Written by Angeline.

The interview's around the time of Insomniac. The guys are slouched up against a bathroom wall - how many photoshoots over the years, new look for every era, putting a mark on time, putting a mark on your skin, blood and ink of another rite of passage? So Billie Joe says 'I have nothing really to be proud of, except for the fact that I happen to be a punk'. Ignore the screaming lack of self-worth in this statement - or maybe not, because 'worthless' is punk's dictionary definition - this is what it comes down to for him, the essence of how he sees himself. Then remember that this guy saying these words is the guy with a ground-breaking mega-hit album called 'Dookie' under his belt, a string of hit singles, cool videos, never off MTV - nothing to be proud of ? Not when it means that the thing he values more than all of that is being torn away from him - his identity, the right to say 'I happen to be a punk'. I didn't get to hear if he had a definition of what punk is - I don't think the guy is about definitions anyway. But to me, punk is whatever he is, and if anyone has a right to the name, it's Green Day.

This argument rages on and on, as the 'sell-out' chorus loops its drone, and maybe it's pointless to address it again. But this band's integrity is what has been constantly attacked since Dookie, perversely because people know they care about it - and I think that to attack someone's integrity is no small thing. That the broader community does it is a reflection of the fact that punk scares them - and here were some punks who had ventured out of their niche and were radio-friendly - in fact, pretty friendly generally. Easy game then, and appropriate for a society that is at its heart deeply conservative, to still somewhere resent the tattooed outsiders who crossed the tracks to shove their dicks in Billboard with Longview. If that's not the case, why is it this song mentioned in every review and interview right up to today, and used ignorantly to trivialize them ?

A radical point of view is a challenge to the comfortable norm, and it's easier to attack those who expound ideals than to engage with the ideals themselves.
But to paraphrase 'Reject', who the hell are we to tell them who they are ? Who even is uber-punk John Lydon to tell them? Johnny rightly expects that people should be familiar with his Punk culture and its origins in the desolation of Seventies Britain, hopeless, workless, bleak and futureless, kids taking that nothing - the badge of worthless - and making a revolution.

Johnny's struggle blinds him to Green Day's, and he never bothered to discover their culture : for him, it never rains in California, and no-one is poor or degraded or disenfranchised. No need to ask what it's like to be the underclass of a wealthy state in a wealthy nation, swept under the rug of national pride, your pain not even allowed to name itself.

No such thing as a refinery town built on landfill, no broken homes or exclusion, no trailer parks or dead-end schools, blue-collar, no-collar, drop out and fall down - this is America in the late 80s, for fuck's sake, no such expression as 'the slums of Oakland' - welcome to paradise!

What if the bankruptcy of the American Dream is the barren place where your soul is seeking to be nourished - and what if in being rejected, you reject, and dare to want something different, what then?

Walk a mile in these guys' shoes before you take away the badge of worthlessness that they blazon as a badge of pride, and tell me who's more entitled to it, and to decide for themselves what it means to them.

So punk is indelibly their identity, but I don't think they ever signed up to a set of rules that defined it - Billie Joe again: 'We were never really into that whole PC punk clique'. The basic concept, yes; the rules and rigidity, no. He is first and last an artist, and whatever competes with that drive will lose - it's rightly his higher law.

In their Gilman years, they were committed to DIY - it was a way of making possibilities where there were none, enabling themselves to go forward on the path they'd already chosen.

As kids who didn't fit the school system and didn't have a home life at that time, poor and disadvantaged, despite their artistic gifts - there they found a way to live with dignity, purpose and a sense of control over their lives and future - a toe-hold in American society 'that don't believe in me'.

They were also part of a community of artists, they got to make music and talk ideas and ideals; for Billie and Mike, who had to grow up too fast, too hard, there was structure for lives that had seen too much chaos, there was somewhere they could just be young guys hanging out. Gilman was a place where it was ok to be who they were, and it must have been such an amazing time for them.

When their needs changed and this system started to constrain them rather than free them, they moved on from it. They've said how they felt it was more honorable to leave the scene rather than stay and risk distorting it with their presence, but there's no doubt they didn't envision the painful parting that ensued. If you want the living document of that pain, it's called Insomniac, and it echoed down the years till it was amplified again in American Idiot.

They most probably had harbored hopes that they could stay within the broader parameters of that community, continuing to contribute, which goes back to the idea of structure. Green Day's rebellions are usually around changing situations rather than tearing them down - they want Bush out of the White House, but they don't want to overthrow the government.

People look at them now, since American Idiot went seismic, and decry their punk status without ever knowing where these guys came from, how hard their journey has been, how they questioned all their decisions and suffered for many of them, and how a fierce artistic integrity burns in everything they do.

But 'question everything' means that your philosophy has to be up for grabs too - it has to be evaluated on an ongoing basis. Ask yourself in all honesty - would you let a set of rules you embraced in your teens dictate what you do for the rest of your life, no matter what else you learn or what else changes thereafter?

What if you 'wanna be an omnivore', a rock star, a pretty boy, all of the above instead of none of the above - would you let it stop you? That's not punk, that's sublimating yourself instead of expressing yourself: it's not any kind of philosophy - it's dogma! Would you let dogma stop you from achieving what you want to achieve in your one and only life?

Mortality is a big theme for Green Day, overtly in songs from J.A.R. to Wake Me Up When September Ends, but implicit also in almost every song that talks about time and how you use it. These guys have known loss and exclusion, they know what it is to lose your faith and have people lose their faith in you, and how important it is 'to find what to believe'.

So there's this fucking great band whose music has always been about truth. Music that's never deviated from a standard, never sold an audience short, never given less than 100%, given till it hurts. They're down-to-earth, unpretentious, still connected to their roots, still socially active and concerned, still kicking ass. Fuck the merch, fuck the ringtones, fuck the crappy covers of September - fuck everything extraneous that they don't concern themselves with.
Who they are is what punk is ; no-one can take away from them what they owned for themselves.
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January 2023
Happening this month:
Jan 01:
Happy New Year!
Jan 17:
Kerplunk was released 31 years ago.