On the 11th of August (this Thursday) Green Day will release their newest single: “Bang Bang” – and I’m excited. It’s one of those quirky interests of mine that I can’t always put a finger on. A mixture of coincidences, teenage memories, guilty pleasures and random obsessions. Green Day is a weird band; fickle and multilayered, loved and scoffed at and often struggling with its identity. Maybe that’s why I like(d) them so much.
I used to be a crazy fan; with all the crazy fan tendencies that come with it. I bought all their albums, memorised lyrics, followed the latest news on a daily basis and knew endless random factoids about the band and its members.
That was more than a decade ago; and the fangirling faded away. But I still hold warm feelings for the trio from Oakland. Perhaps it’s the peculiar memories of how I came to know them and how they always stuck around.
Beer, Fanfic and an E-mail from Kate
In the year 2000 I heard a song on the television, during a montage of the rowing final during the Sydney Olympics. It was originally aired on the BBC but a local channel used it. The song was a melancholic ballad, simple vocals and guitar plucking but it stuck with me for the next days. In the end I decided to write an e-mail to the BBC to ask them what the song was. Mind that this was sixteen years ago and e-mail was still relatively new and exciting. We didn’t even have e-mail at home and I had to send it from school. Also, I was fifteen and had to put an effort in to write a proper mail in English without embarrassing mistakes. Of course I beamed with pride when I got an e-mail from a woman named Kate, making me a compliment for my English and sending the details of the song. I always held onto the e-mail as a memento; both to show how quickly technology and communications advanced, and as a memory of how I came to know Green Day. For this article I decided to see if I could contact Kate. In 2016 with Twitter and LinkedIn it wasn’t hard to find her and write an e-mail. From the thousands of e-mail, many of them wackier than mine probably, she couldn’t remember our exchange. But she was happy to hear about my good memories of it. I was excited to hear from her; it was like a little reliving of the excitement back in 2000.
Green Day was my favourite band when I was in my late teens, early twenties and struggled with the familiar coming of age troubles we probably all went through around that time in our lives. I failed at college, couldn’t find a job, didn’t know what to do with myself or figure out who the hell I was and what I wanted in life. In short: I became a lot like the person in Green Day’s famous hit “Longview” and to this day I can’t put on their song “Maria” (The first track on the compilation album “International Superhits”) without immediately have memories triggered of myself in that small, dinky flat somewhere in suburbia. The cheap booze, the canned food, PlayStation games and printed Tomb Raider fanfiction.
When you are a Green Day fan, you get used to being made fun of. People will berate the band for being overly commercialised, aimed at young teenage women, cheap and unoriginal and a syrupy travesty of punk. There’s a lot of cynicism involved in these negative opinions, a lot of prejudice rooted in sexism too, but also a smidge of truth. Let’s take a look at the history of the band how they got where they are now.
Green Day started under the name Sweet Children back in 1987 with childhood friends Billie Joe Armstrong and Mike Dirnt. Both grew up in poor, working class families in the San Francisco Bay Area, idolising bands like The Clash, Van Halen and Hüsker Dü. By 1989 they had changed their band’s name to Green Day and played often at underground punk club 924 Gilman Street in Berkeley with drummer Al Sobrante, later replaced by Tré Cool. It would take till 1994 before they broke mainstream with their legendary album Dookie and now famous songs “Longview” and “Basket Case”. They never managed to reproduce the success of Dookie, but maintained momentum for another six years with a trio of decently performing albums. Green Day played upbeat, simplistic pop-punk with that typical Generation X undertone that held a middle between Nirvana’s moody nihilism and the hedonist surf rock from outfits like Sublime and Reel Big Fish. At the turn of the century the band hit a low point and were at the verge of breaking up. They cancelled an album, performed under alias The Network as a new wave/synthpop band and it would take till 2004 before the resurfaced again.
American Idiot marked a new beginning for the trio and a renewed interest from mainstream media. With a darker, heavier sound and a stronger emphasis on politics, activism and young adult angst. They managed to approach a whole new audience and do something not many bands manage; gain popularity with another generation. Behind this success also stood a buzzing marketing machine: Green Day employed some serious brand management with their new album and the follow-up 21st Century Breakdown. Their album artwork, the style of their website, social media channels and of course the band merchandise all adapted the same consistent style. Even the band members started to dress in a specific way for concerts and music videos, had certain hairstyles and makeup and their live shows started to adapt a pre-programmed skits and intervals.
Since then Green Day changed their attitude a little. After the disappointing launch of their trilogy of albums in 2012, the onstage drunken meltdown of their frontman Armstrong and his subsequent rehab made them dial back a little. It seems they decided to be less of corporate media franchise and more of an ordinary band having fun again. I hope their songs will not be so polished and overproduced anymore, their live gigs less of a staged show and their presentation a bit more down to earth and not full of branded logos and band merch.
But the point is, even if they don’t, they’re my comfort band. Green Day, even now that I don’t really call myself a fan anymore, retains that comfortable, warm feeling of familiarity and safety. Their music, especially since they departed from the darker undertones of 2004-09, is and was always a motley collection of energetic pop-punk, ballads, stadium anthems and lighthearted rock ‘n roll. I don’t listen to them much anymore, but sometimes when I’m in the mood I like to fire up a playlist of their best material. Green Day is my Disney movie on a rainy afternoon, the slice of pizza and legs on the coffee table, video games, fanfiction and a hug from mom.
When you are young you want to stand out; you want to be part of something or show desperately that you are absolutely not part of something. It feels like the biggest achievement when you don’t care: “I don’t care what they think of me” – but you actually care a lot about making sure that everyone knows that you don’t care. Growing up also means chilling the hell out about all of that, shaking off guilty pleasures and stop thinking in social groups, categories, stereotypes and gender roles. Luckily you can look back at those times and comfortably smile knowing you know better now.
Like I said, I can’t wait to hear Bang Bang.