Green Day’s Mike Dirnt remembers the first time he saw himself on TV. It was the trio’s March 16 debut on Late Night With Conan O’Brien, and Dirnt, the band’s bass player, didn’t like how he looked or sounded. In fact, he admits, “The initial shock made me so mad, I was in a hotel room and started smashing lamps. I actually destroyed a hotel room.
“It was stupid,” adds Dirnt, 22, wryly realizing he has committed one of the great rock & roll cliches, “but it wasn’t a rock-star thing to do.”
At least not in Dirnt’s eyes. See, the guys in Green Day may be card-carrying citizens of the alternative nation — with a breakthrough video in MTV’s “Buzz Bin” (the heavily bleeped “Longview”), a slot on Lollapalooza ‘94, and an album, Dookie, in the Billboard top 30 — but don’t confuse them with rock stars. As Dirnt points out, “People consider rock stars rich a–holes.”
In the up-from-the-underground ’90s, the saga of Green Day has a familiar ring: Young band hones its hooky, Tupperware-tight popcore in a blue-collar town (Rodeo, north of Berkeley, Calif.), where they suffer the ritual humiliations of suburban life. Trapped, Dirnt and singer-guitarist Billie Joe (and, later, drummer Tre Cool) have no choice but to write songs about their world: pot, boredom, and masturbation. Consider them the kid brothers of punk’s “class of ‘77” — the Ramones, the Buzzcocks, the Jam. “That sound has been integrated,” says Megan McLaughlin, editor of the CMJ New Music Report. “It’s been around long enough that it’s not scary to the mainstream.”
They win over the skateboard set with a few independent-label albums and five years of touring in a converted bookmobile. For a while, says comanager Elliot Cahn, “You really had to be in touch with the whole punk scene to realize how big this band was.” McLaughlin agrees: “Once people looked at the numbers, it was like, ‘Wow — imagine what a little marketing and major-label distribution could do.’” Green Day sends out a demo. A bidding war ensues, the band lands with Warner Bros., and pretty soon they’re pressing the flesh with talk-show hosts. “It’s not like we ever aspired to be where we’re at right now,” says Dirnt, “but this is where we ended up.”