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If you’re currently between the ages of say 25 and 50, there’s a 99.4% chance that you owned Dookie. It was Green Day’s 1994 punk masterpiece that launched them into the mainstream, where they’ve remained for 27 years and counting. Personally, I’m still of the belief that this is their best overall and most significant album, musically and in terms of their industry significance, despite the more commercial success of later albums like American Idiot, which was eventually converted into a Broadway musical, if you’ll recall.
I clearly remember the very first time I laid ears on Dookie. I was all of 13 years old, and I had tagged along with my aunt to pick up my (favorite) cousin from a snowy airport. He was 20 and away at university, so he was already inherently cool to me. At one point, he handed me his Sony Discman and told me to have a listen. Having been exposed to little more than the likes of Rod Stewart, Lionel Richie, Elton John, some “80’s Madonna,” and various spatterings of country music, I was about to excitedly lose my punk rock music virginity.
The first two tracks he recommended of course, were “When I Come Around” and “Basket Case.” The soon-to-be mega hits.
I was enthralled.
The loud guitars. Billie Joe Armstrong’s unique and anti-authoritative voice. Mike Dirnt’s addictive bass riffs. The up-tempo drum rolls from Tre Cool. I had never heard anything like this before. I was hooked. And while I personally was far from the troubled and misguided teen that was represented in these songs, it was the introduction to my teenage years. Just look at album name and the cover. Dookie? Are they really talking about dog poop? That’s like catnip to a teenage boy.
Antics aside, I’ve continued to follow Green Day throughout their career and even into my own formative years. I remember talking Green Day’s fourth album Insomniac to death with my buddy Keith on the bus ride (it was a long one) to high school for weeks. When I heard about the “Geek Stink Breath” video premiering on MTV (which is actually quite the video that filmed a meth addict getting a tooth extracted), I got home from school, popped a blank cassette tape into the stereo and waited to record it through the stereo auxiliary from the music video on TV. I needed to have that on cassette and eventually, nailed it. But damn, such a manual process. We got it so good now.
I also remember driving over to ROW Records in the Douglastown mall at lunch time to snatch up the Nimrod album the day it came out. After seeing the “Hitchin’ a Ride” video, I couldn’t possibly wait until the second day. No chance. And remember, there was no such thing as illegal downloading, no Napster, and no streaming services back then. You went and purchased the physical CD. We’re talking 1997 at the time, so the internet wasn’t even a thing yet.
That’s the kind of impact Green Day had on me as a teenager. But it always, always, came back to Dookie.
Even though the album was only a grand total of 38 minutes and 22 seconds long (including the hidden acoustic track “All by Myself” at the very end), it was an absolute banger from front to back. The type of album that you cannot avoid playing air guitar or air drums to. It’s near impossible. I knew every word on the album, almost by osmosis, having listened to it on repeat for weeks and months.
I declare I don’t care no more,
I’m burning up and out and growing bored,
In my smoked out boring room.
My hair is shagging in my eyes,
Dragging my feet to hit the street tonight,
To drive along these shit town lights.
“Burnout” – Green Day (1994)
From the very opening drum roll and power chord of “Burnout,” the album had such contagious and vigorous energy, even if Billie Joe was singing about things like boredom, whining, lack of motivation, and soggy dreams. The lyrics above really capture the essence (and ironically, the appeal) of Green Day during the 1990s.
“Longview,” with its iconic introductory bass line from Dirnt, is a song about being a bored and barely surviving as a useless teenage skid mark on society. “Basket Case,” arguably their most popular song (it does have the most streams on Spotify), is about going crazy or being stoned, or both. But damn, does Tre rock the drums in that song. And I’ve always been a fan of “She,” “Chump,” and “Coming Clean” probably more than the next person.
But “When I Come Around” was the best. Such a diehard classic, and almost a slight change of pace song in comparison to the rest of the album. Though, one could argue that it was the absolute pinnacle for Green Day’s mud-slinging shit show of an appearance at the now-infamous Woodstock ’94 set. You almost have to see it to believe it. I recommend the 18:00 minute mark of the link.
As a three-piece power punk band, the collective Green Day formula isn’t anything musically innovative or spectacular, especially the Dookie album. It’s simple, short, catchy three-chord punk-pop, with even more simple lyrics, sprinkled with some funky bass licks, and speedy percussion. But they’re all masters of their own craft and together, it just works. It’s always worked. From childhood friends to dudes nearing their 50s, they’ve stuck around to occupy our ear holes.
Along with being a launching pad to my musical acclimation, Dookie was a very personal and special album to me in terms of experiencing live music. At 40 years old today, and having lived in or near Toronto for over the past decade, I’ve been privileged to see many concerts and many of my favorite artists/bands. But Green Day, after the massive success of Dookie, was the first real concert I ever attended.
Which leads me to storytime.
It’s still so clear to me. November 1, 1995. Fredericton, New Brunswick. The Aitken Centre, on the campus of the University of New Brunswick (shared with St. Thomas University for those counting at home). I love that I can even pull the exact setlist for that show. God bless the internet.
All of 14 years old, I travelled to my cousin’s dorm about 3 hours from where I lived. Appropriately, it was indeed that same rock star cousin that I mentioned earlier. I’m pretty sure I took a bus there, alone. That might be the only foggy memory. I remember him being of almost celebrity status at St. Thomas. He knew everyone. Everyone knew him. He was the main guy to know at Harrington Hall. All of it was a tremendous experience and something very tangible that I could later compare to my own university experience.
The concert was absolutely mind-blowing. It was almost ear-blowing as well. At one point, we had made our way up near the front row. The speakers were so fucking loud. Dangerously loud. I couldn’t hear properly for at least the next 3-4 days. It was amazing. And to a 14-year old, it didn’t even feel like real life.
I learned so many things in those moments. Watching Green Day play my favorite songs in the universe off the Dookie album live, was so rad. And since the Insomniac album was released literally three weeks before this show, it was nuts to hear them play these brand new songs. Of course, since I had copped the album right away, I already knew all the words to the new album and was singing along. The guys I was with were super impressed. I was proud. I even felt like a bit of a rock star in that particular moment.
I learned other things too. I never realized that a guy could play his electric guitar hanging as low as Billie Joe did, and strum it so damn hard without breaking the strings. This whole “punk stance” things was new to me. And it came in extra handy when he decided to appear on stage completely naked to play the encore. The guitar hung in just the right places, if you feel me. In ’97, they were definitely punks.
I saw dudes with green hair, blue hair, and super-spikey mohawks.
I found out what a mosh pit looked like.
I held up a crowd surfer,
I smelled “indoor skunk” for the first time.
I learned that you shouldn’t rip up a parking ticket from the windshield of your car and stuff the pieces of paper in your ears to substitute as ear plugs. Turns out, you’ll likely need a pair of forceps and some steady (sober) hands to pluck it out later. This actually happened to one of the guys in the group. It was an epic event well before “epic” became a popular descriptor.
Most of all, I learned how integral live music would become in my life. People that know me, know what an obsessive sports maniac I am. To go to a live sporting event is one of favorite things on earth to do. However, nothing — seriously nothing — beats a live concert. When I get the chance to see one of my favorite artists live, it’s trance-worthy. Especially in a smaller venue. I love that shit. I tend to absorb every second of the performance, no matter who the act is. Often, I’m in awe (and envious) of the talent.
The discovery of Dookie was the trigger for me. Back at the airport, and later at the Aitken Centre. Even today, I’ll sometimes still throw on the album during a 40-minute car ride somewhere. It’s ironically, the perfect time-waster.
Finally, a special shoutout to my cousin Robin is in order, as he’s essentially the backbone of this entire article. I hope you enjoyed re-living some of those pivotal moments. And I completely forgive you for making me miss my bus home, “forcing” me to stay a whole extra day on a university campus. My basketball coach was not at all impressed with what he referred to as “Green Peace.” Classic stuff. I love you my man.
You know, for as old as the Dookie album gets, it never actually gets old.