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Cometbus #54: In China With Green Day
Posted by Delfina [ Comments: 1 ]

I haven’t been an avid follower of Cometbus, but I read my first issues of the zine in the early 90s. What I remember about those issues is Aaron’s fearlessness in his travels with no resources and little money, wandering strange cities without a safety net and sleeping outside, under bridges and in tucked away doorways. The same Aaron Cometbus comes across in #54. Despite the luxurious accommodations, it’s a story about a guy who enjoys the sheer discovery of travel, who lives to meander through unexplored territory, and who offers sharp insights on everything he sees and everything he reminisces or muses about. Not unexpectedly, and not unpleasantly, most of Cometbus #54 is ultimately about Aaron. Like all his writing, it’s deeply personal.

Those looking for juicy tidbits about Green Day may or may not come away disappointed. There’s plenty about Green Day, but the guys come across as how they seem anyway. Billie Joe is sweet, unassuming, and sometimes sullen. Mike is high strung, kind, and funny. Tre is a tragic figure of sorts, desperately zany without being able to be genuinely funny, but always, uncompromisingly honest, to the point of obnoxiousness. The poignant reminiscences about the early days of the band, including Aaron’s memories of first drummer Al, with whom he was close, are in some respects more telling than the current characterizations. Which makes sense, because Aaron, as roadie and confidant, was closer to the guys back then. Now he is marveling at his first class accommodations and the bizarre intrusion of overzealous photographers, excitable fans, body guards, and promoters.

Aaron is the everyman, witnessing the grandness of the Green Day megastar experience with puzzled bemusement. You can see him shaking his head, for instance at the body guard who, shockingly, may or may not have been a mercenary contractor in Iraq. He is like one of us might be if we were in those rarefied circumstances, wondering at our own presence poolside at the band’s hotel, wandering through the rooms and hallways backstage in the cavernous arenas. But he’s also not, because first of all he is genuinely a close friend of the guys in the band, and secondly because his point of reference is always deep inside the DIY scene, which he still inhabits. (Witness the zine that he still publishes himself after more than 20 years, when he is likely in the position to secure a profitable publishing deal.)

Green Day’s jump to a major label, which Aaron was adamantly opposed to at the time, is still an issue to be mulled over. Ultimately, Green Day’s continued drive and creativity, when many of their contemporaries simply stopped being creative, justifies the decision, it seems, to Aaron, as does the need to jump ship when a situation, like Green Day’s popularity outgrowing the confines of the scene, becomes so dysfunctional that it’s unbearable. But then there are the unsung heroes, the punks who worked, generally for no pay, to nurture bands like Green Day when they were little raggedy punk rock outfits, and who were painted in the mainstream press, with the success of Dookie, as clueless, snide whiners when they reacted with hurt and outrage at Green Day’s decision.

The story Aaron tells of the band’s and his own history is a complex one, made up of loyalty and friendship, but also alienation and hurt feelings, ending (?) with rapprochement and a warm embrace (a kiss, actually). It has to do with growing up and growing older and as such it’s a universal story, but one that takes place under very particular circumstances. Most of us don’t have old friends who went on to become megastars, but most everyone has had the bittersweet experience of looking back at one’s old friendships and finding a jumble of emotions, from love to resentment and recrimination, to acceptance, and back again to love.

More on Cometbus #54:
Fluke Zine
Let’s Get Hurt
Larry Livermore (More)
Green Day Mind

February 24, 2011 at 12:11 am [ Category: Books, History ]

Talk on Gimme Something Better
Posted by Delfina [ Comments: 6 ]

Last week I went to a talk about the book Gimme Something Better at Bluestockings, a radical bookstore in Manhattan. The speakers were Silke Tudor, who is one of the book’s authors, Larry Livermore, Aaron Cometbus, journalist A.C. Thompson, and author Jennifer Blowdryer, all of whom were part of East Bay punk history.

The audience was more book nerds than punks (including my book-nerd self), but it was nice to see the topic of the book discussed in its own context. Bluestockings is part of a wide community committed to social justice and equality that extends all over the world, and that includes creative and subversive subcultures like punk rock.

It might seem odd to refer to punk rock as “subversive,” because it’s so accepted and commonplace nowadays, but its essence has always been as a vehicle for independent expression (often of radical ideas), separate from and an antidote to commercial music made only for profit. That hasn’t changed. Wherever you are, there’s probably a DIY punk rock scene somewhere not too far away.

That wasn’t specifically discussed that night, because it’s all kind of a given. But the panelists talked about how they each experienced the East Bay punk scene. Aaron Cometbus said that one of the things he liked about this book is that it talks about a particular time period without disparaging what came before or after, something that accounts of punk scenes tend to do: everyone thinks that punk is dead once they stop paying attention to it. A.C. Thompson talked about how goofy and fun the East Bay scene was: it was highly political but not dead-serious all the time.

Someone in the audience asked the panelists what show was the most memorable for them. Larry Livermore said that was impossible to answer, but he mentioned the last show Green Day played at Gilman before Dookie came out, but after they had signed to Warner, in December of 1993, which was moving and bittersweet, because everyone knew things were going to change. I think he said people were actually waltzing, if I heard him right…

Tudor said that they were approached to write a history of Gilman St., but the project became much bigger than just Gilman St. It took three years to compile instead of the planned-on one year, and ended up being 800 pages, which had to be cut down to 400 for publication. Some of the outtakes are on the website.

If you haven’t read this one, about Blatz (a band Billie Joe played in, apparently while on acid…) and the zine Absolutely Zippo, it’s pretty funny… Ben Saari says: “I never even knew Billie Joe. But from a distance I was like, ‘Oh, I don’t like that guy, he’s too nice and too pretty.’”

Billie Joe talks about Absolutely Zippo in the book (and I’m posting this here just because it’s funny):

“Robert [Eggplant] would come to school with copies of his zine and he’d say, ‘Billie, take ten and go around. They’re a quarter apiece.’ It was filled with profanity, and the trendier kids in 11th and 12th grade, of course, thought it was the coolest thing ever. My teacher came up and grabbed one, ‘What are you selling there?’ and I said, ‘It’s my friend’s magazine. It’s a quarter. Do you want one?’ The cover said ‘Legalize Crack!’ I got suspended for five days, something like that.’”

Related post:
Pinhead Gunpowder, Absolutely Zippo, and DIY

December 16, 2009 at 5:04 am [ Category: Books, History ]

Quotes from Gimme Something Better
Posted by Delfina [ Comments: 11 ]

I’ve been reading the book Gimme Something Better (thanks to Abbey), and I wanted to share some quotes.

One of the things I love about Green Day is how true-blue they are in their core beliefs. It confuses me when fans whine about Green Day’s outspokenness, because giving a shit about the world, and caring about being ethical and doing the right thing, is so central to who they are. That steadfastness comes in large part from their formative years in the Gilman scene, and the book touches on that quite a bit.

James Washburn: “I have a lot of respect for Billie. He’s been very successful as a person. He’s very bighearted, very generous. And I’ll love him to death forever. He has given back a lot, and he respects the scene and respects the people that are here and in it.”

Bill Schneider: “I think it goes back to the Gilman scene in general. We were all young and impressionable when we got into punk rock. That scene helped shape who we became later in life.”

It’s funny that Billie Joe thought Tre was obnoxious when they first met. It’s also an interesting quote for anyone who thinks being punk is about doing whatever the hell you want:

Billie Joe: “Tre and I kept getting closer and closer as friends. But he was really obnoxious. To the point where I didn’t even know if the guy was that cool. We wanted to be more conscious people. We carried the ethics of Gilman into our lives. Those codes were sort of intact. Tre was not even close. Didn’t care what anybody thought, didn’t care what anybody did. He did anything he wanted all the time. And that was really hard.”

One of the things that stood out for me about punk rock shows, when I used to go to them in the 90s, was how specific the crowd was depending on the bands that were playing. Hardcore bands would draw spiky-haired guys with home-made Subhumans patches on their pants, and the ratio of guys to girls was 20 to 1. Pop-punk crowds were much nerdier and more clean-cut, and there were more girls, but it was still a majority of guys. Only with Green Day, even after the release of Dookie, was the audience predominantly female.

Billie Joe: “A lot of our songs were about girls. When it comes from a 17-year-old kid, the songs are just gushing. It drew a lot of girls. It was weird. We got a lot of shit from other bands because we had love songs. But I wanted to sing about truth and where I’m at, my relationships with people. Or lack thereof. We would play Santa Rosa or Petaluma, and tons of girls would show up. They started showing up at Gilman, it would be 75 percent women. It almost feels funny to say, but we never took liberties or anything like that.”

For male and female alike, Green Day struck a chord, and I would add, as I always do, not only with disaffected teenagers.

Noah Landis: “To see the world finally catch up, desperate for music that makes you feel something, music with emotion, honesty, and aggression. These feelings that are undeniably in every young person born on the planet, especially people who have had to — god forbid — live through hard shit. The world finally caught up to that and wanted some. They wanted their Green Day songs about teenage alienation and masturbation.”

Amen to that.

Related posts:
The Profound and Pointless History of Bay Area Punk
Ten Years of Gilman St. Zine
Reviews of Gimme Something Better

November 9, 2009 at 12:16 am [ Category: Books, Interviews, History ]

Reviews of Gimme Something Better
Posted by Delfina [ Comments: 2 ]

~A review of the book Gimme Something Better, about the history of punk rock in the East Bay, and a mention from Larry Livermore, plus a rant about the ! after Lookout!. Also check out his new blog, with featured stories on his own history with punk rock.

September 26, 2009 at 1:17 pm [ Category: Books, News Sidebar, Influences, History ]

Adrienne Armstrong’s Knitting Book Pre-Order
Posted by Delfina [ Comments: 0 ]

~Adrienne Armstrong’s and Vickie Howell’s eco-friendly knitting book, AwareKnits, is available to pre-order. Photos from the book, including a pic of the authors.

[Earlier posts on Adrienne and Vickie: 1, 2.]

September 8, 2009 at 6:56 am [ Category: Books, News Sidebar, Adrienne ]

The Profound and Pointless History of Bay Area Punk
Posted by Delfina [ Comments: 11 ]

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.

Related posts:
Compilation: 12 Bands from Benicia

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

New Book: Seize the Green Day
Posted by Delfina [ Comments: 0 ]

~Niki Lee, who wrote the essay “Seize the Green Day” about her experiences as a Green Day fan, has expanded it into a book, available to buy here, along with a free preview.

July 18, 2009 at 4:57 am [ Category: Personal, Books, News Sidebar ]

Not Feeling Punk Enough?
Posted by Delfina [ Comments: 2 ]

I thought this was a really nice piece, by Stephanie Kuehnert, author of the novel I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone, about not fitting in and not feeling accepted in high school, but finding a lot of inspiration from music, including music that one’s peers may not consider edgy enough, because it’s too mainstream, too popular, or not “punk enough.” Below is an excerpt. Read the whole post here.

Ultimately, I was a kid who felt rejected and hurt and angry and sad and had only a couple friends and no real outlet until I started discovering music, bands with a certain sound and lyrics that expressed the way I felt. How did I discover these bands? A couple of them through friends, but mostly through MTV. People forget that in the late 80s and early 90s there was more to MTV than Britney Spears and reality shows about rich kids. There were REM and Jane’s Addiction and Faith No More and Depeche Mode videos. Those were my early favorites.

Rancid was considered kind of mainstream. They played “Time Bomb” a lot on the radio then. Was it punk enough to like Rancid? It certainly wasn’t punk enough to like Green Day. You could admit that you liked their albums on Lookout!, but not Dookie. I hated that crap, HATED it. And I don’t mean Green Day. I mean not being punk enough because you liked a band that was getting mainstream attention. I mean not feeling punk enough because heaven forbid my all-time favorite band was Nirvana and not Crass. I never thought that just because a band signed with a major label so their sound could reach a wider audience, they’d “sold out.” What’s so wrong about Rise Against or Against Me!, for example, reaching more people with their political songs. They’re opening minds. But maybe that’s not a punk enough opinion.

January 3, 2009 at 8:59 pm [ Category: Essay, Personal, Books ]

Warner Music 50th Anniversary Book
Posted by Delfina [ Comments: 0 ]

~For its 50th anniversary, Warner Music will be releasing a 240-page book titled Revolutions In Sound, with “exclusive interviews, never-before-seen photographs and insider accounts of how the hits were born,” accompanied by a flash drive containing 320 recordings, including Green Day’s “Longview.” It will be out Dec. 9. The list of songs and a photo montage from the book (that includes the American Idiot cover) are here (enter release ID 173337).

October 28, 2008 at 1:36 am [ Category: Books, News Sidebar ]

Billie Joe on The Replacements
Posted by Delfina [ Comments: 5 ]

A new book about the legendary band The ReplacementsThe Replacements: All Over But the Shouting: An Oral History, by Jim Walsh — is set to be released on Nov 15, 2007. The back cover includes a blurb by Billie Joe that is beautiful and heartbreaking, and funny, and just another reminder of where his heart and mind lies and why we love him so much:

—Billie Joe Armstrong, Green Day “Reading Jim Walsh makes me think things that are kinda corny and totally powerful and true: that rock and roll can save your life; that even scruffy punks can form real family bonds; that you may only be young once, but if your spirit’s right you can kick ass forever. Listening to the Replacements makes me feel the same things, and in that I’m like a lot of folks in my generation. Walsh was a participant observer in the counterculture that birthed this great band, and this insider account is as honest and insightful as oral history gets. You can really smell the beer.”
[ Source ]

If you don’t know The Replacements or just want a reminder of their power, download this bootleg, and read more about them here:

Classic Bootleg Series Vol. 17: The Replacements - Putting On The Ritz (Live in NYC - 1987)

Correction: as Den-o pointed out in the comments, that quote is not Billie Joe’s. Oops. Check the comments for the correct quote.

September 17, 2007 at 5:29 pm [ Category: Books, Influences ]