Green Day are celebrating the 11th anniversary of their seventh LP, ‘American Idiot’, today (September 21). Here’s 30 facts you never knew about the trio…
’21st Century Breakdown’ was produced by Butch Vig, who also helmed Nirvana’s ‘Nevermind’. It will be preceded by single ‘Know Your Enemy’, which features staccato guitars and a sloganeering vocal – “Do you know your enemy? Silence is the enemy”.
Green Day have now been together for 29 years. When asked about the secret to keeping the band together for so long, singer Billie Joe Armstrong replied: “Circle massage…We like to massage each other.” These days the band take a private massage therapist on tour with them.
Bassist Mike Pritchard adopted the name ‘Dirnt’ from school, where his favourite hobby was playing “air-bass”. He sang ‘dirnt, dirnt, dirnt’ while plucking invisible strings. Billie Joe is the only band member who has retained his real surname – Armstrong.
Billie Joe Armstrong had the nickname “Two Dollar Bill” in high school because he sold joints for $2 – this is also linked to the band name Green Day, meaning a day of doing nothing but smoke marijuana. The band’s first name Sweet Children was dropped to avoid confusion with another local band from Berkeley, California, Sweet Baby.
Billie Joe Armstrong wrote an article on “how to be a couch potato” in punk fanzine ‘Absolutely Zippo’ in 1989. Since then, sofas have been an ongoing theme: the band’s breakthrough came with ‘Dookie’, in which Armstrong is seen sitting on a couch. A few minutes before this was filmed, Armstrong had watched news of Kurt Cobain’s death on the TV, while sitting on that very couch.
Green Day love tattoos. Billie Joe’s collection includes a photo-strip of his wife, Adrienne, on his right arm and a symbol on his chest meaning ‘potent male’. Mike has the Japanese symbol for marijuana on his right arm. Tre has a tattoo of a broken window with a TV falling out of it.
Armstrong has identified himself as bisexual, saying in a 1995 interview with The Advocate: “It’s something that I’ve always been interested in. I think people are born bisexual, and it’s just that our parents say it’s taboo. It’s ingrained in our heads that it’s bad, when it’s not bad at all. It’s a very beautiful thing.”
‘American Idiot”s centrepiece, the seven-minute epic ‘Wake Me Up When September Ends’, is a memorial to Billie Joe’s father, who died of cancer in September 1982, when the singer was just 10 years old. The video, showing a soldier leaving his girlfriend at home while he goes to Iraq, fell foul of censors in the US on account of its anti-war message.
Drummer Tre Cool attended clown college for a while before joining Green Day. Supposedly, he only has one testicle after losing the other in a tragic unicycle accident. He was riding on a stage at a high school near his home town when suddenly he fell off the stage and landed on the unicycle. This may be a fabrication.
Green Day started a mud fight at Woodstock 1994. Amid the chaos, bouncers mistook bassist Mike Dirnt for a stage-invading fan and manhandled him so violently they knocked out some of his teeth.
Weezer’s Rivers Cuomo learnt how to write songs by listening to the songwriting techniques of Green Day. He acknowledged his debt to the band via an affectionate reference in the 1996 Weezer single ‘El Scorcho’, which features the lyric: “I asked you to go to the Green Day concert/You said you never heard of them, How cool is that?”
The Killer’s Brandon Flowers accused Green Day of courting “calculated anti-Americanism” with their 2004 single ‘American Idiot’: “I just thought it was really cheap. To go to a place like England or Germany and sing that song – those kids aren’t taking it the same way that he meant it. And he (Billie Joe Armstrong) knew it.”
Oasis’ Noel Gallagher accused Green Day of ripping off ‘Wonderwall’ with their song ‘Boulevard of Broken Dreams’. He told Stuff magazine: “They should have the decency to wait until I am dead [before stealing my songs]. I, at least, pay the people I steal from that courtesy.”
The original back cover of ‘Dookie’ – the band’s 15 million-selling breakthrough album – featured a glove puppet of ‘Sesame St’’s Ernie. The character was later airbrushed out following a legal claim of copyright infringement brought by the producers of ‘Sesame St.’
Mike Dirnt supposedly wrote the bass line for ‘Longview’ while flat on his back, high on LSD, and then forgot it the next day. According to frontman Billie, the track – their breakthrough single – is about “boredom, masturbation and smoking dope”.
According to bassist Mike Dirnt, “Green Day is like sex. When we good we’re really good! When we’re bad… we’re still pretty damn good.” An impulsive character, Dirnt trashed his hotel room in a fit of nervous excitement the first time he saw himself on TV.
Political engagement came late in life for Billie Joe Armstrong, who for much of his life was the archetypal slacker. He dropped out of school a day before his 18th birthday to pursue a music career. “School is practice for the future, and practice makes perfect, and nobody’s perfect, so why practice?” said the frontman back in 1994.
On one of Green Day’s first tours, they were staying at a house with plenty of coffee but no milk. Drummer Tré Cool allegedly then decided to milk a dog, which Mike Dirnt later commented on by saying, “You didn’t tell everyone it was a boy dog.” Eew.
Billie Joe was a vegetarian in the early 90’s but lost too much weight and gave it up. He described his physical decline to ‘Flipside’ magazine in 1992: “It was like…. I couldn’t understand anybody. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.”
Before ‘Insomniac’ came out in 1995, Billie Joe considered leaving the band, apparently overcome by anxiety by the pressure of following up the colossal success of ‘Dookie’.
Billie Joe named his cat after Basil Exposition from ‘Austin Powers’. If Billie Joe and Mike Dirnt could play any movie role in history, they would both choose Austin Powers. Happily, the band’s enthusiasm was rewarded when their track ‘Espionage’ was featured on the soundtrack to ‘The Spy Who Shagged Me’.
According to Mike Dirnt, dogs will one day be our overlords. “Dogs are gonna take over the world,” explained the bassist. “It’s a known fact for those who believe it, kinda like the Bible”.
Billie Joe got his first electric guitar, a Fernandes Stratocaster copy nicknamed ‘Blue’, when he was 10. About his lessons, Armstrong said in a 1995 MTV interview “Basically, it wasn’t like guitar lessons because I never really learned how to read music. So he just taught me how to put my hands on the thing.”
Bassist Mike Dirnt (left) was adopted at the young age of six weeks old, after being given up by his heroin-addicted teenage mother. Talking about when his adoptive parents split, he says: “I grew up with my mom hating the white man and loving me”. Dirnt left home at 15 to live out of a truck but moved in with Billie Joe instead.
In 2001 Billie Joe was mugged at gunpoint and is now said to be “terrified” of guns. Talking to NY Rock, the frontman reiterated the band’s anti-violence views: “We don’t hurt people. We’re actually a very friendly band. How many other bands stop shows if they see a kid falling in the pit? A lot of bands don’t care about that.”
Mike Dirnt is part owner of Rudy’s Can’t Fail Cafe, a diner in Emeryville, California. Their MySpace page states: “We are not Mike Dirnt, but we do love him”.
Green Day’s album sleeves are more complex than they first appear. On the ‘Insomniac’ cover, there are three skulls which are supposed to be the skulls of the trio. To see the third skull you have to look into the flames and hold it at an angle. This technique (known as foreshortening) was used by Renaissance painters such as Hans Holbein.
For better or worse, Green Day are responsible for inspiring an entire generation of pop-punk bands. Blink-182’s Mark Hoppus admitted as much: “They are a band that really opened doors for the whole genre of music, and taught people about what punk rock really is.”
‘¡Tre!’, the third album the band released in 2012, was the lowest-charting effort they had had since 1992’s ‘Kerplunk’. But earlier in 2015, producer Rob Cavallo said he’d heard five of their new demos, commenting, “They were just fantastic. He is absolutely at the top of his game. Fans can be sure that when they do return, the music will be amazing.”