There’s not a lot for rock stars to do in Pontiac, Mich. Hell, there’s not a lot for anyone to do. The options: Sit in your hotel room and watch reruns of Adam 12, do whatever drugs you can find, or hit the Bass Pro Shop and stock up on some fishing supplies. Green Day drummer Tre Cool—Frank Edwin Wright III, for all the trivia buffs—chose the latter.
“That place is so crazy,” he says without a hint of irony, babbling on for awhile about the bevy of tackle the store has to offer before suddenly blurting, “I stole something while I was there. I got a rod protector for my little rod.” Cool bursts into laughter. Somewhere Tom Green winces, wondering why he hadn’t thought of that gag first.
Of course, getting to the tackle store was a trick in itself. Cool had to bum a ride—tour buses don’t got to fishing stores. His saviors turned out to be a few kids who had driven in from Wisconsin to see the show. “They tried to check in to the same hotel we were staying at but the hotel wouldn’t let them,” Cool explains. “They were too young or something. So we co-signed for their room under the agreement that they would drive us around.”
The only problem: “All their CDs sucked. It was like our stuff, and that’s cool, then all this crap. Just dumbass punk and metal. Like they wanted me to hear this Alien, um, Bug Farmer or something [Alien Ant Farm]. God, does that suck. They were all amped about this cover of ‘Smooth Criminal.’ I was like, ‘You know that’s a Michael Jackson song.’ They had no clue.”
Not that Green Day isn’t responsible in some way for the current glut of dumbass punk. Ever since the group’s ’94 ode to masturbation, “Longview,” and the album that spawned it, Dookie, made it safe for sophomoric sarcasm, hundreds of fresh-faced California residents have tried their hand at easily-marketed rebellion. For some, angst-ridden fart jokes have paid off better than any of the once-almighty dot-com stocks—God bless The Offspring and its offspring, and Blink-182, really. The others, well, can anyone hum a bit of a Suicide Machines song?
“We put out Dookie at a time when it was proven our music wouldn’t sell,” Cool says. “No one went gold with a punk record and we went platinum—10 times, no less. I don’t blame the bands. They were already there. I blame the companies. They saw us and said, ‘We can do some pop-punk formula and makes lots of money, too.’ Bands started to be packaged and marketed. Now punk bands are doing anything to get popular. They’re hosting shows on MTV. That’s just awful.”
But while those groups have turned punk into beer commercial-ready music, Green Day is trying to do something that few would have thought possible: save today’s punk from whoopee-cushion punks. The band’s current album, Warning (Reprise), might not be as breakneck as it could be—few 1-2-3-4-go! riffs survived the fluke success of “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life).” And the songs tend to skew more towards aging Gen-Xers than anyone who would go to the Vans Warped Tour. But the record is more thought-provoking than a $100-an-hour shrink. Singer-guitarist Billy Joe Armstrong has gooped on plenty of imagery about politics, passion and coming to terms with yourself. Sometimes those things just glide by, though, lost in a batch of sugary hooks. Mixed together, it just might be the finest record Green Day has ever released, showing off the trio’s improved songwriting and its fearless courage—who else has the balls to try to change punk with a pure pop record?
“When you get older, you realize that you have an influence,” Cool says, “a message to get across to people. A good song can be ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’ or ‘Revolution.’ We’re a broad band. If we want to do something, we do it. If we want to say something, we say it.”
Yet even with all the success the band has had over the years, Cool admits that some day Green Day might be viewed not as elder statesmen, but as aging hipsters trying to hang onto their past. It’s a threat any band that’s been around as long as Green Day—12 years now—has to deal with. And one day Cool knows that rambunctious pop punk might not sell as well as it once did.
“It all goes in circles,” he says. “Look at the hair-metal bands. As long as you had long hair and took off your shirt you could be a rock star. We’re not going to tour forever. We’re going to write songs as long as we can. And then who knows what?”
Maybe the trio will end up like its heroes, The Beatles: If not as universally loved, at least recognized for its contribution to music. And maybe someday a band will go to one of the studios where Green Day recorded and do the same thing the group did when they were invited to record at Abbey Road in London.
“The first thing we asked was, ‘Where did they used to smoke?’ They told us on the roof. So we went up there, rolled a big one and smoked where the lads did. That was like touching history.”
Green Day with the Living End. Saltair, I-80 West Exit 104, 7:30 p.m. Tickets available through Smith’sTix: 467-TIXX, 800-888-TIXX and www.SmithTix.com.