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