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February 2002Green Day

H.E.A.R. Honors GREEN DAY

They've been referred to as the poster children of pop-core, the kings of punk-pop, and the voice of a generation. But to the members of Green Day (official site), collecting labels never mattered‚ they just wrote their songs about girls, alienation, girls, growing up, and, well, girls, as a means to escape the "boredom of the "burbs." And American kids have identified with both the motivation and the inspiration behind the music‚ enough to buy some fourteen million Green Day albums. Frontman Billie Joe Armstrong certainly doesn't think that the band's popularity qualifies it for the lofty "voice of a generation" title. In fact, in an interview with Rolling Stone, he offered an entirely different perspective on the subject: "All I was doing was pulling my pants down, more like the butt of a generation."

Just how does one become the butt of a generation? Well, Green Day's story starts back in 1972, the year that all three of its members were born. Billie Joe Armstrong came into the world as the youngest of six kids born to a working-class family in Rodeo, California, an industrial town fifteen miles north of Berkeley. Dad was a truck driver and sometimes jazz musician who died when Billie Joe was ten; Mom was a waitress and a diehard country music fan. At age eleven, Billie Joe got his first guitar, a blue Stratocaster that he plays to this day. It was around that same time that he made the acquaintance of Michael Pritchard. Pritchard, who would later assume the name Mike Dirnt, was born the son of a heroin-addicted mother and was put up for adoption. His adoptive parents divorced when he was seven, at which point he began dividing his time between their separate households. At the age of fifteen, he rented a room in Billie Joe's house.

Meanwhile, Frank Edwin Wright III was growing up in a town called Willits, which is located north of the San Francisco Bay area in an isolated part of the Mendocino mountains. The Wrights' nearest neighbor, Lawrence Livermore, lived about a mile away. At age twelve, Frank joined Livermore's band, the Lookouts, adopting the performing name of Tre Cool. The group recorded an album, which was released on a label Livermore formed called‚ what else? "Lookout Records." The record attracted some fans in the Bay area, so before long, the pubescent Tre Cool found himself playing gigs at 924 Gilman Street, a punk club located in an industrial section of Berkeley. Gilman Street, the home of the East Bay punk-rock underground, was an all-ages club run by a volunteer staff; all bookings were handled by a committee and show promotion was done mostly via recorded phone messages.

Back in Rodeo, Billie Joe and Mike finally got around to forming a band of their own in 1987, with the former on lead vocals and guitar and the latter on bass and backing vocals. Performing under the name the Sweet Children, they landed their first gig that same year, playing in the lounge of Rod's Hickory Pit, the joint where Billie Joe's mom waitressed and Mike worked as a cook. The Sweet Children moniker didn't last long. In 1989, the boys renamed themselves Green Day, which was also the title of a little ditty they had written about one of their favorite pastimes: hanging out and smoking pot. The Green Day lineup was rounded out by a drummer named John Kiftmeyer, a.k.a. Al Sobrante. Knowing that Lookout Records was the label to be on if you were a self-respecting Bay area punk band, the members of the newly-baptized Green Day pestered Livermore about signing them. He eventually agreed to give them a listen on the condition that they drive up to Mendocino County and play for him there. The band members arranged a venue for the gig, but when they arrived, they discovered that they had booked an empty house with no electricity. Taking pity on them, Livermore rigged up a generator so that Green Day could play; he was so impressed with the performance the band gave in the little room before a crowd of twelve candle-holding people that he signed them on the spot.

Later that same year, 1989, the band released a first EP, 1,000 Hours; the inaugural effort was followed with the 1990 album 39/Smooth, which cost all of about $600 to record. Kiftmeyer decided to leave the band following the release of 39/Smooth, and was soon replaced by Tre Cool, whom the band had met at Gilman Street. Revved up and ready to hit the road with its new lineup, Green Day kicked off a national tour the day after Dirnt graduated from high school, in 1990 (Armstrong and Cool had previously dropped out of school). After months of touring and playing skateparks and VFW halls, the band headed back into the studio. Green Day's second album, 1992's Kerplunk, was recorded in five days on a $1,000 budget.

By the time Kerplunk had dropped into record-store bins, word had already gotten around about the exciting new punk trio, and both its albums sold in excess of 30,000 copies to break all of Lookout's previous sales records. Unlike most indie bands, Green Day really covered some ground, completing five American tours (one of which was with Bad Religion) and two European tours. On their American treks, the band members traveled in a most unlikely tour bus: an old bookmobile that Cool's dad bought from a library and outfitted with bunks and equipment-storage areas; Mr. Wright also served as the bookmobile driver.

Green Day's popularity had grown to such a degree that everyone ‚ Livermore included ‚ realized that the band had outgrown its record label. The trio left Lookout on friendly terms and went in search of a label that could provide the kind of tour support and promotion it needed to advance to the next level. After a short bidding war, the group signed with Reprise Records in April 1993 (part of the deal was that Lookout would retain the rights to the first two albums.) Green Day entered the studio, spending five weeks (instead of five days) to complete recording on its third effort, Dookie, which packed fourteen songs into only thirty-nine minutes. The album hit stores in February 1994, and within a couple of months, had sold more than a million copies, spurred on by copious amounts of radio and MTV airplay for the singles "Welcome to Paradise" and "Longview."

As 1994 progressed, Green Day's profile grew ever higher. After completing its own club tour, the band joined the lineups of both the Lollapalooza Festival and Woodstock '94. Green Day's Woodstock gig was one for the history books: a huge mud fight ensued between the band and the audience; so many mud-covered fans wound up onstage by the end of the set that one of the security guards mistook Dirnt for a marauding fan and broke several of his teeth while attempting to haul him off the stage. Later in the year, the band pulled off quite a feat, when it staged an arena tour with no ticket prices set higher than $20. Throughout all these tours and festivals, fans came to rely on one thing: that Armstrong was liable to drop his pants at any given moment. Unlike Jim Morrison, he didn't get into too much trouble for his flashing ways, although he once had to pay a fine of $140 in Milwaukee.

When the touring and trou-dropping were finally over, American sales of Dookie had surpassed the ten million mark‚ not too shabby for a band whose initial goal was just to be the best immature, bratty punksters around. Although dead-tired, the punksters didn't rest much in 1995. Both Armstrong and Cool became fathers that year, and Dirnt got married. They recorded a song called "J.A.R." for the Angus soundtrack. They also managed to complete another album, even though they fired their managers partway through recording sessions, because they believed them to be responsible for leaking "J.A.R." to radio stations several weeks prior to the single's scheduled debut. Despite all the legal and logistical problems that resulted from the firing, Insomniac was still released within the year. Though the album didn't approach the success of Dookie, it still sold several million copies in the U.S.

Armstrong, Dirnt, and Cool took a much-needed break following their tour in support of Insomniac. They spent the summer months of 1997 recording the eighteen-track Nimrod. The album, released on October 14, features the lead-off single "Hitchin' a Ride." In an unusual move for Green Day, the record includes a few guest performances: violinist Petra Haden of the band that dog lends a fiddle on "Hitchin' a Ride" and "Last Ride In"; and horn players Gabriel McNair and Stephen Bradley appear on "King for a Day." Mike and Tre appear in the H.EA.R. PSA. Green Day knows how important good hearing is to their music career.

 





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