Sunday, November 29, 2009

1994 Time Machine: Green Day

Been a while since we cranked up the ol’ Time Machine, and with the semester nearly over, I think I can safely say this hasn’t sucked at a high level, like I feared, but that a case of bad timing has made it a less regular feature than I would have preferred.

It’s always easy in August to foresee a day a week when there’s not much going on and I can fool around a little with some non-traditional programming (see, with that sentence, I’m auditioning for a job as a television executive), but November turned out to be a crazy month for Hofstra sports news and there was never a natural time to change gears.

Which doesn’t upset me at all: I’d much rather be digesting games against Kansas and UConn than the alternative, and pondering the future of Flying Dutchmen football is a great meat-and-potatoes topic. In fact, I’ve produced more stories this month than during any other in DD history (pat pat on my own back), and November isn’t even over yet!

But it’s the end of Thanksgiving weekend and the schedule opens up a little more for the next few weeks, so what the hell, let’s revisit the idea and see if we can’t find a day a week every week between now and Christmas to go all Entertainment Weekly on you.

First is Green Day’s “When I Come Around,” which was a ubiquitous presence on MTV back when MTV actually, you know, showed music videos—and, it seemed, especially inescapable on Thursday mornings, when I tried out my latest foolproof plan not to sleep the day away. Spending Wednesday nights laying out The Chronicle during my first year on campus led to many Thursdays in which I went to bed with the sun out and woke up with it long gone. Not the best recipe for a GPA, trust me.

So in addition to scheduling my Tuesday/Thursday classes at a reasonable hour in the fall of ’94, I decided, upon returning to my room after layout to nap with the TV on in hopes of not falling into a day-long deep R.E.M. sleep. It wasn’t a perfect plan, but it worked well enough so that I made more classes that I missed—and continue, even today, to rely on the doze-with-the-TV-on approach whenever I need to get somewhere on little sleep. Hooray me!

Anyway, it seemed I’d either wake up to “When I Come Around” or “hear” it multiple times during my non-deep sleep in the fall of ‘94. It’s a damn good song (albeit not as catchy or irresistible as its predecessor, “Basket Case”), and the meandering and unfocused vibe of the video seemed to summarize what everyone else wanted to think of Generation X (my favorite image is lead singer Billy Joe Armstrong randomly pulling a pay phone off the hook)—at least until we began wasting the prime years of our lives being instructed to do more with less.

But at no point 15 years ago did I think I was hearing anything more than a one- or two-album wonder. Green Day was a band of 20-something punk rockers whose first single off Dookie, “Longview,” was about smoking dope and masturbating. Such opening salvos don’t usually lend themselves to a long, fruitful career, and indeed, when their follow-up album, Insomniac, was released in October 1995 and sold a mere two million copies—a notable figure, to be sure, but also seven million copies fewer than Dookie—it seemed as if Green Day was destined to follow Hootie and the Blowfish into gradual obscurity.

Except, somehow, Green Day hung around the mainstream long enough to emerge as America’s Most Important Rock Band with 2004’s concept album, American Idiot, which sold five million copies, earned the band armfuls of awards and inspired it to deliver another concept album, 21st Century Breakdown, earlier this year. According to Wikipedia—which is never wrong—Armstrong calls the new album a “…snapshot of the era in which we live as we question and try to make sense of the selfish manipulation going on around us whether it be the government, religion, media or frankly any form of authority.”

All well and good, but I do enough of that during the day. Quite frankly, I’d be just as happy to forget the real world for a few minutes by walking around and pulling pay phones—if they all haven’t gone the way of videos on MTV, of course—off the hook.

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