Q&A with Green Day Rising Authors Mike Sharon & Tim Kenneally
So were you guys excited to meet Green Day?
Mike: Speaking for myself, they were getting a ton of airplay at the time and I really liked what I heard -- and also what I saw on MTV. But I didn’t know anything about them. And I don’t think Tim or I would call ourselves “fans” at the time – we were just interested in what they were doing.
But there was a bit of apprehension because Rancid released “Let's Go” about a month before the Slim’s gig. And there was this pretentious thing going on at the time in the San Francisco weeklies about who was really “punk.” I’ll never forget this quote from Rancid’s Tim Armstrong around then: “I live Punk Rock Every day!” That just sounded so elitist to me and I was wondering if these guys from Green Day were going to be just as obnoxious.
Tim: I was pretty excited, if only (but not only) because there was such a buzz about them in the local music scene – from the time I’d moved to San Francisco in 1992, I’d hear about them again and again. The San Francisco scene had a fairly spotty record in breaking bands nationally – for every Santana, Metallica and Primus, there had been a Journey, Huey Lewis and the News and, at that point most recently, Counting Crows. This was different; a group sprouting from the roots of the punk underground was very apparently about to reach a larger audience. And while the San Francisco punk scene could be as obnoxious and pretentious as the any other, after hearing Green Day’s music, it was clear that they embraced punk’s energy and ethics and elevated them with great songwriting and a casual disregard of orthodoxy.
So how did it end up?
Mike: Tim and I had been friends for quite a while at this point and we both had strong opinions about the “holiness” of rock and roll. We were totally ready to make fun of them if they wanted to act like pretentious assholes. I knew that Tim wasn’t going to be used – if they were pricks, there was no way he’d give them free ink just to get a paycheck. He would have panned them without the slightest bit of mercy. He was already making a name for himself back then by calling bullshit whenever he saw it.
The great thing was that the three guys we met that day were not “those guys.” Almost immediately they made a strong impression on us both.
Tim: I certainly would have dragged them by their Mohawks to the pillory of the press if I had caught a whiff of punker-than-thou attitude. Luckily, they had neither punker-than-thou attitudes nor Mohawks.
So that begs a question that is still being asked today: Is Green Day really punk?
Mike: I don’t know how you could listen to the opening chords of “Welcome to Paradise” and not think these guys were punk. It’s one of the greatest opening chords in all of rock and roll history – never mind punk.
I don’t want to pick on Tim Armstrong and Rancid. But their big hit at the time was “Salvation.” I think it’s a great song. But was it in any way innovative? No. And the video illustrates that in a pretty embarrassing way. It’s shot in black-and-white, features Mohawks, leather-studded jackets and Mod scooters – along with a bunch of other clichés. Again, a great song, but in my mind: Recycled punk from 1977 that kids in 1994 didn’t necessarily have a connection to.
Look at Green Day on the other hand: They took 1977 and injected new life into it. In a way that kids needed at the time. And kids these days need that more than ever. And because the band still keeps making great music, the kids still keep getting drawn to it.
OK, now I’m sounding like a fan – and admittedly, I am at this point. With good reason. It is 2017. These guys are doing a worldwide tour. And it’s the not their second or third “farewell” tour ever. The music they’re playing is not a “greatest hit” set that grows more tiring by the year. This is brand new music with a sound and substance that is as relevant today as that July night in 1994.
I wish I could say the same about some of my teenage rock and roll heroes.
Tim: Punk means a lot of things to many people but, to me, punk has never been about whining about your parents and/or the government and tossing in a mosh-friendly middle section; that’s easy. Punk in my mind is doing things in your own way and holding true to your beliefs. Were The Minutemen punk, despite the fact that their music didn’t always bear the hard-fast hallmarks of the genre? Absolutely. Green Day, while sounding nothing like The Minutemen, maintain the same mindset. What’s more punk than making a punk concept album, and spinning that off into a punk musical? Do what you’re passionate about despite the expectations surrounding you, and screw ‘em if they don’t like it. Fortunately for Green Day they’ve always had the ability and talent to put it across.
What do you think makes these photos special?
Well for one thing, people didn’t walk around with camera phones back then. And most places wouldn’t let kids bring a camera into a venue. Had camera phones been around in 1994, I’m not sure the live performance photos would even be relevant.
Also, digital cameras themselves were still a few years away. So, if you were an entertainment photographer and you were sent to a gig, you probably didn’t shoot six rolls of film like I did. Film was expensive and it took away from your meager bottom line – even if you developed it yourself.
I was an amateur, so I was just hoping for six good shots in those six rolls of film.
Tim: You caught a lot more than six good shots on those rolls of film, Mike. To me, the photos are special because they captured the band as they have always been and as they will never be again. They’ve carried through with their integrity intact for the nearly 25 (!) years since these photos were taken. While they’ve played small gigs since these shots were taken, to their ever-lasting credit, nothing will capture the excitement or enthusiasm of them doing so in this context. A lot of groups might do small shows as an effort to “go back to their roots” – this is Green Day doing a small show when they were preparing to rip up their roots, while keeping a fistful of them as they moved on to bigger things.