photo & text by nacrowe
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.