Cartoon Punk Rock: 20 Years Of Green Day's 'Dookie'

Memories of their breakthrough…

I was a dick as a kid. Not when I was running about being He-Man or Optimus Prime in the playground, particularly (although I probably was) – more so when I got into music enough to think that my opinion was the only one the room needed to hear.

I can’t recall exactly when it was, likely at some point between the ages of 15 and 17, but I’d been through a brief flirtation with major-label punk rock – in other words, The Offspring’s ‘Smash’ and Green Day’s ‘Dookie’ – and decided that it wasn’t for the new, grown-up me. The me who carried a copy of Select in his college backpack. The me who sacked off class to go and get whatever NME-recommended new album was out that Monday. The me who told my now brother-in-law that Green Day’s first major-label LP, their commercial breakthrough of February 1994, was nothing more than “cartoon punk rock”.

The words came easily enough – just look at the album’s cover for a prompt. And blinkered by the birth of Britpop and the death of grunge – Kurt Cobain’s suicide still burned, and the likes of Bush were doing little for his music’s lasting legacy (thank f*ck Nickelback were still a few years off making it in the UK) – I thought that the more-serious side of rock was now ready to be all I listened to. Oddly, that meant space on the shelf for albums by Korn. See, told you: dick.

But we all grown up, we all grow wiser, and as the years have passed – the teenage me is now the best part of a generation ago – I’ve realised that dismissing ‘Dookie’ was a pretty dumb move. Sure, this isn’t rocket science stuff. The band – Billie Joe Armstrong, Mike Dirnt and Tré Cool – was a long way from becoming the force for socio-political commentary for the masses that it became with 2004’s ‘American Idiot’. Songs about masturbation aren’t exactly zeitgeist, ever.

But there were suggestions of a truly dark side to this band, even on an album that zipped through its 15 tracks with the juice and zest of a California naval orange. Smash-hit single ‘Basket Case’ – still a certainty to make an indie club’s dancefloor go absolutely ape – talked of the anxiety attacks Armstrong would suffer, while ‘Coming Clean’ explores the topic of bisexuality – again, not a theme that’s traditionally had a great deal of commercial traction.

So “cartoon punk rock” is a pretty damn stupid, petulantly dismissive verdict on an LP that, quite clearly, warrants more attention than the teenage me was willing to give it. For a while it was a Walkman mainstay – at under 40 minutes it was a perfect length to fit a side of a C90 with space for a couple of B-sides, too (I’d bought ‘Basket Case’ on CD single, which featured live versions of ‘Longview’ and ‘Burnout’). I can just about remember sneaking a listen to it while in science class – quite spectacularly without Mr Lewis noticing. I’ve no idea why – clearly the session in question didn’t involve enough fire for my then-needs. But tastes are traded quickly and easily when you’re learning to distinguish likes from loves in music, and Green Day have never quite stuck with me.

But the importance of ‘Dookie’ as a gateway album for me – not to mention thousands, if not millions, of other listeners – really can’t be undersold. Chances are that if I’d not had the experience of Green Day, The Offspring, and even early Blink-182 a couple of years later (c’mon, who doesn’t have a soft spot for ‘Dammit’?), then I might not have clicked with acts like The Get Up Kids, with Rocket From The Crypt, with the Ramones, with Converge, with The Stooges… with a wide spectrum of acts considered to be, in one way or another, punk. All arrived in my collection after ‘Dookie’. And that’s just skimming the surface of connected collections.

My appreciation of the album today, then, is very different to the opinion voiced by the 1997-or-something me. I’d never call ‘Dookie’ “cartoon punk rock” now – not unless we’re comparing it to awesome cartoons. Y’know, like He-Man and Transformers, and…

Words: Mike Diver

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Green Day, ‘Basket Case’

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Green Day, ‘Longview’

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Green Day, ‘When I Come Around’

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Bleeding Rainbow’s bass-playing vocalist Sarah Everton offers her own perspective on ‘Dookie’ – then, and now…

“When ‘Dookie’ came out, I was in middle school. It was huge in my school, naturally, because it’s an upbeat record full of catchy, bratty songs about laziness and alienation. Despite my fitting into the perfect target demographic – I was young, bratty, lazy and increasingly more angsty – I was quick to make it known that I hated Green Day. I couldn't get past Billie Joe’s voice. Adding to this irony, I instead became obsessed with The Smashing Pumpkins, featuring another Billy with probably the world's whiniest, most-nasal voice of all time. (I can say now that I did secretly really like the song ‘Basket Case’, but I was super embarrassed about it and would admit it to nobody.)

“To this day I am not a fan of pop-punk vocal phrasing. It just sounds so irritating, plus so well established and plotted you can tell where every melody is going to go. (I still hate Blink-182 for this reason. Barf.) When Green Day really started sucking I rubbed it in my friends' faces, who always loved them by obnoxiously singing that Time Of Your Life’ song – the one they played during the last Seinfeld episode montage, along with every cheesy montage ever made. Other than that, I never gave a second thought about Green Day. I held onto my passive disdain for them throughout high school and into college, grad school and beyond. 

“Until, when we were touring early 2013, Al [Creedon, guitarist] bought a copy of ‘Dookie’ for the van at a thrift store and we got obsessed with it. We listened to it non-stop, and suddenly picked up on the genius of it – especially the completely obvious-to-us-now Everly Brothers influence in the harmonies, on ‘Pulling Teeth’ especially.

“We were in the midst of fine-tuning the demos for ‘Interrupt’ while we had ‘Dookie’ on repeat in the van. I think we were definitely drawn to the tight songwriting, and the super-pop, grunge-tinged punk vibes. Now I feel like an asshole for never giving them a real chance.

“Since falling in love with ‘Dookie’, we’ve also come to love [1990 debut LP] ‘39/Smooth’. I haven't gone past [1995’s] ‘Insomniac’, though. I’m too scared to go too far. It’s funny it’s taken me this long to really get Green Day. I’m not sure what it says about me, that I had to be a full-grown adult to finally relate to songs about being a lazy brat.”

Words: Sarah Everton

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Green Day’s ‘Dookie’ was released on February 1st, 1994. It was the band’s first album for Reprise, and their first produced by Rob Cavallo. Since 1994 the album has sold over 20 million copies, and is ranked at 193 on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums Of All Time list.

Bleeding Rainbow is a Philadelphia-based outfit specialising in a most-arresting style of melodies-rich yet guitars-crunched rock music, which has been compared (fair enough-ly) to the mighty fine racket kicked up by Sonic Youth. The band releases its fourth LP overall, and first to reach UK shores, ‘Interrupt’, on February 24th via Brooklyn’s Kanine Records. Preview the album by listening to the track ‘So You Know’, above. Find the band online here

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Bleeding Rainbow photo: Chad Yanagisawa

Stream ‘Dookie’ in full via Deezer, below…

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