February 5, 1995

When Punk Goes Pop Punk Rockers Aren’t Supposed To Sell Lots Of Records And Care About Grammys, So What’s Green Day To Do?

Neil Strauss New York Times
 

And God said, let there be punk rock: and there was punk rock. And God saw the punk rock, that it was good, and God divided the punk from the mainstream. And God said, let us make Green Day in punk’s image, and let its song “Basket Case” have dominion over radio and MTV, over amphitheater and club, over bedroom and car stereo. And God saw all he had done and said, “This is punk?”

Here are a few things you should know about Green Day: Its first album on a major label, “Dookie,” was the fifth top-selling album in the country last year. The record has now sold some four million copies altogether, making it likely that punk rock will be to 1995 what grunge was to 1992.

The band is made up of three 22-year-olds from Berkeley, Calif., whose hair colors change on a regular basis. The two most frequent adjectives used to describe them are: snotty and bratty.

The band likes to say that it knows three chords and roughly the same number of melodies. When it performs, its members look as if they’re on the Magic Mountain roller coaster at Disneyland, a ride shrouded in darkness that might take a turn uphill or downhill at any moment.

Green Day was nominated for four Grammys. This is a problem for today’s punk rockers for whom the Grammy symbolizes the establishment that they are reacting against.

Here are a few things you should know about punk rock: The term was originally used to refer to garage bands from the early 1960s, groups that tried to make pop music and wanted to become rock stars. But because they were playing in garages, had little or no musical training and tried to compensate for these shortcomings with loud amplification and risque lyrics, they wound up creating a sound all their own.

In the mid-1970s, the word punk was transposed onto a new group of untrained musicians, those making the same kind of do-it-yourself rock but with one difference: its aim was to be different from popular music instead of a low-quality imitation.

Eventually, as punk rock was passed on from the New York Dolls to the Sex Pistols to the Dead Kennedys, it became an unequivocal reaction against the mainstream, meant to shock and criticize where pop soothed and affirmed.

Today, punk rock is as opposed as ever to big business, national politics and popular taste. Flipping through the pages of Maximum Rock-andRoll, a magazine that doubles as a bible of punk correctness, a reader finds statements like “Once your video is aired on MTV, it’s not punk.” And “Each band from a punk scene that signs to a major label has sold us out.”

Green Day has always been a thorn in punk’s side and not only because it released an album on a record label owned by Time Warner, the largest of six corporations whose music production and distribution holdings are known as major labels.

The problem is that Green Day is a punk band in the 1960s sense: one that’s not afraid of pop. It sings about classic pop problems like relationships and girl trouble and modern pop problems like alienation and confusion.

Its music is a stripped-down version of pop, filled with two-minute songs for the microwave generation, which doesn’t mind its food soggy so long as it doesn’t have to wait.

The band’s music has always been the same, from its first album on the tiny Berkeley label Lookout! to “Dookie.” Consequently, the band has always been vilified by many in the same punk scene it grew out of.

Punk hardliners find Green Day’s music too soft and pop-oriented and dislike the fact that Green Day’s confusion is turned inward instead of outward against society.

Like the garage rockers of the 60s, Green Day’s members never had any aversion to becoming rock stars, but, like a punk-rock band, they never thought they would.


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