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The Profound and Pointless History of Bay Area Punk
Posted by Delfina

I got an email about a new book, coming out September 29: Gimme Something Better: The Profound, Progressive and Occasionally Pointless History of Bay Area Punk from Dead Kennedys to Green Day. It’s an oral history of punk rock in San Francisco’s Bay Area, told in quotes by people who were there, including Billie Joe Armstrong. I haven’t seen the book, but the website has a fair amount of info and some excerpts, and it looks pretty exciting for anyone interested in Green Day’s history and the mindset and ideals of the scene that nurtured and informed them from their early days, ideals that the members of Green Day still hold dear.

The introduction by Jesse Michaels of Operation Ivy sums it up with an unpretentious sophistication and insight that kind of blew me away. An excerpt:

Many of the people who speak here are as smart and creative as it gets. That is the nature of people who are right there in the forge when a universe is being hammered out. Also featured are many complete morons. That is the nature of people that show up when there is a lot of loud noise and alcohol available. The stories of the great artists aren’t necessarily more fun to read than those of the train-wrecks. And of course, particularly in the early days, most people in punk were a little bit of each.

Punk rock doesn’t usually get a lot of credit for being smart, but an art form that has generated so much inspiration and devotion has to have a substantial core. A casual observer might not go to a punk show and come away thinking, “These guys (or gals) are geniuses.” And it would be hard to blame him, but if he was there, say, for an early Crimpshrine or Operation Ivy show, he may well have missed out by not looking beyond the drunkenness and mayhem to see the underlying strange blend of chaos, stupidity, intelligence, wit, imagination, love, and idealism. (Read the book’s chapter on Crimpshrine, Aaron Cometbus’s early band, including a quote from Billie Joe.)

Discussions of Green Day’s punk roots usually devolve into tiresome debates on whether or not they are a punk rock band — or, even more dismayingly, on what punk is, usually by people who have little information about the subject — which miss the point and confuse the issue. Green Day is a punk band because they were there, right in the bosom of a thriving and exciting scene that was evolving and creating a unique interpretation of punk. The sweetness and catchiness of Green Day’s brand of punk rock was a part of it, and it both added to the mix and drew inspiration from it. It’s easy to miss that essence when Green Day’s music and performances are experienced within the context of mainstream music, as they inevitably are now, and easy to confuse Green Day with just another music industry product. But if one were to set all of that aside, and look instead at their origins, and at the people who helped create the scene that the band grew out of, it would paint a different picture. Green Day is still that same band, that cares deeply about creativity, idealism, and authenticity.

That’s why I love projects like this book. It’s a chance to clear out the cobwebs and be reminded what it is about Green Day that feels so special. And also to be reminded that they didn’t forge themselves out of nothing, but that there are many people, in the East Bay punk scene and elsewhere, whose intelligence and imagination helped make Green Day who they are.

Photo of Billie Joe by Murray Bowles, from the Gimme Something Better website.

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Compilation: 12 Bands from Benicia

September 5, 2009 at 8:06 am [ Category: Photos, Books, History ]

Comment from Elly September 5, 2009, 10:14 am

Sounds like it’s right up my alley! :D I’ve always been facinated with the East Bay Punk Scene, I was even thinking of writing a book about it myself (of course many years from now, ha ha). But now I won’t have to. ;)I’ve always wanted to know about the other bands Green Day ‘grew up’ with- I’ve investegated Operation Ivy (Whom I love!) and Screeching Weasel, and I’d be glad to learn about the others. I’ll be interested in this book for sure, and hey, it comes out the day before my birthday! Sweet!

Comment from Moonbeam September 5, 2009, 3:08 pm

That does sound pretty interesting, I like books about that kind of thing. I’ve never seen that picture before either, it’s weird seeing Billie Joe without crooked teeth.

Comment from Delfina September 6, 2009, 7:47 am

Elly, I was thinking of making a post with songs from that era. I thought it might be the kind of geeky thing that only interests me… :) But now I might do it.

(And Moonbeam I think it’s only the angle that makes it appear his teeth aren’t crooked. :))

Comment from Diana September 7, 2009, 5:59 pm

Sometimes I get all confused about those “debates”. I love Green Day, and that’s not going to change or anything, but how can I say they’re a punk band, if they’re now immerse in the mainstream? I don’t know, maybe it generates all this talking because they’re the first punk band in doing it, but… I never saw Green Day as your typical band (when I first saw them I could note that their music and what they were saying had something unique, something that separated them from other bands), it’s just that their image confuses me, I mean their outfits, sometimes the make-up,… why do they do that? It’s not congruent with what they say. I thought about this many many times (obviously) and I usually come up with: “my love for Green Day is sooo much bigger than that shitty stuff. I don’t care.”
God, I’m totally out of topic.
Nice to know about the book, I hope they upload some part. I get all nerdy with this kind of stuff, and hey, I wanna hear some songs too! :)

Comment from Delfina September 8, 2009, 4:42 am

To me, those debates are boring because they just go around in circles. Green Day is full of contradictions (as I always seem to be saying… :)) My point was just that I don’t think it makes sense to deny their origin, which is as a punk band.

I don’t like the makeup and the swanky outfits either, and they do seem strangely at odds with who they are, as you said. I think part of that is just the need to be taken seriously by those who care about appearances. And maybe enjoying playing dress-up? :)

Comment from Abbey September 8, 2009, 10:52 am

I think it is impossible to look at Green Day at a snapshot in time. To be punk at 18 is different from being punk at 37. There are core values in punk that are expressed differently as you get older. Personally, in listening to their music over the past 20 years, the most striking theme I hear is a soundtrack to growing up and raising families that I relate to intimately.

Comment from Delfina September 9, 2009, 3:58 am

A soundtrack to growing up is a pretty big staple of all rock and roll, I think, including punk. But I don’t really see anything in Green Day’s lyrics that is about raising families(?).

I agree completely that core values are expressed differently at different ages. Green Day’s lyrics are very broad and far reaching, and encompass a lot of different feelings and ideas.

Comment from Abbey September 9, 2009, 7:42 am

Really? Perhaps it is just me relating their music to my life. Personally I hear the difficulty of being a new parent and the strains on a marriage/resentment that kids bring on Insomniac and Nimrod. And on American Idiot and 21st Century I hear themes of kids growing into young adults and what the future they will inherit.

Comment from Moonbeam September 10, 2009, 4:13 pm

Yeah, I’ve stopped caring about whter their punk or not ages ago, it just opinion anyway. I hate when people say they only like their old stuff and then their only reason for not liking their newer stuff is because they dress differently and are more popular, it’s always people who say they don’t care about a bands image that get all uptight if they wear a little make up, whats wrong with the guys wanting to look pretty?

Pingback from A Green Day Fan Site » Reviews of Gimme Something Better September 26, 2009, 1:18 pm

[…] review of the book Gimme Something Better, about the history of punk rock in the East Bay, and a mention from Larry […]

Pingback from A Green Day Fan Site » Ten Years of Gilman St. Zine October 15, 2009, 1:33 am

[…] The East Bay Express has a pretty cool review of the new book Gimme Something Better: The Profound, Progressive, and Occasionally Pointless History of Bay Area Punk from Dead Kennedys to Green Day, which I posted about recently, here. […]

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