Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Punk rawk

Last night I saw Greenday.

If you haven't already stopped reading, I urge you to continue.

I was first introduced to punk rock the summer before my senior year of high school. A straight-A student and active 4-Her, at the time I was pretty much the furthest thing from punk rock. But the fact I had a driver's license, a car, and the trust of my parents meant my new friends had reason enough to enroll me into the clique and drive them to Gilman to see the Gr-ups.

So naive was I that I tried to wear Birkenstocks to my first show. Fortunately someone lent me a pair of closed-toed shoes so I wouldn't lose any digits in the mosh pit, and I was hooked to the scene.

That summer, Greenday dumped local heroes Lookout Records and signed to Warner Brothers. My clique was crushed. This made them the ultimate sell-outs in our world (you know, because we were so hard-core and all), but it didn't stop any of us from going to see them that next January at the Phoenix theater in Petaluma.

The show was just a few days after their first video hit MTV and I remember being amazed at the size of the crowd that invaded our tiny little venue. "Wow, this is the biggest show I've ever been to," I remember thinking.

Fast forward many years to when I was working for the dog day care and Buddy Pritchard was one of our bigger clients. Buddy was a Shar-Pei, frequent boarder, pick-up/drop-off customer, one of my favorite dogs, and happened to belong to Mike from Greenday. I'd see Mike occasionally and things were always cool. I'd started playing in bands myself, and some of my bandmates were former peers of his so I'd run into him occasionally while dropping off his dog, at parties, etc. I'd play "too cool for school" but, in retrospect, I think I was pretty star-struck. When he asked me to make Buddy a cool, punk rock harness I was ecstatic.

Buddy had been riddled with health problems his whole life. As Greenday got bigger, Buddy got sicker. For long chunks of time he'd pretty much live with us at the day care while they were on tour, and that stress added to a naturally poor immune system did not bode well. He'd turn his nose at the gourmet meals I'd painstakingly crafted for him. "But it's so delicious," I'd coo as I took a very real and very large bite of his salmon/currant/barley dish, hoping the act would inspire jealousy-induced hunger.

Sometimes it would work, and sometimes it wouldn't, but over time Buddy's health diminished. We'd seen the cycle many times over and Buddy always seemed to bounce back, but this time it was different. He'd lost so much weight, his eyes became dull, he lost his spunk... basically, he gave up. A decision had to be made.

Watching Buddy go was incredibly hard. I'd never seen a dog get put down before, and it struck me in a really intense way. Mike handed me Buddy's harness and instructed me to give it to a dog in need.

But when I got home I couldn't bring myself to donate the harness. I still needed to process whatever was going on inside of me, which was a weird grief. Buddy wasn't my dog, but I had taken care of him for so long it felt like he was. I sat down and made two bracelets out of his harness, one for Mike and one for Diane, Mike's assistant and other primary caretaker. (side note: this was the inspiration for this policy).

Again, fast-forward many, many years.

Diane e-mailed last week and wondered if I'd be interested in going to see Greenday in Sacramento. I didn't even know they were on tour, had no strong desire to go, but I never refuse a gift. A few phone calls later I had a posse together.

Franz Ferdinand finished their set by 8:30 and we drew a collective sigh of relief. "This is great. We should be home by midnight," I mused. Stephanie and I sat in the seats while John and his daughter moved toward the stage.

An usher addressed the people behind us. "Last night in San Jose they played until 11:45," she bragged.

"Wow, you really get your money's worth!" the guy in the Sturgess denim jean shirt shouted back.

We thought they were kidding, but they weren't.

As the 3-hour set labored on I was struck by many things. I did the math and realized the last time I had seen this band I was nearly half my current age (with the magic number being 17). A lot had changed during that time. In the punk rock world, as with just about any other clique, one of the easy ways to the top is bring everyone else down. Held to a strict standard, nearly everyone fails as not being "punk rock" enough, and most of the rhetoric I'd heard about Greenday over the years echoed this mindset.

But the punk rock standard isn't the end-all. Most of the critiques I've heard over the years were uttered by quitters. In front of me were these guys who had broken through the glass ceiling and gone on to become this incredibly entertaining stage act that had the ability to rivet an entire stadium at once. I even found myself singing along at one point. I was pretty impressed.

After the show Stephanie and I took advantage of the "Aftershow" passes included with our comped tickets. As we sat in the Sky Lounge with a handful of other fans, we watched a family playing the arcade version of "Rock Band." As I watched the little brother and sister duo playing along to Greenday, I realized this band was far from punk rock. They were mega-insane-uber-superstars, and that was pretty cool in itself.

On the drive home I found out the one-man-band I saw perform on John's bus the previous week was actually Neutral Milk Hotel. Now that's punk rock.


Anonymous said...

You can never go "home".

This is a hard lesson to learn. Whimper, been there, done that.

I revel in your Green Day experience, as one of my claims to fame is living in Tre's former house, complete with sound proof drum room in the basement, and having dealt with the same Azzhat landlord. She bragged that she 'dealt with Green Day" before they were famous... I'm sure she was a PITA then, and continues to be so...

And having been in Billie Joe's house in Upper Rockridge, I've seen the benefits of 'selling out'...yes the VIEW was worth it. But, GD does retain some Punk...tho' tuff work that it is... Oh, and their son, Joey, is a dawllll! Cute, beyond, cute!


Bennett Samuel Lin said...

So it was Jeff Mangum playing Neutral Milk Hotel songs?

Shanda said...

I liked Greenday in HS, wore my Kerplunk tee until it rotted, and still enjoy the heck outta them. I was always so dorky that I never felt I could call anyone out for not being punk enough LOL. Now that I think of it, some things never change...

On a more somber note, the hardest part of working in the animal industry, both kennels and hospitals, has always been the bonds I develop with animals that aren't really mine. I'll never forget Max Forte, a choc lab/pit bull mix who was both my favorite patient and boarder. He developed an autoimmune disease at only 9 yrs old. I cried for days when we let him go, so much so that my boss called his owner and had us meet to talk, which did help a lot.

Nearly 14 yrs of doing this (OMG really?) and it never gets easier. Sometimes I look at Ruadh and see something of Max in him and it stops my heart for a moment.

Some of them are special. Time marches on but I've come to love that I carry them all with me in some fashion.