“If I could be in a band, it would be a band like this one.” I said, sitting in my high backed swivel chair in the makeshift office in my teeny ranch style house in the desert of Lancaster, CA.
We bought the place because my wife at the time wanted to be a horse trainer/boarder/rider and to have a place for our Champion line Pot-Bellied Show Pigs. Our stud Mikhail Gorbachops never won any awards but people loved his name. Our horse, Luke, was found dead in our corral one Sunday morning. We didn’t do an autopsy. He was probably old. What do I know from horse husbandry?
We also had a goat. Jaka, who would get loose from her pen and butt my wife’s son’s bottom all over the yard before she would make her way into the front door of the dilapidated ramshackle and dance around the living room.
“Goat in da house.”, my 1 year old daughter would say, “I no like goat in da house. Goat not s’posed to be in da house.”
Right you were, Liz.
Goats. Pigs. Horses. And dogs. At one point I think we had 5 dogs. And maybe a cat or two, but it’s likely if we did that the coyotes got them.
Rancher Allen was, as you might have guessed, not the right look for this expatriated Los Angeles by way of New York by way of New Jersey jew. Like I said, the horse died, one of the dogs killed one of the other dogs and someone else’s loose, roaming pit bulls got in the pen and sliced open one of our breeder pig’s necks. There was also the time that Jaka got her head stuck through the wire fence and, as I tried to extricate her, she pulled back further and made it worse. When she butted me through the wire I lost my temper and I punched her in the head. A goat’s head is like stone. Like a collection of rocks. I punched a rock. I haven’t been able to close that fist well since then. Jaka was fine, looked at me, bleated and pulled her head from the fencing.
We never did make any goat cheese.
Green Day’s “Dookie” was almost always on in our house in 1994. But I didn’t go seeking it out. That was due to Elizabeth, my daughter.
See, I would watch MTV’s video countdown in the evening, my only real connection to the world at that time point being our outsized satellite dish, the ones you never see any more, the monstrosity that takes 3 minutes to scan the sky, seeking the satellite that is broadcasting whatever it is you are hoping to see. NTV Newfoundland…bzzzzzzzzzz……CBS affiliate….bzzzzzzzzzzz….and so on. Changing the channel was a chore but, what could we do? No cable company was running lines to our house where the nearest neighbor was 100 yards away to the east, 2 miles to the west and dozens of miles over the air force base to the south.
During that time in mid-94 my wife and I were already into the 2nd year of Liz’s Cystic Fibrosis diagnosis. Her aerosols treatments and medications were every few hours 24 hours a day. Sleep was never an option. Nothing was on the same timer schedule. We could feed her at the same time as a treatment, if we gave her her treatment and pounded the mucus from her lungs that would cause her to throw up so we had to stagger those events. And feedings were a challenge as we had to bind her hands at her side, hold her head still and insert a nasal-gastrointestinal tube up her nose and down into her belly and then feed her predigested liquid food from a can. Also, pills. Two year olds don’t want tubes down their throats but at least you can force that. Getting them to consume bitter and chalky pills is almost impossible. Until we learned that she adored ketchup and we could hide almost anything in a spoonful of the red stuff. (It’s weird that Zoe is also a ketchup addict. I wonder if that comes from my side of the family…hmmm…)
We were alone, the four of us (My ex had a son from a previous relationship), in the middle of the desert, surrounded by animals who were could barely keep alive, playing parent-nurse to a terminally ill child and trying to stay sane.
For me that meant music and tv. And, MTV was both. So, I would turn it on at the end of the day as all fighters were going to our respective corners.
And then it happened: “Basket Case” came on. “Do you have the time…to listen to me whine…” and before the next line this undersized, waif like sickly girl would come running out of whatever room she was in and stand in front of the tv, watch the video and dance.
And it wasn’t just the one time. EVERY night as Dookie climbed the charts and Basket Case stayed in heavy video rotation, she would stop whatever she was doing, race across the house and watch. Or clap her hands. Or look at me and dance for me.
Needless to say I HAD to get the album and see if the reaction was song specific or if she would like the whole thing. It was the latter.
“Scream at me until my ears bleed” and non verbal Liz would put her hands to her ears and point at them and laugh. So, of course I listened as well. It was impossible for me not to love the album because Liz loved it but, more than that, I actually liked this! Not just because the lyrics of songs like “Pulling Teeth” really hit close to home. (I’ll let you seek out the song and you can figure it out) There was more, though. This was raw but assured power punk. Aggressive but accessible hard rock. Obnoxious but charming punk. Billie Joe sounds like he was taught to sing by emulating only brits, Mike Dirnt’s bass throbbed and pounded with nuance and precision and Tre Cool…what can be said about Tre that hasn’t already been? He is the secret sauce, the glue that binds it al together. I’ve always said that every great song has one hook, maybe a note, maybe a break, maybe a fill, that brings you back to it each time. It could be a lyric. It could be a feel. In Green Day it’s almost always the drums.
A lot of people decry the 90s for it’s music but I believe there’s a hefty amount of great stuff from that decade, the one that focused on being the voice of a disappointed generation that grew up in the shadow of the Boomers. Where they were raised to believe they were amazing and tried to pass that on to many of us, it’s hard to be told you’re great by someone who also thinks that they are pretty fantastic. It was a vibrant and electric time to be alive in the 90s. And the clues to how Gen X really felt about themselves can be found littered all over the pop culture landscape. The self-deprecation of a group raised by anti-comics steeped in ironic detachment took the bombast and ego out of how many of us presented ourselves. Where Boomers were “Masters of the Universe”, Get Xers called themselves “Creeps”, contemplated suicide “Today” and put actual shit or “Dookie” on the covers of our records.
The cultures were changing, and aggressively so. The Reagan administration was finally gone and we were about to elect a guy who would make appearances on OUR shows, like Arsenio and MTV. Like our parents’ past we, too, lost a cultural icon too young to his own hand, though theirs were more often accidental and our guy, so pedastalized by a gang desperate for someone to look up to, blew his head off. But, no matter, we had our martyr, our black pall to bear, our first real understanding that life is fragile and it ends and those endings are all too often brutal and unexpected. With Liz’s diagnosis and ultimate fate I knew that pain too well and Kurt’s death gave me catharsis.
Sometimes, when I return to Green Day’s catalog as I often do, I marvel at the fact that they have been together since 1986. You know that middle school rock band that played at your talent nights or at your fall festivals, busting out classic, guitar driven rock that their fathers taught them? Think of them and then think of Billie Joe Armstrong and Mike Dirnt and that’s Green Day. Dookie, which exploded on the scene at the height of “alternative rock”, carries the same whallop today that it did in the early days of Clinton when the youth thought, ok, it’s our turn, watch what we are gonna do!
Lizzie loved Green Day and we listened to their later albums together. Until she died and then I took a sabbatical from the band for a few years. It was too hard to air guitar and flail my arms in pale imitation of Tre Cool’s fills for a while. I returned to them when my second daughter was born, though. And, slowly allowed their older music to come back into my life.