Flashback Friday: Green Day's "Dookie"
In honor of LGBT Pride, I am taking the liberty to showcase one of the most overlooked albums that has a queer positive view. To think of the monstrously successful Green Day album “Dookie” as overlooked in any way I’m sure may seem a stretch, but the album strikes into the mainstream from the outskirts with the power of a legion of outsiders crashing through the gates of the mainstream.
In the early nineties, stigma still loomed over the gay community because of the general public and medical community’s lack of full knowledge of the AIDS virus. During this time, Green Day spent their time honing their craft in cities like San Francisco and Berkeley exposing the band to the LGBTQ community, which lead singer Billy Joe Armstrong is also a part of as a bisexual man.
In one of the standout tracks of the album, “Coming Clean,” Armstrong sings about his struggles with his sexuality saying, “I found out what it takes to be a man, no mom and dad will never understand what’s happening to me.”
On many of their first major tour dates, they had queer bands open for them such as the most well-known queercore band Pansy Division, exposing middle America to queer culture by association. Armstrong has never been one to shy away from his sexuality, kissing male fans in more recent public appearances and including more LGBTQ lyrics in later albums, but it was important to break the ice of the band’s aesthetic to the mainstream in it’s first major attempt.
In recording the album, Green Day sought to create a dry-sounding album reminiscent of The Sex Pistols or early Black Sabbath. What the band didn’t expect was for their album to become a rallying cry for outsiders through their exposure of personal reflections.
Their most popular song “Basket Case” is about Armstrong’s anxiety disorder which had gone undiagnosed, leaving him to feel like he was “cracking up.” With its catchy riffs, hooks, and instantly Gen-X appealing opening line of “Do you have the time to listen to me whine” the song easily communicated to audiences the feeling of being different from others and feeling lost in a chaotic void.
“Longview” is their infamous ode to masturbation and the effects of boredom. The lazy but complex bass line by Mike Dirnt carries the song throughout in and out of herb-induced, quiet musings and raucous chord bursts, emulating the Pixies formula of loud-quiet-loud to the extreme.
Another hit from the album, “When I Come Around” which became the band’s most popular US hit until “Good Riddance” came along, was about Armstrong’s girlfriend. The song and video are about coming back to where you started, which is exactly what happened with him and his at the time ex-girlfriend and current wife. The song’s catchiness and easy to remember structure and lyrics undoubtedly made it a radio staple.
The hit single train didn’t stop there as “Welcome to Paradise” deals with the well-known trope of leaving the nest. The opening riff leading into a tale of woes for a displanted youth striking out on his own. After another verse of bemoaning the realities of city life, the song deviates into a surf-rock inspired bridge that starts soft and builds into a swell of instruments to cap off the song with the protagonist now being used to this life he once feared, basically saying that things may seem bad, but it gets better.
Green Day would later expand their sound and become arena giants with "American Idiot," the operatic rock album that captured that Bush era in the way "Dookie" captured the angst of growing up in the 1990s.
“Dookie” acts as an identifier for those who feel left out, overlooked, and unwanted. Just as in “Paradise,” those people are welcomed into the fold to learn how to deal with being an outsider and learning to deal with oneself and getting through it, to see that there is a place for everyone and it does gets better. Which is more than can be said about the band’s fluctuating quality over the years. Shade.