Green Day (Contemporary Musicians)
Image Pop-UpGreen Day.
In the early 1990s Green Day helped bring a new brand of punk rock to the forefront of mainstream music. Bratty and bored, Green Day appealed to the so-called "Generation X" crowdhe twenty somethings who were getting bored with the slow-moving angst of grunge music. Green Day's youthful vigor made their pop punk radio friendly and fun for a range of people, many of whom hadn't discovered punk before. The fact that they were genuinely nice, articulate guys also gave their career a boost.
Green Day began in the town of Rodeo, California, just 15 miles north of Berkeley. There, ten-year-olds Billie Joe Armstrong and Michael Pritchardho later changed his last name to Dirntet in the school cafeteria. Neither had had a good home life. When he was ten, Armstrong's jazz musician father died, fragmenting his family. Armstrong found solace in his new friend and in music. Dirnt, born to a heroin-addicted mother, was adopted by a Native American mother and a white father who divorced when he was seven. When his mom moved north when Dirnt was 15, he rented a room off Armstrong's house.
Even if either boy had had enough money to buy records, there wasn't a record store in town. They learned about music from their older siblings and friends. They listened to early punk progenitors the Replacements, the Ramones, and the earliest works of British punkers the Sex Pistols and the Buzzcocks. They were finally able to scrape together enough cash by the time they were eleven to buy their own guitars. That's when Armstrong got his beloved Stratocaster, which he plays to this day.
In 1987 the boys formed the band Sweet Children, with John Kiftmeyer (aka Al Sobrante) on drums. By then Dirnt had switched to the bass. Soon they became consumed by their weekend lives at the Gilman Street Project in Berkeley. This unassuming-looking caningand-wicker shop housed a major underground punk club on the weekends. "That place and that culture saved my life," Armstrong told Rolling Stone's Chris Mundy. "It was like a gathering of outcasts and freaks. It wasn't about people moshing in a pit and taking their shirt off. That's one thing I hate about the new maintream thing: blatant violence.To me punk rock was about being silly." Both boys tried their best juggling music, jobs, and schoolirtually raising themselves.
Became Green Day
Green Day recorded their first EP, 1,000 Hours, in 1987 and by 1989 had enough steam behind them to begin lobbying Lookout! Records for a deal. They also changed their name to Green Day, the title of one of their songs. Lawrence Livermore, head of this independent punk label, signed the band immediately upon hearing them. Green Day began touring in earnest after they released their first album 39/Smooth in 1990. Just the week before that Armstrong gave up the ghost at school, dropping out the day before his eighteenth birthday. Dirnt struggled through and got his diploma. Lack of brains hadn't been the problem for either student, it was trying to earn a living and make music that took the toll on their school work.
Meanwhile, deep in the Mendocino mountains of California, Frank Edwin Wright III lived with his family in near isolation. Wright's nearest neighbor was Livermore, and when his band the Lookouts! needed a drummer they called on 12-year-old Wright, renaming him Tre Cool. When Green Day got back from their first van tour in 1990, Kiftmeyer jumped ship. Cool, Kiftmeyer's drum teacher, took over where his student left off. 39/Smooth gained the band national attention, al lowing them to garner packed houses in most places they played. In 1991, with their new flamboyant drummer on board, Green Day released Kerplunk. Kerplunk quickly broke sales records for Lookout! and several successful tours ensued.
In early 1993 Green Day left Lookout! on friendly terms and began searching for a label that would be able to give them the promotion and tour support that an independent could not afford. Against the odds, Green Day had managed to cut three seven-inch singles, book seven American tours plus two European jaunts, and sell 30,000 copies of both of their LPs all before they turned 21; the major labels had a feeding frenzy trying to sign them. It was Rob Cavallo, the young producer/A&R representative from Warner Bros.'s Reprise Records, who convinced the guys to choose Warner. Also convincing was that Warner had been the label of the Sex Pistols and the Ramones.
Debut Album a "Punk Explosion"
In 1993 Green Day released their major-label debut, Dookie, which is slang for excrement. The music blended raw punk force with pop melodies. The songs were short and catchy. They were also funny and irreverent, highlighting lives of boredom, pot smoking, and masturbation. Rip wrote: "14 whirlwind tunes sweep you up in guitar-drenched sentiments, leaving barely enough time between tracks to catch your breath. Like their musical forbears, the Who and the Ramones, they aren't afraid of melodies, and there are some downright pretty ones here, which they tackle boldly, armed with Billie Joe's bracing power chords, Dirnt's agile bass lines and the dynamic drumming of Tre picked up playing with his jazz buddies." Time called it "a cathartic punk explosion and the best rock CD of the year so far." MTV put Green Day's videos in heavy rotation and the boys graced the cover of nearly every music magazine. Bringing down the house during their mud-drenched performance at Woodstock 94, Green Day solidified their super stardom.
With stardom came cries of sellout. Suddenly, along with punkers the Offspring and Rancid, Green Day had brought underground punk rock into the mainstream. Assuredly, it was a new 1990s punk, much more positive and born from a different kind of angst. But it was still punk, English accents and all. Green Day responded to naysayers with reasonable thinking. To Rip, Dirnt explained that they couldn't survive to play music without help from the big labels. "Selling out is compromising your musical intentions. And we don't know how to do that." Armstrong put it even more simply. People reported him telling a friend, "I don't come from that world where you can afford to turn down cash."
Green Day has a lot going for them. Besides being so radio friendly, their live performances are electrifying. Because they consider their brand of punk to have a strong silliness component, they are very silly. And, as one Berkeley club promoter put it in People, "they're just a bunch of nice guys. They're polite. They never put holes in the wall. Never vomited on stage." Despite their angry stage posturing and immature antics, they're three family guys who just want to be able to raise the good healthy families that they never had. Cool and Dirnt each have a daughter, and Armstrong has two sons. In addition to being responsible parents, Green Day does their best to be a responsible band. They defy ticket company service charges by cutting their touring costsften sleeping on the tour busnd taking a smaller cut to keep ticket and T-shirt prices under $15. They made sure that 100 percent of the sales of their Lookout! albums go to Lookout! in order to keep that independent scene alive. Proceeds of several of their shows have gone to charity.
No matter how hard they try, first-time fatherhood and a demanding life in the spotlight takes its toll. 1995's Insomniac was a darker, somewhat less accessible album than Dookie. Sales were still goodventually selling more than two million copieslthough not as brilliant as Dookie, which had a sold more than eight million copies by the time Insomniac came out, eventually reaching a ten-times platinum status. Reviewers didn't come down hard as they often do on a follow-up album. In Spin, Eric Weisbard wrote, "The Green Day three have never crunched as powerfully as they do on Insomniac/ One or two moments excepted, the rest is a sustained thrill." People said, "On their visceral follow up, Green Day is intent on gaining punk credibility among hard-core denizens of the moshpitven at the risk of diminished sales." Risky or no, Spin voted Insomniac number 15 out of 20 of the best albums of 1995.
Took Time Off
Green Day took a couple of years off to spend time with their young families following the release of Insomniac. Their next album, Nimrod, was released in late 1997. Billboard writer Craig Rosen noted that it represented a step forward in "growth and maturity" for the band. Armstrong agreed, telling Rosen that the band wanted to experiment musically and move away from the three-chord power-punk formula that fans had come to expect. "I still love punk rock. It made me who I am, but we're capable musically of doing a lot more We wanted to leave ourselves vulnerable and sort of let it happen." That didn't mean that they were abandoning the hooks that made them famous in the first place. Japan's Daily Yomiuri proclaimed that "Green Day has the uncanny ability to reinvent the same basic one-four-five progressions with some of the best hooks in the business."
The biggest hit off Nimrod was, surprisingly enough, the acoustic, confessional ballad "Good Riddance (The Time of Your Life)" that sounded nothing like any previous Green Day hit. The Daily Yomiuri noted the omnipresence of the tune in all media outlets: "It was such a huge hit it almost became the de facto background music anytime a television show needed to establish the tone for a scene of bittersweet farewells." Indeed, the tune played on numerous prime time shows, including NBC's Friends and Eft Armstrong defended his instrument of choice in Guitar Player, although with such a hugely popular and critically acclaimed song, there was really no need to. "One of the biggest misconceptions about acoustic guitar is that it's a wimpy instrument. Just because it doesn't produce distortion doesn't mean it's not tough."
Again, Green Day took time off before heading back into the studios to record another album. The album that resulted from this extended time off was released as Warning in 2001. "In a lot of ways was like starting over for us. After we came off the road from the Nimrod tour, we were fried. We had reached a point where the music wasn't inspirational or funo we stopped," Armstrong confessed to Guitar Player. The album earned heaps of critical praise. People reviewer Steve Dougherty said that Warning showcases the group's "blossoming pop sensibilities airy melodies, sing-along choruses and big, jovial beats." The group's use of acoustic guitars, banjo, saxophone, and meaningful lyrics is, Dougherty wrote, the "strongest evidence yet that punk is dead." The Hollywood Reporter hailed the album as "a tremendous record." Despite the critical lauds, the album was a commericial disappointment, failing to reach platinum status two years after it was released.
"One of the Great Punk Bands"
Green Day next released a greatest hits collection, International Superhits, in 2001, and followed that up with a companion B-sides and rarities album, Shenanigans, in 2002. All Music Guide writer Stephen Erlewine, reviewing Shenanigans, wrote: "Since they're an excellent, restless band, there's variety hereits of surf rock, classic British Invasion, classic British punk, and singalong popothing is less than enjoyable" Erlewine praised both of the albums and the band, calling Armstrong "a d**n good songwriter," no matter what sub-genre of pop or punk he was working in. "He [Armstrong] partnered with a band that could deliver those songs, resulting in a body of work more consistent and thrilling than the Sex Pistols and more ambitious that the Ramones." International Superhits is, Erlewine concluded, "proof positive that Green Day is one of the great punk bands, regardless of era."
1,000 Hours (EP), 1987.
39/Smooth, Lookout!, 1990.
Kerplunk, Lookout!, 1992.
Dookie, Reprise, 1993.
(Contributor) Angus (soundtrack), Reprise, 1995.
Insomniac, Reprise, 1995.
Nimrod, Reprise, 1997.
Warning, Reprise, 1999.
International Superhits, Reprise, 2001.
Shenanigans, Reprise, 2002.
BAM, January 12, 1996.
Billboard, June 25, 1994; September 20, 1997.
Daily Yomiuri, March 8, 2001.
Details, September 1994.
Entertainment Weekly, June 10, 1994; December 23, 1994; October 20, 1995; June 5, 1998; October 6, 2000.
Guitar Player, July 1994; January 2001.
Hollywood Reporter, July 24, 2001.
Musician, September 1994; June 1995.
People, March 20, 1995; October 30, 1995; October 9, 2000.
Raygun, April 1994.
Rip, June 1994; March 1995.
Rolling Stone, September 22, 1994; November 17, 1994; December 15, 1994; January 26, 1995; December 28, 1995.
Spin, September 1994; November 1994; March 1995; November 1995; December 1995; January 1996.
Time, June 27, 1994.
"Green Day," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (December 30, 2002).
Green Day Official Website, http://www.greenday.com (December 30, 2002).
"Shenanigans," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (December 30, 2002).
Additional information for this profile was provided by Reprise Records press materials, 1993 and 1995.