The thing about being an aging punk band — one that defies expectations of longevity, doesn’t combust, doesn’t go down in romantic flames — is that you really can’t win. Punk rock is, nearly by definition, young people’s music. It’s rebellion and angst, and it’s the struggles, fierce pride, idealism and incredible sense of identity that come with that outsider status.
The tricky part about anti-establishment art, of course, is that if you’re great at it, if it resonates with enough people, it eventually crosses over to the establishment. So what do you do when you write songs about being a bored 15-year-old in Berkeley, getting stoned and jerking off, and the chord progressions are really simple but your lyrics are universal and your songwriting and showmanship hit that sweet spot in people’s hearts and a major label looks at you and sees dollar signs and that sounds pretty okay to you, and then the next thing you know not only are you banned from the underground club that raised you, you’re being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame — which is, if we’re being honest, a little like being banned from getting to claim punk credibility ever again — and all of a sudden it’s 25 years later and tickets to your very corporate-feeling shows cost hundreds of dollars and you’re basically a solid nostalgia-rock band instead of a snotty teenage punk band and Rolling Stone is writing about your post-rehab comeback album and goddamn, who even reads Rolling Stone anymore anyway?
These are the questions I want to ask Green Day. There’s something allegorical, cautionary about their career arc — and yes, it’s extra-personal if, like me, you grew up in the East Bay, Billie Joe’s funny nasally pseudo-British accent confusing the adults around you in the absolute best of ways when you insisted on staying up to watch their 1994 Saturday Night Live debut. Those three-minute, three-chord songs are in your DNA, so it makes sense that there’s a sense of ownership, a stab of betrayal. And a resigned understanding that, much like a charming high-school boyfriend you would never date again in a million years, you will never truly get over them.
Now is when I should probably mention that Green Day actually put on an objectively very good, very loud show last night, Oct. 20, at Berkeley’s newly refurbished UC Theatre. After an appearance from their standard hype man of the last few years, the Drunk Bunny, the band emerged and launched directly into “Know Your Enemy,” off 2009’s 21st Century Breakdown, “Bang Bang,” off the new Revolution Radio, and “Holiday” from 2004 comeback American Idiot — all pomp and bombast and power chords; Billie Joe Armstrong in a ruffled red shirt with black suspenders, successfully exhorting the sold-out crowd to jump and scream and fist-pump on command.