I wonder what percentage of people my age have as fraught a relationship with Green Day as I do. Most people probably haven’t thought about them in a long time and likely don’t care that they haven’t put out anything good in 15 years. And if they’re even cognizant of this fact, they probably don’t let it eat away at them like I do. I am only being a little dramatic. Green Day’s last SEVERAL albums have been pretty terrible and I take a little personally their (successful to varying degrees) pandering to music fans their kids’ age, which is so dumb but I have been thinking about it and I can say that while not my favorite, Green Day might be the most important band to me personally and they’re certainly top five. This is my very personal Green Day story.
Green Day were a revelation for me. I’ve mentioned before that I weaned myself off of pop music, having caught the tail-end of the period when what was known as “hard rock” defined popular rock and roll. This was at the cusp of the Use Your Illusion Period and was definitely on its way out, quickly becoming something I needed to move on from less than a year after I got interested in it. I tried to become a metal head, but I wanted to like Pantera and Antrhax much more than I was able to. Then came grunge, which felt comfortable but I never felt about it the way some people describe it now. I never idolized Kurt Cobain, nor did I think of him as particularly hot, which I’ll admit here and now was a criteria for REAL band obsession and I think if others are being honest, it was for a lot of us. I liked Pearl Jam but wasn’t moved by Vs. and again if I’m being honest, I think Alice in Chains would have stuck a bit better if they weren’t so damned DARK. I wasn’t a teenage heroin addict. I don’t know why anyone else would want to listen to that.
Dookie was released in early 1994, right before Kurt died. According to Wikipedia, the video for Longview was released simultaneously. I can’t pinpoint it, but I suspect it burned a little slowly and I probably didn’t see it until spring or maaaaaybe even summer? My memory fails. I do recall VERY vividly, Older Cute Boy Kekoa decrying “our” grunge and mainstream alternative-rock sensibilities as the trash of the masses played by sellout millionaires. Green Day, on the other hand, will never appear on MTV because they had too much punk rock integrity. I want to say I saw the video less than a week later, and lol’d at Kekoa’s hilariously ill-timed and factually incorrect sanctimony.
But seriously, THIS was my revelation. Cute and playful boys playing songs about being bored and jerking off. It was just what the doctor ordered. Dookie was also really accessible to a new punk rock fan. Every song is infectious and catchy. I leaned in. I was completely sold on this. <br>
But then came all the rules. See the fundamental problem with Green Day and what was ultimately a mainstream revival of an old genre that had seemed to duck out of sight for fifteen years was that a lot of people researched what came before and learned of the concept of punk rock ethics. Almost immediately, it was not cool to like Green Day anymore, particularly in light of the ridiculous success that came from the second single released off of Dookie, “Basket Case.” ‘Til the day I die, I will not be able to explain why this is the song that caught fire. It’s flanked by “Longview” and “When I Come Around.” The former is what caught my interest enough to dedicate my life to these boys and “When I Come Around” eventually became my favorite Green Day song*, a distinction that stood until the summer of 2001, which I will get into shortly.
*I still love “When I Come Around” so, so much. I think of New Years Eve 1994, when determined to do something party-adjacent (we were only 15), my pal Cybil and I decided we would find something partylike to do for New Years Eve. Having no transportation besides the city bus, which I believe at the time stopped running at 10 PM (even on New Years Eve), we decided to get dressed up in our cutest thrift store finds and just randomly walk around Waikiki at night and got home well before midnight, where I probably watched the ball drop with Mike and Judy as I always did, sober as a judge. One wild and crazy thing we did do was take pay phones off the hook as we passed them, just like Billie Joe does in the video for “When I Come Around.” The song ran through my head all night and that’s really all I remember, but to be completely fair, I remember almost nothing else about any other New Years Eve before 1999.
Anyway, I let go of Green Day in the intervening years. I was not particularly moved by what I heard on Insomniac, released in October 1995 and since they were considered sellout poseurs and no longer punk, I just let it go and kept any enjoyment I experienced while listening mostly to myself. In fact, I recall clearly Green Day coming to Hawaii to play a concert and as I’ve mentioned only the biggest and richest (and those wanting a few days off before starting a Asian tour) bands would come through. It was that infamous 1995 tour with the Riverdales (who dropped off before the Honolulu show actually happened) and chatter leading up to it was that it was OK to want to go to see the Riverdales and if you should happen to see Green Day while you were there, you wouldn’t kill yourself but that’s not why you were going. The same thing happened in 1998 when they came back and local act Grapefruit opened. Like, if you wanted to pay $35 instead of $5 to see Grapefruit play in front of a crowd 50x bigger than usual, that was fine. It was not ok, however if you wanted to see Green Day play.*
*I did go and I did watch Green Day play and I enjoyed it. It was at an outdoor venue and there was a gaggle of girls near us who were screaming for Billie Joe’s attention. They caught it, but the band looked in our direction instead. Without missing a beat, Pete, BFF Alison and I waved in unison and Green Day waved back. I love that story.
The following spring, I found myself exploring this new device called the internet. Like a lot of people one of the first things I did was try to meet people from other places because the simple fact of typing at people in real time across the country and INDEED THE WORLD was very, very novel in March of 1996. I became a regular in what was known as a “chat room” and started to get to know other regulars in said “chat rooms” including a funny punk rocker kid from Cleveland whose handle was Clashboy. In a mid-90s parallel to Godwin’s Law, conversation eventually veered towards Green Day, something that made me extremely nervous, kind of like talking about religion with people you don’t know very well. When this “Clashboy” spoke up, I mentally winced, expecting him to talk about how they were awful sellouts and no real punk rocker would lower themself to listen and to my shock, he came out swinging with a full-throated defense, raising real truths such as their music not changing at all after they signed major and the fact that they actively supported indie groups such as Pansy Division, making good use of their fame. I swooned.
Clashboy revealed in private that his name was Pete Faust, which I thought was so cute and cool. We continued talking and a couple of months later, we were in an exclusive, committed long-distance relationship, despite being literal (in my case) children with no visible means of support and no clear path to being together in person. I swear, Green Day was the catalyst.
As we chatted online and increasingly engaged in daily expensive, several hours’ long phone conversations he started making and mailing mix tapes to me, often with songs that had relatable content, given that we were in a new and exciting relationship. Prior to this, I was aware but not all that familiar with Green Day’s pre-Dookie output but Pete was all about it. On the very first tape he made for me, he included “Dry Ice” off of 1,000 Hours, their Debut EP. The song doesn’t exactly fit because it’s unrequited (“oh I love her, been dreaming of her. But I understand that she wants to be my friend,” the old story), but we were all schmoopy about it anyway.
That first year was hard. While carrying on a long-distance relationship, Pete was going through some pretty serious personal issues and I was doing all the things that come in the last year of high school. We both committed to talking every day, while dealing with our own schedules and the five- or six-hour time difference. Pete would basically turn over his entire Burger King paycheck to his dad to cover the massive phone bills. We saw each other in person three times during that period before Pete put his head down and figured out a way to move to Hawaii to be with me.
As the years went on, I got to know Green Day’s early output as well as I knew Dookie and continued to keep up with their subsequent releases, which remained strong for a long time. In July of 2001, Pete moved back to Cleveland temporarily before he and I would both find somewhere to live in Columbus where I would be attending grad school. I would be following him a month later, but I stayed back to spend some quality time with family and friends before moving to the mainland. Right before Pete moved on July 15, 2001, VH1 aired the Green Day episode of their venerable music documentary series, Behind the Music. Pete taped the episode (on VHS, yes) before moving but didn’t get a chance to watch it until after he settled in with his parents. Over the phone, he told me how it far exceeded his high expectations of it and how he couldn’t wait to show it to me.
Honestly, this was kind of surprising because though Pete never really stopped listening to Green Day, we were interested in other things by this point and I felt a little like watching the Green Day Behind the Music would be doing so primarily out of obligation or for old time’s sake.
I joined him a month later and as I recall, we watched the Green Day Behind the Music the very night I arrived. Initially it seemed like a fun watch but not like anything you MUST show your girlfriend after spending a month apart and then the Billie Joe talking head began telling the story of a basement show Green Day played while on tour in Minnesota where he met and made out with the most incredible girl who he couldn’t stop thinking about even after he resumed tour and went home to California. When they were apart he wrote what would be the first song on their second album, “2000 Lightyears Away” and the girl turned out to be Adrienne Nesser, who he married in 1994 and had two kids with him, etc., etc., and as I heard Billie Joe retell this story, my hair stood on end, my eyes burned with tears and I turned to Pete who said “See? What did I tell ya?”