Wednesday, July 31, 2013

In Praise of Green Day

Summer 1994. I had just gotten my first apartment (paying $400 a month to live in a two-bedroom townhouse in Park Merced near San Francisco State University), I was working at a record store, I thought I had it all. And then I got my first heartache. My first serious girlfriend broke up with me in a sort of shitty way, but then there aren't ever good ways to break up with someone. I was devastated. Even though we had only been together for only about four months, I was madly in love with her, and had no idea that our relationship would end. She was a quirky indie girl who looked like Bjork. Her ex was the comic book artist Adrian Tomine, whom she left for me, who wrote a strip
about it.

It was my first serious relationship and serious breakup, and I did not know how to handle it. I had invested so much into the relationship and it suddenly went up in smoke. I shared things with her that I never told anyone else. She had talked about getting married and having kids. It seemed so unfair. I talked about it endlessly for months. I called her for weeks on end trying to understand why she broke up with me. I didn't understand the impermanence of young love, and the fact that things fade. Or that the more that I acted like a pathetic weirdo, the worse off I was. I did understand that wallowing in my misery was a losing proposition, and I knew that the gloomy, downer grunge music I had been listening to was not the right thing to help me get over my heartache. Luckily, I discovered Green Day about that time.

Green Day and Jawbreaker were the first local punk bands I listened to, and the first local scene I felt a part of. By 1994 I had been listening to punk for about six years, but always as an outsider, listening to bands from L.A. or DC that had broken up already. The East Bay pop punk scene was going strong in 1994, and I got to be a part of it. I saw Green Day at Slims that year, right after their major label debut Dookie had been released, but before it had sold millions of copies and gotten endless play on MTV and the radio. I liked Dookie well enough, but my favorite Green Day album was and still is their debut CD, 1,039/Smoothed Out Slappy Hours, which collected their first album and two early EPs. Green Day were three high school drop outs who made pop punk songs about crushes, and that early album perfectly captures teenage romantic angst. The album opener "At the Library" is a brilliant song about trying to talk to a cute girl at the library:

Then there was "Don't Leave Me," an impassioned plea to an ex:

My favorite song was "Going to Pasalaqua," which showed a songwriting maturity that was leagues ahead of anything else anyone in the East Bay scene was doing.

What I loved about Green Day was that they were fun and positive and happy, while wallowing just a little in being screwed up. Compare that to the Smashing Pumpkins or Nirvana, the two other bands I was really into at the time. Their music was intense, it was emotional, and it was mostly based on feeling depressed and miserable. That's not what I needed when I was depressed and miserable. I was also 19, I was living in San Francisco, and I knew that the world was my oyster if I would only try to grab it.

My interest in Green Day waned pretty quickly. By 1995's Insomniac, I was over them. I won't accuse them of selling out, because they've taken their sound to millions of people, had their music adapted to a Broadway musical, and taken their poppy sound much further than I ever thought possible. I may not love their post-Dookie output, but I can't begrudge a band whose music has meant so much to millions of young people. I sold all their CDs ten years ago when I was purging my collection, so now I listen to them on Spotify from time to time.

 I managed to get over my ex by the end of 1994, and soon had another girlfriend (who also broke my heart). I've never found my ex girlfriend online to see how she's doing. I'm sure she's doing well, and I hope she doesn't cringe too much when she thinks of me.

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