photo manipulation & text by nacrowe
hindsight manipulates us all. a nearly universally CELEBRATED album like GREEN DAY's GEORGE W BUSH-era narrative paean to the domestic UNDERCLASS and UNDERREPRESENTED resistance, AMERICAN IDIOT (REPRISE, 2004), feels in retrospect almost INEVITABLE. at the time of its tracking back in 2003-2004, as depicted in the documentary HEART LIKE A HAND GRENADE (CRAZY COW PRODUCTIONS, 2015), this was hardly the case. the band had a rare mid-career miscue with WARNING (REPRISE, 2000) that saw them supposedly loosing a step with the POPULAR ZEITGEIST to a new crop of POP PUNK bands they essentially helped initiate (i.e. BLINK-182, NEW FOUND GLORY, SUM 41, GOOD CHARLOTTE, etc.).
not sure i wholly buy into that narrative, but that is the popular MYTHOLOGY surrounding the creation of AMERICAN IDIOT, which was REVOLUTIONARY and UNEXPECTED upon release and is arguably GREEN DAY's crowning achievement, even more so than their debut DOOKIE (REPRISE, 1994). part of such ACCLAIM was rooted in the fact that it was perceived to be a STRIDENT middle finger to the BUSH ADMINISTRATION and their REGRESSIVE political agenda. in the early 2000s SYSTEM OF A DOWN and RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE were on the outs and ROCK music was in a weird place in that it was attempting to recreate the past a la the backward-looking INDIE ROCK REVIVAL bands such as THE STROKES, WHITE STRIPES, INTERPOL, LCD SOUNDSYSTEM and the like. nobody, and i mean no one, thought that GREEN DAY would be the band to create something as AUDACIOUS and thematically COMPLEX as a ROCK OPERA that was likewise brazenly POLITICAL at a time of war. it really put everyone else to shame in retrospect and influenced the style and scope of their catalogue from their on out.
whats compelling about HEART LIKE A HAND GRENADE is how DETERMINED, COMMITTED and CONFIDENT band leader and main songwriter BILLIE JOE ARMSTRONG is in the studio. this was a major risk. GREEN DAY were considered relative LIGHT-WEIGHTS that in essence filled a psychic and industry VOID left by NIRVANA in the wake of their TRAGIC mid-90s implosion. in comparison to the SOMBER and POETIC directness of KURT COBAIN's lyrics and persona, ARMSTRONG was by comparison a more JOVIAL and UPBEAT character that wrote songs about the banality of everyday life. AMERICAN IDIOT changed all that in one swell swoop.
its just incredible that this recording process was documented. i have no doubt itll be parsed over decades from now by musicians inspired by ARMSTRONG's GALVANIZED response to a fucked political inflection point in AMERICAN history. lord knows what we will face in the next few decades in the wake of proto-fascist DONALD TRUMP. here's hoping he never returns to power.
photo manipulation & text by nacrowe
in less than two short years itll be three decades since my family permanently left SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA for whats been an INSANE journey that has led me to live in several countries across five continents before resettling on the east coast of the UNITED STATES in recent years. ive been back out west a few times, enough to know that whatever ties i had to ORANGE COUNTY and the greater LOS ANGELES area are now pretty DISTANT and MINUSCULE, but one thing i still hold on to is the EXPERIENCE of listening to the radio while in early elementary school. specifically the nationally INFLUENTIAL ALTERNATIVE ROCK powerhouse that is 106.7FM KROQ.
i have a DISTINCT MEMORY of listening to KROQ and hearing bands like SOUNDGARDEN, LIVING COLOUR, MORRISSEY, THE B-52's, PEARL JAM, JANE'S ADDICTION, U2, TEARS FOR FEARS, NIRVANA, THE CURE, STONE TEMPLE PILOTS, ELECTRONIC, 4 NON BLONDES, DURAN DURAN, R.E.M. and ALICE IN CHAINS on car trips to and from school and regional sporting events with my dad as a kid. at this point that MEMORY is like a security blanket and one reason i probably view radio as an almost SACROSANCT institution.
embedded below are live performances of bands that have played the WEENIE ROAST, ALMOST ACOUSTIC CHRISTMAS or their recent SOUND SPACE events. all of it was recorded well after my time in LOS ANGELES but squarely showcases the continued influence of that station. it is all definitely worth checking out.
first time i remember hearing the landmark POP PUNK album DOOKIE (REPRISE, 1994) by GREEN DAY was at a cub scout meeting at a friend's house in SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA in late 1994. i was in fourth grade at the time and before the meeting someone brought over this compact disc he'd gotten for his birthday. my first impression was its INTENSITY, SPEED and UNDENIABLE CATCHINESS. given my naïveté at the time, most of the themes surrounding drug culture and relationships went well above my head at the time, but the out-front melodic lines of MIKE DIRNT that transformed his bass into a lead instrument (a la PETER HOOK of JOY DIVISION / NEW ORDER or POUTINE from SCREECHING WEASEL), the rolling kinetic propulsion of TRE COOL's drum fills and BILLIE JOE ARMSTRONG's apparent faux BRITISH singing accent made quite the impression on my young ears (and musical consciousness).
in retrospect the music industry doesnt not like a vacuum, and its to GREEN DAY's credit/misfortune that they stepped into the limelight not too long after the untimely demise of another powerhouse trio, NIRVANA. the two fairly or unfairly are inextricably linked in that regard even though they come from different ends of the PUNK ROCK universe. NIRVANA was more artier and introspective and took inspiration from both the INDIE ROCK (i.e. R.E.M., DINOSAUR JR, MEAT PUPPETS and SONIC YOUTH) and HARDCORE (i.e. BLACK FLAG, THE GERMS, FLIPPER, BIG BLACK) scenes of the 1980s while GREEN DAY was firmly within the MELODIC HARDCORE (i.e. BAD RELIGION, DESCENDENTS, DAG NASTY, HUSKER DU) end of the spectrum with more than a passing indebtedness to the CATCHIER, LESS ANGRY end of the PUNK ROCK spectrum (i.e. THE BUZZCOCKS and THE RAMONES). personally i dont think its fair to compare the two bands as BILLIE JOE ARMSTRONG and KURT COBAIN are very different people with very different SONGWRITING SENSIBILITIES. but i would be remiss to not at least mention that such discussion is an inevitability given the success of both bands, who in tandem lifted PUNK ROCK from an underground commercial nonentity to an entirely mainstream concern that changed the cultural landscape of ROCK AND ROLL to date in its wake.
for me the standout tracks off DOOKIE (and there are quite a few of them) are not just the iconic anthemic singles "WHEN I COME AROUND," "LONGVIEW," "BASKET CASE" and "WELCOME TO PARADISE" but also lesser celebrated tracks like "SHE," "BURNOUT," "PULLING TEETH" and my long-time personal favorite "F.O.D." which is short for "fuck off and die." lovely. i think that much as DOOKIE set the sonic template for what POP PUNK became over the next decade (i.e. concise, no frills song construction with impassioned melodic vocals) with bands like BLINK-182, SUM 41, NEW FOUND GLORY, FALL OUT BOY and GOOD CHARLOTTE among others, what is less celebrated are how influential ARMSTRONG's lyrical perspective has been. and for this i am again using COBAIN as an acknowledged unfair counterpoint. COBAIN was firmly confessional but in an oblique, frustrated and ultimately self-destructive manner. that sense of exposing one's brutal, unadulterated self-eviscerations is part of his legacy that less steadier hands and much less gifted musicians have mined with ever diminishing results (i.e. SEETHER, CREED, STAIND, BUSH, NICKELBACK and PUDDLE OF MUDD). ARMSTRONG on the other-hand seemed to coat his societal observations and self-evaluations within a context that seemed a bit more neutral. i dont believe the narrator in "LONGVIEW" is speaking about its subject (a listless, masturbatory stoner with no ambition) with any sense of enmity or pity. it just is what it is. i can't help but connect that song to later tracks like BLINK-182's "WHAT'S MY AGE AGAIN?" (about outmoded juvenile hijinks done well into someone's 20s) and FALL OUT BOY's "SUGAR, WE'RE GOIN DOWN" (about the lengths fought for a seemingly doomed relationship), which all seem to have a neutral storyteller at the heart not passing authorial judgement on the players in the narrative. personally i just dont see COBAIN having time for that technique of hiding behind a character. his work was more of a guided missile ultimately aimed at himself.
whats interesting for me about GREEN DAY is how ARMSTRONG's songwriting seems over time to trend more towards COBAIN. case in point is the other most celebrated album in GREEN DAY's catalogue, AMERICAN IDIOT (REPRISE, 2004), which seems to marry the two perspectives. but i'll save that discussion for another day.
DOOKIE is required listening for anyone interested in ROCK AND ROLL, end stop.
parodies by nacrowe
check out HERE this recent streaming video episode of DEER GOD RADIO celebrating EAST BAY POP PUNK icons GREEN DAY!
past episodes of DEER GOD RADIO are available here at the DEER GOD website as well as in the MAKERPARKRADIO.NYC archives.
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i believe it is fair to say that WARNING (REPRISE, 2000) is the forgotten GREEN DAY album. some critics over the years have disparaging claimed it to be a product of frontman BILLIE JOE ARMSTRONG's self-indulgent "fat ELVIS" period. no doubt it has the misfortune of being the lead-in record to what many consider their best record, AMERICAN IDIOT (although some claim DOOKIE), and the overall renaissance of their cultural status as POP PUNK icons.
i dont see it that way.
when i listen back to tracks off WARNING like "MINORITY," "WAITING," "MACY'S DAY PARADE," "MISERY" and "WARNING," what some hear as a lack of energy and bombast i hear as a detour into the song-craft and subtle thoughtfully crafted sonic dynamics at play with BRITISH INVASION bands like THE KINKS and THE WHO. there is a storytelling quality and a solid penchant for CHARACTER STUDIES that come into play on this record that would bear fruit with the follow-up and its multi-song NARRATIVE ARC. such a detour into essentially creating modern FOLK NARRATIVES puts ARMSTRONG in keeping with a decidedly BRITISH tradition exemplified by the likes RAY DAVIES and PETE TOWNSEND. i think ARMSTRONG's fascination with the earlier work of those two songwriters helps make the connection between WARNING and AMERICAN IDIOT, as the later record is definitely in keeping with THE KINKS PRESENT A SOAP OPERA (RCA, 1975) or TOMMY (DECCA, 1969). basically i see the two as a pair, in essence two efforts at translating disparate elements like POWER POP and BRITISH INVASION-era song-craft into a modern POP PUNK format.
and to an extent it worked. it is just in comparison to the explosive bombast of AMERICAN IDIOT and its astute political conceit at a time when bands, PUNK or not, were largely cowering in the age of GEORGE W BUSH and the paranoia of a post-9/11 AMERICA. WARNING is very much a product of a band searching for a means of maturing into ADULTHOOD, and represents one attempt at such. ultimately they double-down on the more anthemic elements of their sound, but this more laid-back, self-assessing, INTROSPECTIVE record should not be discounted. its definitely worth revisiting and checking out agin.
along with THE OFFSPRING and NO DOUBT, GREEN DAY was the soundtrack to my post-NIRVANA youth, especially once my family moved to NIGERIA from SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA in the mid 1990s. obviously DOOKIE (REPRISE, 1994) was a landmark record not just for popularizing POP PUNK (and defanging the self-destructive aspects of SEATTLE-based ALTERNATIVE ROCK), but also for just being a great pop record.
in a sense, the follow-up INSOMNIAC (REPRISE, 1995) proved that such success was not a fluke and proved the genre itself viable for all that would follow suit (i.e. BLINK-182, FALL OUT BOY, NEW FOUND GLORY, SUM 41, PARAMORE, A DAY TO REMEMBER). technically not a sophomore album, as the band had made several records for indie label LOOKOUT! RECORDS, INSOMNIAC was a major label follow-up that basically double-down on the formula of simplified riffage, rolling kinetic drumming and memorable bass-lines that made GREEN DAY such a powerful power trio to begin with. in many ways i always associated the band sonically more with POWER POP and BRITISH INVASION bands than PUNK ROCK in general. GREEN DAY in my mind was always a GARAGE band with really great songs, with the PUNK thing being more of an aesthetic based on their EAST BAY roots. in fact the feverishly independent GILMAN STREET scene out of BERKELEY was surprisingly open-minded in terms of musical styles supported (this despite their reputation for having ideological opposition to anything and all things corporate), which included SKA hybrid bands like OPERATION IVY and proto-ART METAL like NEUROSIS in the mix.
this predilection for simplified yet effective songwriting would flourish on WARNING (REPRISE, 2000) years later, but i see it in an embryonic stage on INSOMNIAC in songs like "GEEK STINK BREATH," "BRAIN STEW/JADED" and my favorite song off the record, "WALKING CONTRADICTION." other standout tracks like "86," "ARMATAGE SHANKS" and "STUCK WITH ME" are raging, start-stop, barn-burners that come off like vintage GREEN DAY. today i feel that BILLIE JOE ARMSTRONG could write songs like this in his sleep, but here they are in full display. perhaps to get it out of his system or maybe not to risk alienating DOOKIE fans. im glad they transitioned out of this phase and took the real risks tha today they are known for.
who knew a rock opera was in their future. or a giant middle finger to the government when others cowered and shrank. now that is PUNK.