Tonight I'm going to the Berkeley Repertory Theatre to see American Idiot: The Musical (that might not actually be what it's called, but close enough) with my best friend from high school and our wives. I'm really excited about both seeing Derek, who lives in Seattle, and the performance based on my favorite album by one of my favorite bands.
It also got me thinking how music, or more specifically following the progress of a certain band, is a great way to mark "the time of your life," if you'll permit me an obvious allusion. I was in high school when Green Day first started getting noticed in the East Bay Area. They played shows in Vallejo, Martinez, and of course, Berkeley. Not that I attended any of these shows, mind you. I was waaaaay too uncool for that. Plus, I was scared of Vallejo. Still am. But some of my more adventurous classmates went, and wouldn't shut up about this pop punk trio that, like, totally rocked.
Their breakout (but not first) album, Dookie, came out during my senior year. Like pretty much everyone else in my generation, I bought it (on cassette...unlike almost everyone else in the mid-90's, I hadn't quite switched to cd yet...I told you I was uncool) and played it until it fell apart.
UNLIKE everyone else in my generation, that summer I rode on a Southwest airlines flight (choose your own seats!) from San Diego to Oakland while sitting next to the three members of Green Day and their road manager. It remains my most prolonged brush with fame, although they really weren't all that famous in August of 1994. Sure, they had two hit singles ("Basketcase" and "Longview"), but average patrons of the friendly skies had no idea who they were.
In fact, the only reason my sister and I were able to sit next to the guys was that they looked to the untrained eye like a bunch of punker misfits. Lead singer Billie Joe Armstrong reinforced this image by loudly warbling his version of Tom Petty's "Refugee," playing along on an acoustic guitar, waiting for the plane in the terminal. Once we were in flight, he staggered up to the intercom and attempted to ask the entire plane if any of the stewardesses could bring him "another bag of penis." He couldn't work the handset, though. In retrospect, he very well may have been high.
Meanwhile, drummer Tre Cool spoke constantly in a falsetto and bugged my sister about letting him have her Hawaiian hat, which he absconded with at the conclusion of the flight. Now that I think about it, those guys were definitely high.
I had a long conversation with the most mellow (but probably also high) member of the crew, bassist Mike Dirnt. We talked about music; I specifically remember him saying that The Offspring's "Keep 'Em Separated" had taken him a long time to get used to, but now he liked it. When he found out I was going to college at UC Davis in the fall, he told me about how they'd played the coffeehouse there a bunch of times. They'd also played Woodstock '94 a couple weeks earlier, and their set had ended in a massive mud fight with fans. Some in the press construed it as violent and agitated, but both Mike and Billie Joe claimed everyone was having fun.
Mike also spoke of his East Bay roots and knowing Billie Joe from growing up together. He talked glowingly of his girlfriend, whom he claimed he couldn't wait to see and would be waiting at the gate in Oakland (remember, this was pre-9/11).
The flight was over all too quickly, but as my sister and I walked off the jetway, I have two enduring memories. One was the quizzical (and slightly worried) expression on my stepdad's face, as he tried to figure out why we were getting off the plane, kidding and laughing, with three spiky-headed, pierced musicians. The other was Mike, rushing into his purple-haired girlfriend's arms, and then looking back at us and mouthing, "See, this is her!" Because I can still picture that moment, Mike Dirnt will never be a spoiled, arrogant rock star to me, no matter what else he does with his life.
As I look back on that time, I see parallels with my life and Green Day's career arc. They were on the cusp of superstardom; I was about to experience the glory and upheaval of my freshman year of college. Ok, so maybe it's a reach, but we were both young and dumb, and the road wasn't always smooth. I bought every new album (one of the first things I did in college was to buy a cd player) and drove down from Davis to see a couple of their shows. I even reviewed their more mature-sounding cd Nimrod for the school newspaper and got paid for it, something I never would've thought possible. We were growing up together, it seemed.
Green Day's popularity waned a bit during the late 90's and early 2000's, as they struggled to find their direction. This time coincided with my early-to-mid 20's, and the less said about that era, the better. I moved to the City in 2003 and met my future wife. Green Day roared back with the titanic American Idiot in 2004, and every sane person hated George W. Bush to the tune of the band's magnificent soundtrack of disaffected youth.
A couple weeks ago, some friends of mine saw Mike Dirnt eating at one of my favorite restaurants from childhood, El Charro, in Lafayette. I still go there whenever I can. But things have changed, as they have for the guys in the band. They're nearing their forties, and all of them have at least one marriage and progeny to their credit.
My friend Derek also has kids, and I have one on the way. We don't get to hang out as much as we used to. I still love Green Day, but I haven't been to one of their concerts in probably 10 years; I'd be the oldest person there who wasn't chaperoning a teenager.
But you know what? Just like the band, we can still do it when it matters. As an added benefit of growing up, we no longer need our fake i.d.'s and have disposable income to spend on expensive cocktails. Tonight, we're gonna sing till our lungs give out.
"I'M THE SON OF RAGE AND LOVE!!!"