(photo credit: Jonathan Weiner)
Crawling up from the underground in the early ’90s, Nirvana and the entire grunge movement shoved their unusually soiled flannels in the mainstream’s face. Though Green Day were still bouncing around in crappy vans, loading their own gear and playing the DIY punk-club circuit, it was a palpably energized time for music subcultures far and wide. Grunge was obviously first, but something was in the air across the community of bands, promoters, labels, fanzines and more who made up different scenes.
Green Day bassist Mike Dirnt remembers exactly where he was when he first heard Nirvana’s Nevermind. The band’s cultural milemarker had been released a couple of months before Green Day went to Europe in November 1991. “We had saved our money, snuck our records over and borrowed equipment every night for 64 shows,” Dirnt says. “We were sleeping in squats and eating vegan gruel out of a pot dozens of other people were eating from. The snow was four feet high in some towns. I once slept next to a human head in a jar. It was crazy, like, ‘Go sleep on the floor over there. Hope you don’t get scabies.’” He pauses for effect. “And it was rad.”
So rad, in fact, the DIY-style trip involved some of the “craziest shit” Dirnt, vocalist /guitarist Billie Joe Armstrong and drummer Tre Cool had ever seen. Dirnt had turned 20 a few months before the tour; Cool caught up to him while they were in Europe and Armstrong’s 20th came just after they got back home. “It was a crazy time for my youth,” Dirnt says. “It was dangerous, political and sexy.”
Wait: sexy? “There was sex,” he admits, laughing.
Dirnt says you could feel the kinetic energy emitting from the underground scene. It was obvious the counterculture was about to become pop culture. Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Blood Sugar Sex Magik hit first in the fall of 1991, followed by Soundgarden blowing up with Badmotorfinger. “This guy that was driving us around in Europe was listening to ‘Rusty Cage’ over and over. It was driving us fucking nuts,” he says of the grunge classic from Chris Cornell’s crew. “We’d be trying to sleep and it was like, ‘If we have to hear that guitar solo one more time…’ Eventually one of our guys took the CD out and smashed it on the side of the highway. The driver was so fucking upset!”
Green Day were still in Europe when they dropped Kerplunk in January 1992. Nevermind knocked Michael Jackson from the top of the charts the same month. Dirnt says it was exciting to see how gigantic bands like Pearl Jam had become by the time Green Day returned to California. Of course, his little Bay Area pop-punk trio were feeling their own momentum, too. “We were selling out clubs [touring behind] Kerplunk,” he remembers. “Clubs were getting shutdown because 2,000 people would show up to a 500-capacity room.” It was clear that the often-discussed but rarely achieved “next level” bands always talk about was very much upon Green Day. “We had no choice but to breakup or move forward.” ALT