I always thought it was kind of humiliating to be a true fan, like an acknowledgement that someone or something is so much cooler than you that you just can’t contain yourself. Sure, there was a time during my youth when I went to the library to read microfiche magazine articles about Bob Fosse and a later period when I drove from city to city to see Sleater-Kinney, but I never tire of looking at the Tori Amos fan pages in which a younger version of my husband professes his love and laughing riotously. Being a fan is just not my style, because at heart I think I’m the kind of person to have a following, not follow.
So I found it pretty odd when I found myself googling to find out how tall Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day is (five foot seven and a half) and marveling at the mussed curls of his hair in his mug shot on The Smoking Gun Web site. I fostered similar love for bassist Mike Dirnt and drummer/accordionist Tré Cool, and I knew I was in deep when I saw a teenybopper bulletin board post that said “BiLliE JoeE is HotT!l!” and it took Herculean effort to keep myself from responding “meE toOoo!”
When Dookie, Green Day’s breakthrough album was released I was busy figuring out how to get the Reykjavík cast recording of Les Miserables. When the video for “When I Come Around” came out kids across the country bought striped sweaters like the one that Billie Joe wore in the video. I thought that maybe there was a sale at the mall in my Bay Area suburb. When I graduated high school in 1997, “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)” was a mega-hit and I’m pretty sure it was the theme song to my senior prom. I’m also pretty sure that I thought it was by Semisonic.
During the late ‘90s, I went to college in Green Day’s hometown, Berkeley. The trio played on campus at U.C. Berkeley, but I didn’t bother to go because in those years, if it wasn’t in the genre of music that I like to call “cunt punk”, I wasn’t listening. I clutched my Sleater-Kinney CDs to my chest and went off to search the Internet for pictures of Kathleen Hanna.
Long after I had purchased every Bikini Kill album but shortly after losing my job, I bought the new Green Day album, American Idiot, to coddle my newfound angst. It couldn’t be all-bad, I figured, since it features Hanna on the track “Letterbomb”. My husband was more difficult to convince, but he agreed not to mock me on the condition that I not buy any Blink-182.
A lifetime of ironic deflection and worshipping the obscure rendered me unprepared me for what I heard on American Idiot. It will rank highly among the seminal albums of my life, joining Liz Phair’s Exile in Guyville and The Who’s Tommy. “Jesus of Suburbia” makes me cream my jeans in a way that I thought only Tommy‘s overture could and “Letterbomb” makes me want to raise hell as much as “Fuck and Run” tempts me to kick cat-calling bums in the nuts. American Idiot bitch-slaps me with lyrics like “we’re fucked up but we’re not the same / And mom and dad are the ones you can blame” (“Homecoming”) and “Land of make believe and it don’t believe in me” (“Jesus of Suburbia”). For the rest of my life, I will stop what I’m doing when I hear the opening strumming to “American Idiot” and it will take me back to right here, right now.
As soon as I had the album in my greasy little hands, things start to get fuzzy. Somehow over the next week I had procured every Green Day album ever released and was scheduling entire days around repeat viewings of Green Day’s video collection International Supervideos. How did I go from “enjoying the band’s music” to being part of their devoted, and decidedly mainstream, fan base? Sure, the Bay Area connection is strong for me and I am woefully homesick since moving to LA last year, but it’s not like I’ve ever just had to know what South Bay quartet The Donnas’ favorite bar is or can even listen to Papa Roach without wanting to bomb their Northeast Bay hometown, Vacaville (which I would have, if not for its unsurpassed outlet shopping).
My Green Day craze is made all the more dangerous by the sheer abundance of fodder available. It’s a whole new world of professionally designed desktop wallpapers, fan art, and hokey little videogames for me. There’s nothing like nude photos to stir up obsession. I’ve stopped myself short of bidding for Green Day socks on eBay, but I’m probably going to cave on the “Who the fuck is Tré Cool?” T-shirt any day now.
The albums make me nostalgic for Berkeley, a city I’d define as a ‘frenemy’ at best. “Christie Road” (Kerplunk) sings about west Berkeley’s railroad tracks where I once also sought solace from mind numbing boredom, having no idea that there was a song about doing just that. “Stuart and the Ave.” (Insomniac,) is a break-up song that takes place a block away from my old house that hosted one of my all-time most ridiculous parting of ways (dildos were thrown—ah, memories). Their entire catalog reeks of the East Bay’s filthy moshing of street punks and physicists and it smells acutely like a bottle collector asleep in the fresh morning dew. Anything that can make me homesick for that is powerful, indeed.
Like the seven deadly sins, each of Green Day’s seven major albums is a tribute to imperfect living and forces a new context for the last 15 years of my life. 1,039 Smoothed Out Slappy Hours, a collection of Green Day’s earliest releases, are the jealous rantings of wannabes. Considering they were sold out the back of a van, the LPs combined on 1,039 Smooth Out Slappy Hours were very successful. Those must have been heady days at the Gilman Street Punk Collective, where Green Day was working the scene. Kerplunk, released in 1991, is a greedy collection of songs by kids that know they’re the next big thing. Dookie‘s spunk-rock party is as fresh to me as unemployment is great. The album is a slew of slothful nothings whispered in my lethargic deadbeat brain, and it makes me hot. The mean-spirited and annoyed Insomniac (1994) is all about anger, another sin that gets my rocks off. “I’m a smartass but I’m playing dumb” Armstrong sings in “Walking Contradiction”, which expresses Green Day’s irritation at its success placing the band at odds with its punk roots. They had become “Losers winning big on the lottery”. Nimrod is pure gluttony and the subsequent remorse rolled in one. Warning is flush with harmonicas, accordions, and orchestral strings that give it a lurid, lusty feel.
But the deadly sin that American Idiot advocates is pride, which in my book is not a sin at all. It took serious nuts for Green Day to release a punk opera that nailed the oft-covered youthful themes of alienation, rebellion, and identity in a way that is both completely fresh and utterly relevant at any life phase. American Idiot hits me like a punch to the gut of the grown-up ambitious side of me, reminding me that people can come back from a five-year long slump and do great things. It told me the thing I needed to hear most: that Bay Area white trash can make something that matters, and they can do it dangerously as adults with spouses. It’s the pep talk that peels my ass off my Velcro seat and gets me to do something with my laptop besides creep around Green Day fan boards trying to figure out what treluvor69 and I have in common.
I cannot deny that there is a sexual component to this thing, which I attempt to justify to myself (and my husband) with the simple explanation that talent is sexy. Tré makes this specific face during breaks in their songs, expressing an almost pre-ejaculatory joy at the prospect of being seconds away from beating his drums again that gets my heart to pitter-patter every time (see the video for “Waiting” for reference). In nearly every interview Mike comes off like a goofy ex-boyfriend of mine that embarrassed me whenever he spoke so I asked him to please keep quiet while I screwed his pretty brains out. And oh, Billie Joe, sweet Billie Joe. He has these mini-jowls that sway sexily when he dances and there is some quality of his voice that makes me want to curl up next to a trash can and shoot up, but in a good way. The best spunk-rock bands make women want to fuck them and men want to fuck like them.
A couple of years back I attended a David Bowie show and had the opportunity to meet a few Bowie superfans who were in the middle of a wet-dream package tour that went from city to city with him and included the chance to meet their own personal Jesus. One girl read the letter that she had read to the man himself, in which she describes how her love of Bowie allowed her to recover from a near-fatal car crash. I thought, “This girl is insane! How can Bowie have listened with a straight face?” But girl, wherever you are, I’m sorry. While Green Day hasn’t exactly woken me from a coma, you could work the concept metaphorically for me and it wouldn’t be a total stretch. I certainly didn’t expect to find myself in this position, but I have to admit that there is something exciting and eerily meaningful about loving strangers.
This fall I will join the sweaty mob on the field of SBC Park in San Francisco at my very first stadium show. I plan to shamelessly raise my fist while I sing along with thousands of others to songs about individuality and I won’t even ponder the irony. In the cloak of the masses, I will be freed from the nagging self-awareness that makes me turn the car stereo down when passing hipsters on the street. It turns out to be so liberating to see a band I like on MTV that I don’t even care that I’m watching MTV.
// Notes from the Road
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