logan j. fowler looks back on Green Day’s emergence into the mainstream music scene 17 year ago …
“No time to search the world around … ’cause you know where I’ll be found … when I come around.”
It was 1994. Whether I was 10 or 11, I can’t remember, but that doesn’t really matter. My brother had recently gotten his first CD player/tape player/recorder from a relative. With that, he started buying CD after CD. As his little brother, I looked up to him, so I began listening to what he began listening to. The ones that stick out the most were Nirvana’s Nevermind, Pearl Jam’s Ten and Weezer’s The Blue Album.
And then, there was Dookie.
Now, at the time, my youthful ears could not grasp what front man Billie Joe Armstrong was really saying in his lyrics. I mean, imagine yourself as a young child in the just barely double digits listening to “Welcome To Paradise.” Would you understand how BJ was slumming it with squatters in the worst areas of California? Or listening to “Longview,” would you get how it was about one’s own personal happy time? Don’t kid yourself — you wouldn’t.
But something about that album stuck with me. I would listen to “Pulling Teeth” on repeat, and wait for “F.O.D.” to finish so I could hear the secret track “All By Myself” — which, a secret track, was a novel concept for the time.
Even after 17 years, Dookie is still one of the best albums to hit the music industry. If you haven’t read any of my other Green Day pieces, it is a statement of concrete standards that Green Day became my favorite band. And maybe my listening to Dookie way back when was just fate setting itself up. Maybe all it took was an 11-year-old kid listening to music of a simple, melodic, catchy nature for that to happen.
“I’m not growing up, I’m just burning out, and I’ve stepped in line to walk amongst the dead …”
When Green Day decided to sell their music to the mainstream, it was met by many fans of the underground punk scene with bitterness. Green Day was theirs — not the rest of the world’s.
The band we know now as Green Day started out as Sweet Children in 1987. Armstrong joined up with best friend Mike Dirnt and then drummer John Kiffmeyer, and they played to the underground crowd at 924 Gilman Street, which was open to fans of all ages and did not require a cover or any form of payment to get in.
A year later, Larry Livermore of Lookout! Records saw the band, enjoyed what he viewed and signed them to his label. Their first single, “1,000 Hours,” was released, but not under the name Sweet Children — under the name Green Day. Why? The guys liked marijuana. And there that is.
The band lost drummer Kiffmeyer after their first full record, 1,039/Smoothed Out Slappy Hour. Tré Cool became the permanent drummer. The band released one more record under the Lookout! Records label: Kerplunk.
“I’ve figured out what you’re about and I don’t think I like what I see … so I hope I won’t be there in the end if you come around.”
But then, the boys were generous enough to say to themselves: We want the world to hear us. Sharing is caring, right? Well, not according to the crowd of Gilman, where the punk kids labeled the trio as massive sellouts, forbidding them to ever show their faces in the underground venue again.
Regardless, the band signed to Reprise Records, under the Warner label, and in 1994, the album Dookie was released to the world. The album kick-started with “Burnout,” leading into “Having A Blast,” followed by “Chump.” And then, the end of the latter song led into the much familiar opening Dirnt bass line of “Longview,” which would become a Dookie single, along with “Welcome To Paradise,” “Basket Case,” “She” and the only real lighthearted song on the album: “When I Come Around,” which has been stated as Green Day’s most “get stuck in your head” tune. With its simple melody, catchy lyrics and hooking chorus, I am not one to argue. Most of the singles got heavy rotation on MTV (when it still played music videos), allowing for an increase of interest in the band’s first big album.
“Grasping to control … so I better hold on …”
While the trio was regarded as sellouts by the punk kids of Gilman, Dookie did receive plenty of accolades upon its arrival and even beyond that. It climbed up to No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 200 album charts in the U.S., and hit it big in other countries as well. The band even received a Grammy Award for Best Alternative Music Album. In 2003, Rolling Stone magazine named Dookie as one of the 500 greatest albums of all time, and to this day, it remains Green Day’s most popular record.
“Are you locked up in a world that’s been planned out for you? Are you feeling like a social tool without a use?”
Seventeen years later, my car, iPod, and even my classroom radio plays songs from Dookie on heavy rotation. Let me explain that last one: Thanks to music-to-lullaby conversion albums known as Rock-A-Bye Baby, Green Day music is stripped of its lyrics and composed using instrumental means of lulling kids to sleep. Even the 4- and 5-year-old children I teach have been exposed to Green Day. You are never too young to rock, my friends.
Green Day has released many albums since Dookie, but the impact of that record remains strong. It identifies with a lot of issues:relationships, self-esteem, paranoia, jealousy, anger, confusion, sexuality, and most importantly, just sticking it to the establishment. Listen to the lyrics of “F.O.D.,” past the acoustic section and think about a time where you wish you could just say that to someone’s face who ticked you off a little too much. Or drown in the words of “Basket Case” and identify with Billie Joe’s struggle of his own personal self-esteem and how it will affect others. The song that speaks the most powerfully, I feel, is “Coming Clean,” which tells about a 17-year-old who is feeling that his sexual preference is in severe question and doesn’t know how to explain it to his parents.
“I’ve found out what it takes to be a man … but mom and dad will never understand … what’s happening to me.”
Dookie remains Green Day’s No. 1 album. Even though follow-ups may have more well-rounded or well-versed, they are nothing compared to Dookie — and yes, that even includes American Idiot. In 2005, bassist Dirnt said that when American Idiot was released, the band had finally stepped out of the shadow of Dookie. While American Idiot was a statement and a powerful album, a lot of Green Day fans left that bus when politics became the band’s new anthem. I have polled many people, and they still say that regardless of what was released afterwards, Dookie is the end-all/be-all for Green Day.
As a fan of the band even post Dookie, I can understand that statement. A lot (but not all) of Green Day’s tunes released after the album are either very heavy, dark or even sometimes too preachy. Dookie retains simplicity, a vision and speaks about life complications that a good majority of people understand in same way or another.
While an 11-year-old Logan wouldn’t understand Dookie and and its lyrics, a 27-year-old Logan would get it immediately. I’ve identified with a good chunk of lyrics being sung about in that album, and having a band who knows what I was going through at points in my life is one of the most comforting things in the wide world.
Thanks, Green Day.
“Hello my friend, how have you been? It’s been so long … what have you done with all your time … and what went wrong? It wasn’t long ago, that I was just like you … and now I think you’re sick and I wanna go home …”