Fluke, a punk zine that has been continually published for the last twenty years, has just put out its 20th anniversary issue. One of the features of this issue is a ten-page interview with Green Day’s Jason White, who was one of Fluke Zine’s original founders.
Jason is an unassuming guy. He’s kind of bashful about being interviewed by an old friend, for a zine he himself worked on in its early days. But that’s what makes this interview great. It’s conducted between friends, by an interviewer who knows Jason’s earliest history with punk rock (the two met when Jason was 14), and who is also aware — how could he not be? — about Jason’s current world traveling, among superstars of rock and roll. We get Jason’s stories about playing at the Grammys, and meeting the Rolling Stones and Tom Waits, but also his account of his first band, which he played in in the seventh grade, and of the shows he saw as a kid in Little Rock, including Green Day. “That was a great show and obviously it made some kind of impression on me.” He tells about meeting Aaron Cometbus in Memphis in 1991, when Jason’s band was supposed to open for Green Day, but Green Day didn’t show up until after the show was over. Aaron was traveling with Green Day, and Jason was thrilled because he was such a big fan of Aaron’s band, Crimpshrine. Jason and Aaron later became roommates, and that was how Jason came to play in Pinhead Gunpowder. At the time, Billie only remembered him as “That guy we met in Memphis who played us that cover of [Crimpshrine’s] ‘Easy Answers’” He said, “He can sing, let’s get him to try out.”
There’s lots more: how Jeff Matika came to join the band, what it’s like to play with Green Day in front of tens of thousands, what backstage is like at a Green Day concert — “not a bunch of fucking around and getting drunk or bullshitting with people; we have a job to do and we’re there to do it.” Plus Jason’s early experiences and the bands he was in before joining Green Day as tour guitarist. All in an easygoing, flowing style. It’s the next best thing to sitting down and chatting with Jason yourself.
You can order a copy of Fluke #9 by sending $4 cash to Fluke Fanzine, PO Box 24957, Tempe, AZ 85285. You’ll be glad you did. More info: Fluke Fanzine.
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.
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.’”
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.”
Green Day was interviewed by Jello Biafra (of the Dead Kennedys and other projects) for a magazine called Huh (or huH, I guess), in 1996. Jello Biafra is not the usual interviewer, so it’s more like a conversation among punk rock colleagues. To a certain extent, it reflects the issues Biafra is interested in more than it does Green Day’s.
Although they share similar political views and concerns, the members of Green Day and Jello Biafra have very different perspectives. Jello wants to talk with the guys about the evils of major labels, and Green Day are kind of ho-hum about it all. Billie Joe says: “I wanted to live off of what I was fucking doing, and that’s as honest as I can be. I don’t have a diploma, I know how to play music.”
But if Jello comes off as maybe a little whiny, it’s because he really did pave the way for later bands. He says as much, jokingly, in the interview: “You younguns have no idea what we were up against to create a punk scene for you to walk into!” And Billie Joe replies, laughing: “You jaded old bastard!” But when the Dead Kennedys became popular in the early 80s, punk rock really did seem dangerous and threatening to many in the mainstream. Jello was even criminally charged for “distributing harmful matter.”
The interview is so long that there’s a lot of great stuff, like Billie Joe talking about the hospital patients he sang for when he was little, Green Day’s first gig with Crimpshrine and Sewer Trout, the benefit they played for Food Not Bombs, which raised 30 grand, Billie Joe going to Gilman in disguise, and the heavy metal band called Bloodrage that Billie played in when he was 14. Biafra: “Did any of the lyrics make it into Green Day songs?” Billie: “Oh yeah, like fiery graves and bloody bones…”
A big thank you to Andrew, who sent in a wonderful article he wrote for Northern Ireland’s News Letter, published yesterday, the day Green Day played Belfast on the current tour. Green Day’s early days are one of my favorite topics: this article is an oral history of a gig they played in Belfast in 1991 for a crowd of 100 people, put on by a local punk collective. There are no photos or videos of that show, only first person accounts, which the author collected for this piece.
Belfast musician Michael Branagh recalls: “The second the band took to the stage, people started actually running towards the front. It was a non-stop sweat-fest after that — a great adrenaline rush.”Read it all, here.
This is the original show flier. The photo was printed with the article.
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.
I haven’t grabbed a copy for myself yet, but Nothing Wrong With Me’s own Amanda has, and she wrote up her impressions in a her always evocative and personal style. She writes: “Gimme Something Better is as crazy, vibrant, and mildly horrifying as the music it is devoted to. It’s a free-for-all in the best possible sense.” Read the whole post on her wonderful blog, here.
In part because news of the book got me thinking about the subject, the history of Green Day and the East Bay punk scene has been a bit of a theme here lately, so here’s a zine that Aaron Cometbus made in 1997 for the tenth anniversary of 924 Gilman St. It gives a sense of how difficult and chaotic but also impressively dedicated the effort has been to keep a completely independent punk rock club going. Bringing together the very disparate personalities that are attracted to punk is a challenge in itself. It’s the story of a labor of love, but not without struggles and mistakes along the way. There’s nothing specifically about Green Day in the zine. Click on the thumbnail for the full size scan.
These are a couple of video interviews form 1994. They’ve been around, so you may have seen them. Both are from MTV’s “120 Minutes” show. The first one is from March of 1994, only a month after Dookie was released, and months before it had exploded as a major hit album. Billie Joe was still living at the house where the “Longview” video was filmed. They talk about the house, the current tour, and about the famous time when they played in a house with no roof and no electricity, which was the night they were asked to record with Lookout Records. Billie Joe, on the difference between their old and new fans: “There’s a lot more meatheads that show up now.”
The second one is from June of 1994, and the guys already look like their more familiar, to us, goofy selves. I had to include a screencap, below, of Billie Joe picking his nose for the camera. The man is a poet and a musical genius, but these are the things that crack me up… Download a better quality version of the video here (from GDC).
It’s too big to post on YouTube, but if you haven’t seen it, or haven’t watched it lately, “Ultimate Albums: Dookie”, which aired on VH1, is pretty great. The fast cuts and neat-o editing (yeah, I’m using a term from my youth, shut up!) are a bit annoying, but there’s commentary from all sorts of people, including Rob Cavallo, Paul Westerberg of the Replacements, Bob Mould of Husker Du, Elvis Costello, Brett Gurewitz of Bad Religion and Epitaph Records, and many others. And there are comments from the members of Green Day, of course, and they’re being pretty serious here. Here’s a download link from GDC, where all of these videos originally came from.
I love stories of fan encounters with Green Day, and this one has to be one of my favorites. It was written by a fan who sat next to the guys in Green Day on a plane in August of 1994, when they were at their cheekiest and silliest.
Even before boarding, the fan writes that Billie Joe was “loudly warbling his version of Tom Petty’s ‘Refugee,’ playing along on an acoustic guitar.” During the flight, Billie Joe hilariously “staggered up to the intercom and attempted to ask the entire plane if any of the stewardesses could bring him ‘another bag of penis.’” That bit made me snort out loud. If I had been drinking something when I read it I would have done a spit-take.
But perhaps the most telling and sweet part is about Mike Dirnt:
“I have two enduring memories. One was the quizzical (and slightly worried) expression on my stepdad’s face, as he tried to figure out why we were getting off the plane, kidding and laughing, with three spiky-headed, pierced musicians. The other was Mike, rushing to his purple-haired girlfriend’s arms, and then looking back at us and mouthing, ‘See, this is her!’ Because I can still picture that moment, Mike Dirnt will never be a spoiled, arrogant rock star to me, no matter what else he does with his life.”
~A review of the bookGimme 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.
It’s been a while since I’ve posted any old magazines. This article is from the August 1996 issue of Guitar World. It was a bitter time, less than a year after the release of Insomniac and after the abrupt cancellation of their European tour. Here, the guys are dealing with the stress by being completely and hilariously obnoxious, ranting about all the old-time punk bastards who have been complaining about Green Day’s success. Click on the thumbnail for the full size scan.