Punk & Hardcore

Why I Still Love Green Day's Dookie, 20 Years After Its Release

Song associations are strange, because when I hear "Longview" by Green Day, I think of Rosemarie Sandoval's hair. We were both sophomores, sharing a table in Mr. Nardinelli's third-period art class. I think she was almost a year older, and if she wasn't taller than me anyway, her bangs sure were. Between the towering, lacquered fan rising from her forehead, a wardrobe consisting entirely of Aztec-god-holding-naked-lady-over-a-low-rider t-shirts, and a constant array of hickies, Rosemarie kind of terrified me, especially when I saw her beat the shit out of some girl outside of Spanish the following spring.

Mr. Nard played the radio on a component stereo up behind his desk, and on that day, he switched it to KWOD 106.5 (Sacramento's New Rock Alternative). Rosemarie got super huffy about it. "Naaard!" she complained. "Why can't we just listen to oldies?" It was a commercial break, and when the DJ came back, he mentioned something about "the new one from Green Day." Rosemarie spent the rest of the period sulking and patting her bangs in front of her compact; I busily worked on my upside-down Picasso drawing, until Mike Dirnt's bass intro wandered out of the speakers and into my brain forever.

See also: Green Day's Dookie and the Peak of Western Civilization

Until then, I'd never heard of Green Day, because it was 1994 and I was still stuck on Physical Graffiti and Siamese Dream, but on that day, I went home after school and turned on MTV.

During the ninety minutes between the end of school and the start of swim practice, I saw the video for "Longview" at least 900 times, or it seems that way because after 20 years, it feels like Dookie, the album from which "Longview" and four other top-ten singles sprang, has always been around, like the Rolling Stones or Pat Sajak. It was like one day there was no Dookie and then the next day nobody didn't have a copy, poring over the mysterious in-jokes buried in the cover.

And that cover! Dogs burying the world in shit! It was like a deliberately half-assed Where's Waldo drawing done by a Garbage Pail Kid. I still think the cover of NOFX's The Longest Line is better and funnier, but Dookie's CD liner is the one I more accurately recreate in my brain.

Did you have a CD with the Ernie doll on the back? Did you wonder if bringing a plush toy to a mosh pit was a regular thing to do at Berkeley punk shows? Because I did, though I never asked any of these older kids I hung out with at lunch who'd actually seen Green Day ("like a bunch of times"), at the Gilman Theater, the Vatican of East Bay punk. These know-it-all kids insisted that Kerplunk! was way better than Dookie, preaching an anti-sellout gospel I'd later learn came from the cult of Tim Yohannon, founder of Maximumrocknroll.

Admittedly, I bought into the sermon, a credo that delineated what was underground and sanctified and what was for poseurs, like a diet from Leviticus except about Lookout! seven inches, but a couple of years later, when I took up bass, I quit caring, because "Longview" was the first thing I attempted. Of course, that song is deceptively difficult, as is pretty much everything Green Day plays.

To dismiss Dookie is like dismissing the White Album. I can't say I revere either, but the power of their hooks and the constant murmur of their bass lines are part of what makes them sound as fresh as ever.

Of course, I'm not fifteen anymore, and in the years between when Dookie was new and now, I've found I listen to music differently. It's kind of a bummer because the thrill I got from music when I was still too young to legally operate a car dissipated by the time I qualified for a good driver discount. Now it's all about tones and arrangements and picking apart this note and that, but what's amazing about Dookie is how it fires that clinical, adult part of my brain, too.

Listening to it now, I get excited about its spacious, live sound, and the way the drums are panned and how the vocals on a "Basket Case" are really fucking loud. Even though the album short, it amazes me that people were perfectly willing to stay until the end of 15 songs, because even though you had to sit through breezy filler like "Chump," the album still had five awesome songs and another five that are almost as good.

Now, when I listen to "Longview," I hear a conversation with myself I had during the ten minutes I thought about taking a break from smoking weed. I still think "Sassafras Roots" sort of sucks, but I wonder if NOFX used the opening chords for a joke in "Fuck the Kids" or if they were just flat-out stealing. Is the place where Billie Joe goes schlepping off to in "Longview" the same one he's talking about in "Welcome to Paradise?" Because if so, a Velcro seat is better than that place of broken dreams.

Dookie is the last Green Day album I've ever owned, because once you soak in the back catalog, it's a short jump through their back catalog to bands like Operation Ivy and the Queers and feeling sheepish about ever listening to the Offspring. But even if Dookie pulled punk from the grimy fingers of BART station hoboes and popped it into the mainstream, who cares? Like Rosemarie Sandoval's hair spray, I'm glad Dookie's held on so long.

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Steve Steward
Contact: Steve Steward