THE BEAST WITH THREE HEADS AWAKENS.
From Alternative Press Magazine, June 2000
It's 11:00a.m. on a dank and sloppy Thursday morning and the members of Green Day have risen from their two-year slumber, ready to reclaim their title as punk provacateurs. To prove their hegemony, singer/guitarist Billie Joe Armstrong,
bassist Mike Dirnt, and drummer Tre Cool demanded and received a slot on this year's Vans Warped Tour, which kicks off
in late June, only a month after the band finish recording their sixth album in an out-of-the-way studio on one of Oakland's meaner streets. But before Green Day return to wrest back their spiky crown from the likes of Lit, Blink-182 and Limp Bizkit, they have to eat. Like an army, a punk band travels on its stomach, and it's time to fuel up for the long journey back to the top of the slag heap.
For this ritual, the band insist on meeting at Mama's Royal Cafe, an unpretentious dive despite it's stately name. They've slected this resturaunt both because it's midway between their respective domiciles, and because Dirn't fiancee Sarah works part-time as a waitress here. That, rather than the fact that these native sons have sold over 20 million records over the past nine years, guarantees our small party a mahogany-paneled booth in the backroom, away from the din of clattering dishes and silverware. After all, this is the East Bay, where no one gets any respect-especially if he or she deserves it.
As lifelong residents here, Green Day weren't suprised when some of their compatriots turned their backs on the band, insisting Green Day had forfeited any underground cachet when 1994's Dookie managed to rack up sales in excess of 14 million copies. The experience inspired the venomous "86" from 1995's Insomniac, with its admonition, "What brings you around / did you lose something the last time you were here? / You'll never find it now / it's buried deep within your identity / So stand aside and let the next one pass / Don't let the door kick you in the ass."
And they haven't. If anything, the band have burrowed deeper into themselves. While their gargantuan success may have given them greater artistic freedom, it's also rendered them more insular and suspicious. "I have even fewer friends now than I did when we first started," explains Armstrong. "I got two kids. That's my main thing. When I get home, I'm a full-time dad and husband. I've got my priorities straight."
The entire band seem to have their priorities straight. They eschew all ostentation, either driving sturdy "parent cars," in Dirnt's words, or trolling through town in the same American-made muscle cars they owned when they started. Trendy clothing isn't on the shopping list, either. WHen we meet for this interview, Armstrong wears worn vermilion socks tucked into ripped black Converse tennis shoes, a ratty black hoodie and the same faded black pants he claims he's owned since the 11th grade. Cool, looking like a depraved Papa Smurf clad in black leather and wearing a beanie pulled low over his wide forehead, has returned his Jello-green hair to its original mousy brown. Dirnt is the only one who has kept up his tonsorial pretensions, growing out his blond hair to Euro-thrash length, and tipping the ends with peroxide. When Dirnt first pulls off his dove-gray fedora, Mike Score from A Flock Of Seagulls comes to mind.
As evidenced by their clothes, Green Day basically live the same lives they did prior to their massive success-except now they live in better houses and they've all got families. Dirnt shares custody of his 3-year-old daughter with his former wife, spending his days reading Harold And The Purple Crayon, and attending Spanish class with his daughter one day a week.
"You know what the word for you is?" he asks Cool. "It's bufon!" Cool responds by grabbing Dirnt by the neck and grinding his knuck into his messy hair.
Cool may be the classic extrovert, but when the magnifying glass is turned on him, the effusive drummer is circumspect about his personal life, dodging questions with an insolent "I don't have to tell you that." It's hard to know what he feels he has to hide, other than the fact that he's been through a rancorous divorce recently. Three weeks before the band were due
to begin recording, Cool married the woman with whom he had been living for the past two years, and whisked her away to Hawaii for a week's honeymoon. It's a testament to the band's guarded nature the Cool neglected to mention his marriage plans during the course of our interview, held six days before the big event.
But perhaps we shouldn't be surprised by either Green Day's bourgeois tendencies or their reticence. Arguably both the punk movement and Green Day were much more subcersive in their earlier incarnation. Remove the communal living, the squalor, the high-octane drugs; add in families and a healthy income, and what you have is the suburbanizing of-if not the entire loosely contructed movement-then of Green Day themselves.
"Punk is no longer a four-letter word," declares Dirnt. "It's a three-letter word now."
"What, you mean like pop, or God?" I ask innocently.
Dirnt doesn't answer me, disgusted, I'm sure, by my failure to grasp some important shift in the punk-rock aesthetic. Punk is more than a musical style to them: it's a lifestyle, a way of relating to the world, and most importantly an attitude. To Green Day, reports of punk's demise are greatly exaggerated.
"Punk will never be dead to me," asserts Armstrong. "Even if it's never played onthe radio again, I can never just drop this lifestyle. It's me. It embodies me," he insists. By way of example, he mentions the label he started with a group of friends. "I think of Adeline as a punk-rock labe, and that's they way I've let my life flourish more in terms of DIY. Adeline is a collectiove-people coming together and doing their own thing when they don't like anything else. It's really putting your money where your mouth is, and that's the beauty of punk rock-you can bitch and complain, but unless you're doing anything about it, then shut up."