ALL THE WAY ACROSS TOWN: Contributor’s Roundtable
The very first decision I made about this week (before, in fact, Hendrik had even given me the go ahead) was that if I was going to do it, I wasn’t going to do it alone. Part of that was self-preservation: Green Day are a massive band, with a three-decade-long career and insurmountable amounts of energy. It’s a lot for one person to tackle. Even between the five of us, we’ve barely managed to scratch the surface.
But more than that, there was this nagging feeling that’s only grown more powerful over the course of this week, that it would really just be a shame if only one person wrote about Green Day. They belong to everyone. They’re there for the people who need them, when they need them, for whatever they need them for. Yes, they mean the world to me. The thing is, they probably mean the world to you, too.
So I put out the call on Twitter and my blog (restricting it somewhat to my circle of acquaintances by doing so, unfortunately, but this did make me more comfortable with asking in the full knowledge that I wouldn’t be able to pay any contributors for their work), and I got lucky: most of the people I was secretly hoping would offer to write about Green Day did just that. And, oh man, did they write. I can’t express how proud I am to have been able to give those pieces a platform, and to have myself and my writing associated with them and their writers. I was so impressed with the generosity and honesty of everyone’s writing that I wanted to hear more, and so I suggested the idea of a roundtable, where we could all come together to talk about our mutual topic: Green Day. This is the result.
All of us, this week, have touched on notions of belonging and acceptance in our pieces. There’s been an undertone, throughout, of the notion of Green Day as a safe space of some sort - whether it be for kids to start to figure themselves or the whole punk rock business out, or in the crowd at gigs, or as not-male or not-straight music fans. Do any of you have any more (or more specific) thoughts about this? Is this a feature of Green Day’s music, or the band themselves, or something else entirely? (Despite my piece on punk, I know it’s not as simple as that, as I’ve been in more than one punk space and met more than a few punks who made me feel unsafe - there’s a difference between ideal and reality, always.) What is it that makes a band feel “safe”?
KJ: I think I thought of Green Day as a supportive space for all sorts of people who were different, and therefore avoided owning up to liking them because I didn’t want to be thought of as different? Thankfully, I’ve gotten over that.
Jessie: For me, it’s a combination of factors. Some of it has to do with the punk thing. Green Day weren’t the first punk band I heard–that honor goes to another East Bay band, Operation Ivy–but sometimes I call Green Day my first punk band because it was around the time I first heard them that I started thinking of punk as an identity. I have definitely felt unsafe in punk spaces/around certain punks, and I guess Green Day sort of represented some utopian ideal of punk as this super welcoming club for nerds, freaks, and outcasts. I’m not sure why that is–maybe because of the scene they came out of, or maybe, because I said in my piece on “She,” it felt like they understood what it was like to be freaks and outcasts. Which leads into the second reason they felt safe to me, and that was entirely about their music. I was being bullied pretty much constantly during the time when I first heard them, and it just felt like they understood that. Like they’d been there. I mean, Dookie had a song (“Having A Blast”) about getting revenge on the people who bullied you. (More on that song later.) The third reason they felt safe to me is a very personal one, and it may sound weird, but–they felt safe to me because I didn’t have a crush on any of the band members. From the age of 12 to around 17 (or maybe even older, but that would lead into some topics that are beyond the scope of this roundtable), I usually ended up getting a crush on at least one member of every band I liked. I mean sexual fantasy-type crushes. And I was sort of terrified of my burgeoning sexuality (for many reasons). But with Green Day, I thought of them more like cool older brothers than people I wanted to get with, and that made them feel safer to me than a lot of other bands.
Jacqui: Jessie, I’ve never even thought about it the way you put at the end there, but now that you have I completely agree. I’ve also never had a crush on any of them, and it does make a difference. There’s something a lot safer about wanting to swap guacamole recipes with Mike, for instance, than ever having been properly attracted to him would have been.
Alice: It was much the same for me, though I think Green Day was my first punk band (or, possibly, The Offspring). But Green Day also was sort of a gateway drug, in terms of pop punk, and I think that in so many ways the pop punk scene of the early-to-mid-2000s was my safe space. It’s like we’ve said, that punk in reality isn’t always the safe space it is supposed to be - and of course, it is different for everyone and we are ignorant, of certain things, when we’re young. But when I was growing up, in Alabama, there weren’t many spaces for me. The pop-punk boom/resurgence of the 2000s was a saving grace, I think. Those bands - Green Day, My Chemical Romance, Fall Out Boy, etc. - and the people I met through them, mostly online, became a huge part of the ways in which I reckoned with myself and my identity. Between “Well, maybe I’m the faggot America / I’m not a part of the redneck agenda” and Bert McCracken (of The Used) wearing a shirt that said “Gay is OK”, I felt included and comforted by these group of weird punk misfit dudes.
This is perhaps a corollary to the above: as far as I know, everyone who’s written for this week is, in some way or another, not-straight. One of my favourite things ever written about Green Day, Cristy Road’s coming out memoir Spit and Passion, is also, obviously, written by a not-straight woman. I know that when I think of Green Day, I think of a band that is Not A Straight Band, in smaller ways and larger ones (I’m thinking of Billie Joe, of course, and of certain lyrics, and safe spaces, again, and of the secret-community like collection of “Coming Clean” tattoos I’ve seen over the years). What do you think?
Jessie: I don’t know why so many not-straight people are into Green Day, but it certainly does seem to be true. I didn’t know that Billie Joe identified as bi until way after I got into the band, but when I found out I was like “Hell yeah! Yet another reason to love them!” Dookie came out the year I realized I was bi (though it would be another four years or so before I actual felt wholly comfortable with that label), and though there were no explicitly queer songs on it, it goes back to what I mentioned above–so many Green Day songs seem to speak to that sense of being an outcast, being lonely, being bullied, and one of the things that made me an outcast and that I was bullied about was my sexual orientation and gender expression. Another theory as to why so many not-straight folks love Green Day: they are not an uber-macho band. Billie Joe has often been seen wearing makeup, nail polish, even dresses; I’ve seen Tre in eyeliner, too, and he’s just sort of goofy-looking (I mean that as a compliment!). Mike is probably the most ‘masculine’-looking of the band members, but even he is not some meathead. There are just so many rock and punk bands that are so so into the whole machismo, look-at-me-I’m-a-man thing, and Green Day are not one of them and it’s great.
Cat: So, haha, funny story, Billie Joe is sort of the reason I admitted to myself that I liked girls. I mean, God knows every single person in my life knew I wasn’t straight, I was bullied for it relentlessly from the ages of eight to eighteen, but I was really terrified of this idea of “not being normal”. Small town, small school, white picket fences and 2.5 kids - I had this really clear idea that there was a Right way to live your life, which was “how everyone else was living it”, and that there was a Wrong way. And then I read that Advocate interview - which I was so happy to find again in your post about Coming Clean, Alice! - and Billie Joe says there, I think everybody is born bisexual, I think everybody fantasizes about the same sex. Which I disagree with as a point of view these days - but at the time, it was exactly what I needed to hear, to understand that my thoughts and feelings about girls weren’t just a random fluke that I needed to suppress. And then later I was able to move into a more mature standpoint, i.e., “oh, it doesn’t actually matter if this is normal or not, it’s okay anyway”, and also, “oh, I’m actually way more into girls than guys.” But I really, really needed that Advocate interview to get me to that place.
Alice: Thanks, Cat! Yeah, as I mentioned in my piece, I didn’t read The Advocate interview until much, much later. But I read it - when I was seventeen - exactly when I needed to read it. I don’t think that I ever connected Green Day, and the ways in which their music always meant so much to me, to my being gay until that moment. It was a moment of satisfaction, reassurance, almost. Like oh this is maybe why they always felt like home to me.
KJ: I have a very vivid memory of frantically late-night Wikipedia-ing a “list of bisexual celebrities” and feeling utterly relieved when I saw Billie Joe’s name. Like, if this guy who I looked up to could be bi, so maybe could I? Not for the first or fifteenth time, I thought about starting a band.
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