Forty years after the Ramones left home, punk is still alive and well, and brimming with contradiction: The back-to-basics rock music, originally played by and for misfits, has an unassailably firm hold in the mainstream today, and there is no better example of the paradox of “punk success” than the East Bay Area’s Green Day.
The band’s twelfth album, Revolution Radio, is perfectly in-synch with America’s dark night of the soul; an in-progress world tour will take them from Nor Cal to Rio de Janeiro and Mexico City (places where rock rings loudest and strongest with extra-massive audiences). It’s been a long way to the top, from their first backyard gig to American Idiot, their Tony Award-winning Broadway play and yet, the Berkeley power trio’s music still manages to project archetypal rock ‘n’ roll outsiderism and that feeling of being trapped in a world gone strange.
“They were refinery town kids,” explains former classmate Corbett Redford, director of the new documentary Turn It Around: The Story of East Bay Punk. “There was likely no college fund waiting for them.” Rock ‘n’ roll was the not only the best option for energetic and creative types like Billie Joe Armstrong, Mike Dirnt, and Tré Cool, it might’ve been the only option for them, despite the inevitable hardcore punk cries of “sellout” once they made it.
“The thing about when we got big, was we had nowhere else to go,” states bassist Dirnt in the film. “Was I going to go back to cooking fish for a living? I have nothing against it, but if I have a better option? Selling out to me would be not staying true to myself instead of following someone else’s rules or sanctions. I gotta stay true to myself.”
Unpacking Green Day’s story of suburban angst and raw talent, Redford’s film which is narrated by Iggy Pop and executive produced by Green Day, also packs in thousands of photos, fliers and hundreds of interviews, as it reveals the largely untold history of 924 Gilman Street, the pioneering all ages/straight-edge venue that shaped the band, as well as hundreds of other artists. Gilman found a natural home in Berkeley with its legacy of counterculturism and political engagement; it was also where the politicized publisher of the ‘zine, Maximum Rock ‘n’ Roll had a presence and the mag’s revenue and reputation allowed for him to contribute toward the establishment of the area’s first venue dedicated solely to punk.
Attracting talent and fans (like the future members of Green Day) from the nearby semi-industrial and semi-rural suburbs Pinole, El Sobrante and Rodeo, Gilman was known for its collective decision making and eclectic lineups that included peace punks, noise outfits, feminist bands, and musicians who would come to identify as queercore. The club’s strict no racism, no sexism, no homophobia, and no drugs or alcohol policies generally contributed to the good vibe, while keeping the skinheads at bay. Unique and influential bands like Isocracy, Neurosis, Crimpshrine, and Operation Ivy flourished, though by design they largely remained underground. Though as punk rock’s energy increased and later formations like Rancid, Jawbreaker, and ultimately Green Day went on to reach wider audiences, Gilman’s anti-capitalist politics got tricky to navigate and the inevitable schisms occurred. Whatever lines were drawn, the collective’s esthetic left an imprint on anyone who passed through the its doors.
“I’ve seen so much positive come from people working for a common good because of my time on the East Bay punk scene,” says Redford who credits his Gilman youth for giving him the confidence to pursue filmmaking with no formal training or prior experience.
“People building things, making positive change, creating art for each other…Punk is what you make it,” he says. Turn It Around is a filmic reflection of one artistic community’s experience, their early politicization, and its impact not only at home, but out in the world. When a band with punk roots as deep as Green Day claims a space on the world stage, it’s not just a victory for their bank accounts or for the East Bay, it’s a win for all those who believe in the power of peace, love, and rock ‘n’ roll.
|SEP 23||GLOBAL CITIZEN FESTIVAL 2017||NEW YORK, NY||
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|NOV 3||ANHEMBI ARENA||SAO PAULO, BRAZIL||
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Denise Sullivan is a California-based author of books on music including Keep on Pushing: Black Power Music From Blues to Hip Hop, The White Stripes: Sweethearts of the Blues and Shaman’s Blues: The Art and Influences Behind Jim Morrison and the Doors. Follow her @4DeniseSullivan and at her blog.
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|Location||San Francisco Bay Area|