.
Their first album was 39/Smooth(available these days on cd 1,039 Smoothed Out Slappy Hours, which is also features songs from the Slappy E.P. and 1,000 Hours E.P.). The now signed nature blend of Billie Joe's sneering vocal style, catchy melodies, and manic tracks are showcased on this debut. The lyrics are for the most past focused on lost youth and girl troubles. The frantic pace slows downbriefly for a bitof mournful harmonizing on the almost pretty track "Rest". The album gained the band enough attention to put them on the road, and Billie Joe,Mike, and drummer John Kiffmeyer(Al Sobronte) set out to tour the United States with the itinerary they had booked themselves in a van they often drove themselves.
Ben Weasel(Foster), a columnist for Californian punk 'zine MAXIMUMROCKNROLL and member of Lookout band's the Riverdales and Screeching Weasel, recalls his first ecounter with BJ and Mike when the "two obviously drunk kids" lurched past him ouside a punk club. Ben recalls that they piled into a back of a van and then the door swung open to allow one of the kids to "puke all over the pavment." he remembers asking himself how the hell they ever got themselves a record deal.
At the end of the none-to-relaxing tour, Sobrante dropped out of the band. At the time BJ and Mike were ready to quit, until they went to Gilman and found real punk veteren of the Lookouts Tre Cool (Born Frank Edwin Wright III) who incredably enough had ben playing drums professionally at the age of 12. Tre was born on Dec. 9, 1972.
1992's Kerplunk!, Green Day's second album with Lookout, was recorded with the band's present-day lineup intact. Tre's tight, accurate drumming seemed to pull a drawstring around the bands style. Settling behind his drum set on stage in drag(Ben Weasel remembers that,"he often showed up to gigs in lipstick and a dress") may have been Tre's way to rebelling against his own musical acumen. Recorded on an unbelieable $1,000 dollar budget(cost-cutting tactics include Billie Joe and Mike simultaniously pelting out the lead and backing vocals), the album closes with a frentic cover song of the Who's "My Generation," a track which fearures the closest thing to a guitar solo you'll get from Green Day. Another networthy song is the only tune on the album penned by Tre', a little ditty entitled "Dominated Love Slave" whose country/western musical style is oh-so-slightly at odds with the lyric matter.
Kerplunk's cover features a winking cartoon girl sporting a T-shirt emblazoned with a smiley-faced flower. Oh yes, also she is holding a smoking pistol in one hand. The lyric sheet aldo offers a bit of literary entertainment in the form of a story entitled "My Adventure With Green Day" in which an inocent little high school student named Laurie L. murders her parents in order to go on tour with the band.
Green Day's popularity was burgeoning, and relying on traspertation from Tre's trucker father in a pinch just wasn't feasable now that the bands gig's were in venues and not nearly large enough to hold eager crowds they were attracting. It was all getting out of control, with shows cancelled due to too many fans. The band decided to meet with managment company Cahn & Saltzman who now also handle Offspring, Pennywise, Rancid and other punk bands. Elliot Cahn told Crossroads magazine that Green Day's "reputation was that they would have nothing to do with anyone in the music bussiness....I think being antagonistic, they wanted a bunch of cigar chewers." The two attorneys apperantly made a good impression, and got to work immediatly pitiching the band to all the MAINSTREAM record companies. A&R men started turning up at packed-out Green Day gigs all over the country. Bill Bently,Vice Pres. of media relations at Reprise Records, recalls that "I couldn't believe how strong they were. They were doing crazy shit and it worked."
The rest of Warner Brothers was equally exited, and the band decided it needed the organization and distribution a major label could give them. After an amicle split with Lookout, Green Day signed with Reprise Records. This sudden passing on of responsobility to a team of big time professionals might have crushed other bands but Green Day had their own managers, bookers, and roadies since the beginning, and they weren't about to let anyhting get out of hand unless they wanted it to. As it turned out, that's exactly what was about to happen.
The band spent summer of 93' recording their next album and them went on tour with Bad Religion, an established Los Angeles punk-rock band whose guitarist Brett Gurewitz is also the head of Epitaph Records, the "Wanna be Punks" Offspring label. Little sis the punk community suspect that Green Day, who had also supported the Offspring in their time, would soon bring nationwide attention to the "new" punk movement, and that the Offspring would follow Green Day to Billboard stop ten.
The year 1994 turned out to be a pretty eventful year for the three guys who hadn't exatlylead run of the mill livesin their 22 years. The bands 3rd album Dookie was released at the beginning of the year and they had sold millions of copies. Green Day went from playing 2 bedroom parties to stadiums filled with tens and thousands of fans, and Billie Joe and Tre' found out they were to be fathers.
It was also a memorable year for the music industry. Nirvana's Kurt Cobain, often labeled the spokesperson for the slacker generation, took his own life. An attempet to relieve the summer of peace and love in Woodstock II was critisized as a jaded cash in by many and lauded as a wonderful sucsess by others; the only unanimously approved description of the event was muddy Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails put a new spin on the pete Townshed school of performance and annihilated more than a few keyboards to the delight of a leigon of fans. The Rolling Stones were on tour yet again and the Eagles kissed and made up. Solo women artists like Liz Phair, Tori Amos, Sheryl Crow, Courtny Love and Bjork stood out and spoke out. The flannel shirted kings of grunge took a bow, and when their heads were down a bunch of punks threw them off the stage.
Recent years had been obsessed with music with a message. In the afterglow of the 80's Live Aid, many pop stars seemed to feel that music should be means to an end. The era of political correctitude in America had music journalists grilling artists about their opinions on everything under the sun except music as a method of dealing with neurosis, anger, and despair.
And suddenly along comes a band who seen to have gotten back to the basic reasons for being in a band. Actully, they don't seem to have thought it out that far; they're just having a great time. Their album is full of three minuite songs (none of which address a single global issue), and they offer no apologies for acting their age, losing control, and loving every minuite of it. They're rock stars, a pop band, and most of all PUNK all at ounce. What else do you want?
Visually, the members of Greeen Day encapsulate the music they belt out in vivid technicolor. Billie Joe's revolving hair color has almost covered the spectrum; it's anyone's guess whether the lead singer will turn up with jet-black, bright red, yellow, or greenish blue cruchy mess on top of his head. The only constant seems to be the certainty that it's been slept on for at least two very restless nights running. Wide-eyed, with a pair of eyebrows that seem to constantly be on ther verge of imminent departure from his face altogether, his everyday expression is one of stunned surprise. Bets are in as to whethere or not he sleeps with his eyes closed.
Billie Joe has peirced and tattooed himself with a vengence. His own cartoonlike image, however, is fashioned of more flamboyant stuff than this. A fondness for bright gaudy ties-the shorter and wider the betterm apparently0and an affinity for clown suits is a little hard to come by in the world of rock stardom, but hey, it takes all kinds.
In it's May 19, 1994, issue, Rolling Stone published a picture of a seemingly dumbfounded Billie Joe and band, nothing that "Beavis and Butt-head have started a band: It's called Green Day." Although the rather rude query "why bother?" turned up in more than a few early reviews of Green Day and the so-called punk revival, as any American teenager will tell you, there is plenty to rebel against without leaving the confines of your average suburban living room. The Sex Pistols went after the Queen; Green Day is pissed of because there is nothing good on tv.
Nothing good, that is, until MTV tagged the band's "Longview" video as one for the Buzz Bin and started airing it wiht a mother's devotion. Green Day chose Mark Kohr, a fellow Californian who had previously worked on Primus' videos, to produce their first foray into the all-important world of MTV. It was shot in Billie Joe's preplatinum status abode:a basement of an old Victorian house just down the street from the UofCalifornia and filled with students. Billie Joe's couch shredding skills have since been showcased to television viewers on sofas everywhere
After teh band burst into the nationwide scene via appearences on the '94 Lollapalooza Tour and at Woodstock II, Dookie's sales exploded. Green Day's performance @ Woodstock '94 could most possibly be the one best remembered by the time Woodstock III rolls around. THe kings of punkdom fulfilled their royal roles with awe-inspiring exactitude. The band incited the biggest mudfight ever to be documented on file, Billie Joe pulled his pants down (the inspiration behind a scolding letter from the lead singers very disappointed mother), and Mike Dirnt's front teeth were shattered by a security guard unable to tell the difference between a mud covered pop star and a mud covered fan. Billie Joe told SPIN magazine that the anniversary of the legandary peace love fest was "fucking psycho," and then went on to quote the staggering statistic that there were 750 legs broken @ Woodstock II before Green Day went onstage (the post mudfight numbers aren't in yet). His concise summary of this historical event was, "It was the closest thing to anarchy i've ever seen in my life, and i didn't like it."
Simultaneously deriding and delighting the legion of record buying adolecents out there isn't such a bad idea. After all, what are arrogant upstarts who've suddenly become huge pop starts supposed to do? The idea that playing loud, fast, pogoing songs to a massive, dirty crowd can only be topped by self-exposure and a brawl with your own security goons makes all the sense in the world. It gives every fan in the crowd a hell of a story to tell when they get home, anyway.
What next? At the September MTV Video Music awards @ New York City's Radio City Music Hall, a show strangely laden with the old school trying to look young after accepting life-time achievement awards, Green Day was-to coin a phrase-a breath of fresh air. There's really nothing wrong with being immature as long as your proud of it.
No one ever said becoming massively popular would be without it's few mishaps. It October a mob of over 65,000 fans turned up for Green Day's free concert @ Boston's Hatch Shell. The police stopped the music after a few songs, which-as one might expect-pissed of each one of the would be moshers. A few obligatory spurts of tear gas and forty-five arrests later, the crowd and the band decidedto make alternate plans for the evening.
Billie Joe, Mike, and Tre rounded off the year with a big media coverage, a performance on Saturday Night Live, and a pinch of nudity for good luck. The November, 1994, cover of SPIN magazine featured a surly looking Green Day with the header "the year that punk broke." Too much adultion isn't alwayss a good thing;SPIN's December, 19994, issue named both "Longview" and "Basket Case" as single #19 in their Top 20 singles of the year with the note "Can you tell the difference?" And what better place for a spot of public exposure than New York City's Madison Square Garden? Overshadowing the other bands @ the December concert wasnn't too difficult; Billie Joe oblingly appeared wearing nothing but his guitar and his requisit facial twitch.
A public just a little weary of grunge and an industry looking for the next big time thing may have welcomed Green Day with open arms and wallets, but those who knew that punk was nothing shiney and new weren't quite as thrilled with the band's good fortune.
MaximumRockNRoll magazine, the Bay Area punk bible took offense @ Green day's breaking of hardcore rule number one:Don't sell out. Selling out, in politically correct punkese, consists of signing with a major label, making loads of money, and becoming MTV darlings while still clinging to the right to wear smelly ripped clothing. The 'zine featured cover headlines in 1994 like "Major Labels:Some of Your Friends Are Already This Fucked." Apparently rebellion is only kosher as long as it doesn't actually get you anywhere.
The Gilman Street Project, parent and guardian to many a punk-rocker, does not take kindly to successful children coming home to visit. Jello Biafra, ex-;ead singer for the Dead Kennedys, was severely beaten by members of the crowd there as chants of "sell-out" and "pop star" filled the hardcore haven. Members of Green Day nonetheless put Gilman Street up on a pedestal as a true home, a mecca for those looking for a bit of silly behavior, love, and belonging. They also seem to have accepted the fact that they can never go back.
Perhaps one of the strongest rebuttals to the punk faction's cries of "traitor" is the fact that Green Day has demanded that all rights to their first 2 albums remain with Lookout Records. Judging by the number of 39/Smooth and Kerplunk cds in every major record chain in the country, this should ensure future funding for many struggling punk artists in the years to come.
On December 2, 1994, the band played to a sold-out crowd of almost 15,000 @ New YOrks's Nassau Coliseum. Yet again boosting their fellow Lookout Records artists, Green Day's opening act was Pansy Division, a gay punk band whose song "Rock & Roll Queer Boy" probably wasn't written with a stadium audience in mind. Green Day refused to take a more popular band on tour with them, arguing that if they couldn't sell large venues out with Pansy Division as their support, that they would just play smaller places.
They have also hooked up many a kid with a cheap seat;the band butted heads with Ticketmaster in order to ensure that ticket prices for their man 1994 shows never rose above the $15 mark.
Billie Joe, as any rock and roll frontman worth his salt, is adept at giving good quote. His flair for smart-ass replies harkens back to the days of the cleverly silly press confrences with the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. A List of his most succinct verbal treasures must include his summary of sexuality ("People don't know what the fuck they are") and his self analysis ("I'm an asshole trying to be a nice guy").
The band has also been known to, well, condone a few excesses that aren't exactly on the moral majority top ten list. In the January 26, 1995 Rolling Stone interview, Billie Joe candidly (and no one can't help imaging happily) admitted "I drank everyday, and I use it as a crutch to relax me." Mike Dirnt, apparently on the same wavelength as his esteemed colleague, went on to say, "I think drinking and doing drugs are very important."
Billie Joe has also been known to wax poetic on his own image. His concerns about fane are excapsulated in the comment, "You might start to believe what the media is saying and stuff and become, like, a parody of yourself." Not taking yourself too seriously is a maximum which has stood him in good stead over the yearsl his reply to his being designated the voice of his generation is that he's "more like the butt of a generation."
What are a few twenty-two year old punks to do after spending one outrageous year touring like mad to support an album that wont stop selling? The reverse bungee jump from limited underground success to being the favorite band of millions of your peers can leave you feeling more than a little dizzy.
Unless, of course, you spent your teenage years driving headlong into the sex, drugs, and rock n' roll trip. Unless you never had much money and never expected to. Unless you'd been playing your own music in your band since your early teenage years. You mighe just decide to take it all in stride and enjoy it. As Mike Dirnt told Rolling Stone, "Eventually, we'll lose all the money and everything else, anyway. Let's just make sure we have one big story at the end."
Not everyone was convinced that here was the band we'd all been waiting for. Critics panned the band as nothing but hype and funny haircuts. Rolling Stone recieved mixed responses from readers of the January 26, 1995 annual music Awards issue featuring "Best New Band" Green Day on the cover, including a letter from a subscriber who claimed she wasn't even able to read the artice as the cover alone caused her to throw up on the magaiznel another disgrunteld letter to the editor cited the band's music as "glorified commercial crap."
Well, to each his own. Green Day recieved four nominations at the 37th annual Grammy Awards, presented March 1, 1995, including "Best New Artist" and "Best Alternative Music Performanc." At the Bay Area Music Awatds (a.k.a. teh bammies), Mike Dirnt showed up to retrive Green Day's awards, explaining his solo status by disclosing that the band had drawn straws and he had lost.
In mid-March, Billie Joe's wife Adrienne gave birth to a baby boy they'd already named Joey. Joey's imminence was divorced via a home pregnancy test the day after the proud parents' backyard wedding ceremony. Billie Joe's description of the nupitals to Rollig Stone was characteristically bluntL "It was a lot of fun. Then we went to the claremont hotel, and we fucked like bunnies." Not to be outdone, Tre COol and his girlfriend Lisea a few months before became parents to a baby girl they had decided to name ramona (any intention tribute to the Ramones remains unconfirmed).
Will parenthood calm everyone's favorite obnoxious punks down? Will Billie Joe stop writing songs like "Chump"(I don't know you but I think i hate you) and suddenly become a responsible married man? Don't worry, one of Billie Joe's goals as a husband is to carry on "dumpster diving" with his wife as often as possible. The happy couple have already begun thinking about what they'll say when their son decides to drop out of school. Tre has bought himself a house and aims to do one of the things he does bestL hang out. Mike Dirnt is thinking about persuing a career as a stand-up comedian. THe most hyperactive band you know is planning on chilling out for a while. Who knows, maybe they'll find something good on TV.
Biography written by: Kalen Rogers