Twenty years ago come Saturday, Green Day dropped Dookie on an unsuspecting human race.
Billie Joe Armstrong, Mike Dirnt, and Tré Cool have given our great hurtling orb two decades of stultifying pop-punk simulacra. Two decades of copies of their copy without an original, of emo rocker boys who imagined themselves the first to bend gender norms, to bend notes, to feel feelings, to perform punkness without so much as a courtesy safety pin through their flesh. Fuck Green Day. Fuck their music. Fuck their look. Fuck what they have wrought, intended and otherwise.
Let me say at the outset: I know mine is a minority report. Rolling Stone, Spin, Kerrang, MTV, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame: They all put Dookie on a pedestal. It became a classic as soon as it was released on February 1, 1994. Its singles are iconic. It's not Green Day's first or second album, but it's the big studio one, the one that made them venerable Grammy-grabbing angst-miners.
So yeah, a minority report, but also a not-very-unique complaint. Attacking Dookie and Green Day for the consequences of their Xerox punk performance is itself a well-worn performance, a signal to the audience that, hey, you know authenticity and you know poser. And Green Day is so poser.
I'm not going to sit here and tell you that punk was better and purer somehow when it was a bunch of ugly dudes renaming themselves Ramone and playing the same three chord shit, but faster and for an older generation. I'm not going to tell you that the Sex Pistols weren't a Westwood/McLaren profit model posing as profane profundity, even though Billie Joe's appropriation of the Johnny Rotten coif still manages to be a vulgar insult. I'm not going to tell you that punk wasn't shot through with popular market compromises from the start.
But it is getting worse. And it's Green Day's fault.
People have a tendency to look back at the popular music of the generation that preceded them and say that it was somehow harder, truer, realer: For my generation, that's the early waves of punk. We looked at that shit and made Joe Strummer a king—a decision that I will still capriciously stand by—and many of us accepted Green Day's catchy hooky simulacrum as our own generation's homage, our approximation, and our innovation. For the most recent generation, the one that now consumes Demi Lovato and Bruno Mars, their tributary of throwback authenticity springs forth, in part, from Green Day and eddies along through Fall Out Boy.
It is a vicious cycle. It must stop.
Green Day is the greatest beneficiary and driver of this cycle. Green Day conventionalized the nasal condition as a rhetorical position: the closely held conviction that there is a deep fount of sincere irony in the uppermost recesses of a singer's sinuses, and hence, that is where all sound must originate and terminate.
The nasal condition has become synonymous with profundity, with really saying something that matters. With performed authenticity. Here is the authenticity that Green Day offered us on Dookie:
- Longview. Catchy single, huh? Who doesn't love the bouncing-ball bassline? The hard-chord chorus? He said "masturbation"! In a song on the radio! Tell us, Billie Joe, about your great statement to humans of the world: "It's about boredom, and smoking dope."
- Welcome to Paradise. It's... like... punk... with a descending three-part Sixties boy-band harmony. Swoon. Quick, give me some panties to throw!
- Basket Case. No, B.J., I haven't the time or the inclination to listen to you whine. Why? Because Suicidal Tendencies wrote your fucking song even better in 1983.
- When I Come Around. Voted Most Likely to Show Up Between the Gin Blossoms' "Hey Jealousy" and the Spin Doctors' "Two Princes" on Your Sister's Memorex Mix, 1995.
- She. Finally, all the metrical and melodic complexity of the Brady Bunch theme come to bear on the adolescent condition.
From these not-so-humble beginnings, something so awful.
In 1993, Nirvana went on tour with the kinda sorta not really punk band Jawbreaker. The following year, the same year Dookie came out, Jawbreaker released 24-Hour Revenge Therapy.
Green Day and Jawbreaker went on to be cultural lodestones for future waves of pop punk and emo, regularly riffing off each other's successes.
Nirvana's lead singer shot himself in the face. And eventually, we got Pete Wentz.
[Photo credit: Getty Images]