Rich Funk

Green Day's 'Dookie' at 30: On Being 40 and Looking Back at 12

Rich Funk
May 24, 2024
9 min read
PHOTO: Alice Baxley
Green Day's 'Dookie' at 30: On Being 40 and Looking Back at 12

For the first dozen or so years of my life, I primarily listened to two kinds of music: classic rock and Top 40 pop. Neither of which was against my will exactly, but neither was by choice either.

When it came to classic rock, I mostly listened to what my parents listened to as I grew up. Christmases and birthdays were usually accompanied by a Bon Jovi or Aerosmith cassette. It's not like I didn't enjoy the music – I definitely did permanent damage to my neck headbanging to the Young Guns II soundtrack. But listening to the same music as your parents doesn't really do much when it comes to developing your own musical tastes and broadening your horizons.

My years spent listening to Top 40 were mostly a geographical oddity. The combination of living on the outskirts of Chicago's northwest suburbs and having my room in the back of a very old home meant that the only radio station I could get in my bedroom for many years was a Top 40 pop station. Don't get me wrong, I have nothing against Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Toni Braxton, or the Counting Crows. But for a tiny kid growing up in a rural town on the cusp of junior high, it wasn't exactly the most exciting soundtrack to come of age to.

Luckily, I had one of those jack-of-all-trades friends that lived a block down and a block over from me growing up. From when we first met in 1992 standing at the same bus stop through when he graduated high school and escaped our small town a year before I could (and I assume continuing through current day from what I've heard from him over the years), my friend Kyle was one of those guys that seemed to be effortlessly good at everything. He was wildly intelligent, but outgoing and street smart to go along with the book smarts. A modern-day Ferris Bueller, able to sit with the band and theater kids one day at lunch, and mix with the baseball team on the way to the next period's classes. Piano? Yes. Guitar? Of course!

Among those super powers was having a cool taste in music. Not just liking what was popular, but liking what was cool before it really took off. He was the one that bought me a copy of Dookie on cassette in 1994, which makes him the main catalyst for bringing one of the most lasting and meaningful musical relationships I've ever had in to my life.

He gave me Dookie for my 12th birthday, but for some reason that has fallen out of my brain at some point over the last 30 years, he gave me the album a month or two before October. I know this because it was juuuust before 'Basket Case' blew up and took over rock radio for the better part of the next three months. Making sure I had the album in my hands mere weeks before the biggest hit of Green Day's career was released as the second single. Like I said, Kyle had impeccable cool-guy timing.

Because 'Basket Case' had yet to crack the top 40, and because Billie Joe Armstrong wasn't a member of Genesis, I had not heard of Green Day or heard any of their songs despite 'Longview', Dookie's first single, having been in regular rotation on rock stations for the entire summer. The band also had breakthrough sets at Lollapalooza and Woodstock '94 that year that I also completely missed because the internet wasn't a thing (hell, I didn't even have cable where we lived). So when I say that I went into the album blind, I'm talking completely in the dark.

I remember not being able to listen to the tape right away. After what was probably just a handful of hours but most likely felt like twenty weeks, I was able to squirrel away to my room and dive in. I know it's a well-worn trope to have the young, impressionable kid having his mind blown by punk music, but I kid you not...the rapid fire snare of Tre Cool immediately giving way to Billy Joe making a statement that defined not just the entire record, but possibly an entire generation, snarling "I declare I don't care no more" over power chords that sounded like they were being beaten out of a cruddy was like that scene in Almost Famous where the kid puts on 'Sparks' by The Who and has his mind blown.

It was JUST like that. Except instead of psychadelic twangs while gazing into a lit candle, it was having my brain smashed against the side of my skull while staring at the printed lyrics in the album booklet, alongside crude drawings of dogs and monkeys throwing shit at people.

I was hooked. Even that early, I knew I was listening to the first band that would hold the title of My Favorite Band. It sounded like nothing I had ever shoved into my ears up to that point in my life.

And I was only 30 seconds into the first track of the album.

What is it that Top 40 pop music and the classic rock bands of yesteryear like Aerosmith and Bon Jovi have in common (besides copious amounts of hairspray and a propensity for wearing women's jeans)? It all falls under music that's extremely well produced, almost over-produced in some cases. Glossy. The product of hours and days and weeks and months of recording sessions that can assemble a song from the most perfect attempts at every last second that makes up each track. There's no dirt, no grit. No feedback (unless it's intentional, and then it's the cleanest sounding feedback you've ever heard in your life).

Naive and sheltered Rich didn't know much about what you could and could not do in music. Before Dookie, I didn't know you could sing songs about everyday life. And not the everyday life of Richie Sambora, guitar hero and rock playboy. The everyday life of someone like me, who didn't really have anything to do or much of a way to express how goddamn dull that could be. I didn't know you could record an album and leave it sounding raw on purpose, that vocals didn't have to come in crystal clear on every track, and sometimes actually served the song better when they didn't. Sure, I knew that 'sex, drugs, and rock & roll' was prevalent in Steven Tyler's life. But that seemed like more cocaine and strippers and gigantic amps. Dookie was more ditch weed and jerking off just to kill time until you had any reason to leave the house, even if it was just to wander around doing absolutely nothing.

As the hours and days and weeks went by and I consumed this tape more than any piece of music I'd heard up to that point, my 12 year old mind was absolutely blown when it came to what songs could be about and say. So anyone can sing about their everyday life, even if they aren't rich and it sounds a lot like that life kinda sucks ('Longview')? You can sing about yourself, even if you don't really like yourself and you don't really do anything of note ('Chump')? Wait, is this whole song about your girlfriend beating the shit out of you ('Pulling Teeth')??? Throw that all over crunching three-chord progressions, a rhythm section that propels each song along with the momentum of a freight train, and some lyrics about everything from extreme apathy to self-loathing to revenge fantasies, and you've got a potent mix for every dissatisfied youth crawling out of their skin waiting for something, not even knowing what that thing is.

I was hooked. I brought the tape with me everywhere I went, just on the off chance that I'd be able to pop it into the radio in the car or during gym class at school. I didn't know that Green Day wasn't 'real punk' and that some of their oldest fans considered them sellouts. Even if I did, I don't think I would have cared. I doubt I even knew who The Ramones or The Clash were when I was 12. All I knew was that Green Day was awesome and Dookie was awesome and loud and angry and real.

That was three decades ago. Dookie turns 30 this year and soon after, I turn 42. While I fully recognize that Green Day was the first ever band to hold the title of being my Favorite Band, I'm old enough now to know that for a lot of people, having one singular 'favorite band' isn't really a thing. Over that time, Green Day has been a constant in my life. I've seen them in concert six times. I've spent a significant amount of time listening to all of their albums (mayyyyybe a little less so on Uno/Dos/Tre and after...). And while I may not have the same fight inside me from the combination of frustrating boredom, general aimlessness and dissatisfaction of future prospects, it doesn't seem like the band does either (but that's another unnecessarily long article for another time in the near future). And that's to be expected. People change. What's dominating their brain at any given moment should be different at 50 than 20. And with that in mind, re-listening to Dookie with fresh ears after all this time presents a wildly different album.

Obviously, society and what it deems 'acceptable' change over time...but holy shit, do a lot of these lyrics jump off the page as red flags. A student writing some of these lyrics in their notebook during present day would definitely get a call to the Principal's office. The first verse and chorus alone on 'Having a Blast' might get me put on some Homeland Security watchlist:

Takin' all you down with me
Explosives duct taped to my spine
Nothing's gonna change my mind
I won't listen to anyone's last words
There's nothin' left for you to say
Soon you'll be dead anyway

Well, no one here is getting out alive
This time I've really lost my mind and I don't care
So close your eyes and kiss yourself goodbye
And think about the times we've spent and what they've meant

Definitely would raise some eyebrows in a post-Columbine world, but there we were in 1994, having those very lyrics blasted over my 6th grade gym class for all to hear. Did any of us actually think that Bille Joe and the gang actually wanted to suicide bomb a crowd of people? Of course not. And don't worry, this isn't going to take a hard right turn and become a "KIDS THESE DAYS ARE TOO SHELTERED" rant, it's just funny what kind of language jumps out at you when you're 12 vs a fully grown adult. Obviously I was aware of the lyrics sprinkled throughout the album like "Let's nuke the bridge we torched two thousand times before/This time we'll blast it all to hell" on F.O.D. (which itself is short for 'Fuck Off and Die'), but that didn't register as much with pre-teen Rich. I just chalked those kinds of violent fantasies to just being angsty in general and being attracted to the same things that have attracted young men since the beginning of time: destruction, explosions, just being a stupid edgelord in general.

Lyrically, the album really leans into immaturity in general, but that's to be expected from a band in their early twenties using their gritty experiences living in the Oakland area as the basis for a lot of their songs. Dookie was a middle finger for seemingly no reason, with songs good enough that you couldn't just dismiss the whole thing as shock for shock's sake. I feel fortunate for being as old as I was when Dookie came out, because if I was a bit older and more mature, I don't think it would have resonated with me as strongly.

Green Day went on to put out many more albums that mean very much to me, but none of them will ever hit like Dookie did (and still does). It was the perfect snarky message with the perfect sound that came about at the perfect age for me. With Green Day teaming up with Smashing Pumpkins and Rancid this summer to celebrate 30 years of Dookie, it's a safe bet that a whole lot of the album will get some live play during their set. Clocking in under 40 minutes total, they could potentially play the entire thing. It'll be interesting to see how the old songs hold up with what might be a younger-ish leaning crowd.

Unfortunately, my son will only be 2 years old when Green Day makes their stop here in Chicago, and they will hit the stage way past his bedtime. But the good news is that out of all the non-Baby Shark music I've played him in his life, he really seems to want to dance when he hears Green Day. So the future seems to be bright. Now all I need to do is make sure I help him stave off boredom and keep him away from all flammables until he graduates college.

Here's all the info on Green Day's upcoming tour:

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