Good Riddance

Secondly, once Green Day hit Warners, and once the resulting Dookie began its first amusing, then horrifying sales streak (eventually selling more than 10 million copies), the trio got broadsided by mainstream America. They aired stylish music videos that made punks cartoony and palatable to the masses; they were omnipresent on alternative radio. You could be sick of Green Day without ever paying attention to what they were doing. I never really listened to Dookie, and then I snored through most of Insomniac.

Sometimes we all need to admit ignorance and adjust the arbitrary opinions we develop about pop music. I was stupid. What I didn't get was that Green Day was making fantastic, celebratory teen-age music. As I heard Jello Biafra say at a panel talk on punk, Green Day blundered their way to success -- they didn't exactly plot it out. Everyone thought Green Day was a punk band -- even the members themselves. What I understood only recently is that Green Day is a pop band with a record collection full of Ramones albums. They're not necessarily punk.

Punk songs don't get played on the radio, and back at the Shoreline, almost every song was a radio song. The set began with "Nice Guys Finish Last" and "Hitchin' a Ride," the first two tracks from Nimrod. The band bounced, and the kids chirped along to almost every word. The lyrics weren't as cheerful. "There's a drought at the fountain of youth/ And now I'm dehydrating," Billie Joe sang.

Green Day ran through "Geek Stink Breath," "Longview," and "Basket Case." Billie Joe plucked some kid out of the audience to play three chords on a cover of Operation Ivy's "Knowledge." The songs, and the show, were fun, immediate, and substantive. The band finished the set with "When I Come Around," and then five minutes of feedback squall, burning drums, and a broken bass. As the drums smoldered, Billie Joe, by himself with an electric guitar, came back on. "For what it's worth," he sang, "It was worth all the while/ I hope you had the time of your life." His delivery -- a little sped up, slightly rushed -- exploded the tune's sentimentality. It sounded like a goodbye song to his punk friends, but he could've been singing to himself as much as anyone.

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