#375: Dookie, Green Day
I was a literal infant when this came out, but it was my absolute favorite album when I grew into it at around — oh, ten or so. I know every single word. I was too young to pick up on some of the themes back them (I assumed masturbation was a board game) but I knew enough to know the vibe: teen ne’erdowellism. And so I grew into a (fairly sheltered) ne’erdowell.
Apologies for being crass, but this album was named after the violent diarrhea that all three of them frequently suffered from, so what do you expect? It’s just some off-the-cuff high-jinks — I was unsurprised to learn that the music for this was recorded in three weeks, and Billie Joe Armstrong’s vocal parts were recorded in only two days. There’s something delightful about how ungrunge it is, despite coming out at the height of grunge-mania. Take “Basket Case.” In the hands of Kurt Cobain, a song about panic attacks would be ominous, unintelligible, and depressing. In Armstrong’s hands, he mocks himself, asks for permission to whine, and ultimately makes it all seem kind of hilarious.
Armstrong is the trio’s chief songwriter (though “Emenius Sleepus” is by bassist Mike Dirnt, and the hilarious hidden track “All By Myself” is by drummer Tre Cool), and relatability is his specialty. He writes like any teenager feels, with rhymes that make so much sense they’re Seussian. You might be a “Burnout” if Billie Joe singing I’m not growing up/ I’m just burning out resonates with you, or you might just be fifteen. And I can think of a few people who can relate to “Longview,” a song about being unable to peel your ass up off the couch and stop “playing board games.”
Then there’s the relatability of teen angst. I related to “Chump” maybe too much: I don’t know you but I think I hate you. Then there’s “She,” which Armstrong performed naked at Madison Square Garden, which celebrates a specific kind of female rage. But the most furious is the half-acoustic, half-explosion “F.O.D.”, which stands for Fuck Off and Die. Was I singing along to this in the fourth grade? Maybe.
Some of the songs didn’t quite make sense to me until I myself was an adult. “Welcome To Paradise” describes the very overwhelming experience of moving out of your parents house for the first time. “Coming Clean” is about Armstrong coming out as bisexual. (In hindsight, that one should have been more obvious.) In many ways they were ahead of their time…
…and in other ways, they weren’t. Some of these haven’t aged great. “Having a Blast” is the worst offender, depicting a sympathetic suicide bomber. But I also found “Pulling Teeth” a somewhat uncomfortable listen, which is a portrait of a man being abused by his girlfriend. It’s a little cheeky, and is based off of something innocent. Still .
My favorite song on this album — my favorite Green Day song ever — is “When I Come Around,” a song written for Armstrong’s then-girlfriend, now-wife. It’s just a realistic, self-deprecating love song, no more no less. No time to search the world around when a perfectly good idiot is just around the corner. They were married just before the record came out. (Big kudos to Billie Joe for still being married — nearly thirty years by now!)
It’s kind of wild that the soundtrack of my teenage years was an album that came out the year I was born. But Dookie is timeless and unending. Teenagers will always be angry and full of ennui. At least, I hope they will be — ennui is the best way to grow.
Final Note: All my years of Green Day stanning and I did not know that Billie Joe was such a mama’s boy! Both “Sassafras Roots” and “In The End” are about his mother’s relationships. Yikes!