Since 1989, Jesse Townley has played in numerous East Bay punk bands, such as Blatz, The Gr’ups, The Criminals and The Frisk. The first time that Townley—known to many in the 924 Gilman Street scene as Jesse Luscious—and Blatz played in Southern California, at a pizza parlor, they were accompanied by their frequent tourmates Green Day.
Townley, a longtime Gilman volunteer and fundraising committee member, has remained friends with Billie Joe Armstrong, Mike Dirnt, and Tré Cool — despite the infamous dust-up between the collective punk club and the world-famous East Bay rock band. In 1993, the club — which eschews any relations with major labels — banned Green Day after they “sold out” by signing with Reprise and releasing 1994’s epic album Dookie.
Time heals all wounds, though, and eight months after Green Day’s return to 924 Gilman — controversial because not everyone at the collective was ready to welcome them back — the venue will be the primary financial beneficiary of a tribute show to the album for which the band was banned in the first place.
The event, “Dookie: A Tribute to Green Day,” is being produced by UnderCover Presents, whose mission is to celebrate the influence of classic albums with the diverse music styles of the Bay Area. Fourteen local bands will each play one song off the album, with a portion of the proceeds benefiting the music club — all with the blessing of Green Day.
“I’m one of the primary people who passed the ‘no major labels’ ban at Gilman in 1994—mostly in response to Green Day’s huge success,” said Townley, whose opinions are his own since no one can speak for the collective as a whole. “We did not want to become the minor leagues for the major labels. When they signed to a major label, (it) was against my personal ethics and how I would run my business. Some on the Gilman side have never forgiven Green Day for signing with a major. Others have made peace with it.”
Coming off the indie success off their second album, 1992’s Kerplunk, Green Day amicably left local Lookout! Records and signed with Reprise.
Green Day recorded Dookie over three weeks, and the album was later remixed at Berkeley’s Fantasy Studios. Its songs included “Longview,” about boredom, masturbation, and smoking pot; “Welcome to Paradise,” which was also on Kerplunk but rerecorded for the new album; “Basket Case,” about Armstrong’s anxiety attacks and feelings of hopelessness; “When I Come Around,” inspired by Armstrong’s then-former girlfriend (and now-wife); “She,” a take on a feminist poem; “Coming Clean,” dealing with bisexuality; and nine other songs that would go on to influence a generation of kids.
“For my age, plus and minus five years, it’s really big,” said Brian Adam McCune, a Bay Area musician and composer chosen by UnderCover Presents to serve as music director for the tribute concert and accompanying album of the covers. “It was defiant, it spoke about masturbation, bisexuality, weed, and all sorts of things like paranoid-induced angst. Those were topics (that were) for the time taboo but were things kids were thinking about. It was all very alluring when expressed through song.”
Dookie was released in 1994 and quickly became a commercial success, reaching No. 2 on the Billboard 200 and winning the Grammy for Best Alternative Music Album. It has since sold more than 20 million copies. In 2015, Green Day was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
McCune, also a video game developer, remembers that the video for “Basket Case” was the first one he saw on MTV. Dookie was also one of his first albums, and he became a fan of the band as soon as it came out.
“It caught me at that time of change — I was 11 and at the cusp of adolescence,” he said. “In college, I heard a bluegrass version of ‘When I Come Around’ by the band Honeywagon. The light bulb went off that Green Day were really solid songwriters. I’ve always thought that the proof of a really good songwriter is being able to translate a song into a new genre or idiom and have it still work.”
The next generation also felt the pull of Dookie. Tunisian-born Mohamed Chaoua didn’t follow Green Day until hearing American Idiot, and then worked backward until finding Green Day’s major label debut.
Chaoua, known as MC Rai, performs his own iteration of a style known as Rai, which is translated from Arabic as “opinion” and is often viewed as rebellion music — a type of rock and roll for the people of northern Africa. Like McCune, in Green Day he found brilliant songwriters underneath their aggressive, punk style.
“Dookie is an expression of the band of how they don’t give a shit and they are sticking with what they feel (like) singing about at the moment they wrote it,” he said. “It’s their uncensored feelings and thoughts; (a) piece of art.”
Avi Vinocur of Goodnight, Texas bought the album when he was 9 years old, several weeks after it was released. It was his first CD purchased with his own money. Dookie was unavoidable. All of his friends were listening to it nonstop. At that point, he had yet to pick up and play a guitar. Green Day proved to be an inspiration.
“Green Day was uniquely my generation,” Vinocur said.
In 2014, Townley met with UnderCover Presents founder Lyz Luke, who tried to sell him on the idea of a Dookie tribute show, with the nonprofit 924 Gilman getting the proceeds. The album was celebrating its 20th anniversary that year. She told him the tie-in would be perfect.
“And I’m like, ‘Yeah, that’s their first major label record and the one they were eighty-sixed from Gilman for. So, in one way, kind of imperfect.’” Townley said. “It went from there.”
Gilman did need the money. The collective is currently in the second year of a major fundraiser, with the goals of purchasing their building, making capital improvements and expanding their programming. Some in the 924 Gilman collective fear that gentrification in the area will force the club out.
Besides a portion of the ticket price and the tribute album, 924 Gilman will benefit from other treats sold through the event’s Indiegogo campaign, such as a guided bike ride tour of the East Bay’s punk sights, individual band packages, guitar lessons from some of the performers and VIP passes that include a table.
In April 2015, as Green Day was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Armstrong gave a shoutout to Gilman Street during the closing of his speech. “We are so fortunate to have played there,” he said. The following month, the band was controversially invited to play a secret show at the club, also as a benefit concert. It was a one-time exception, said Townley, adding that he pushed for the show to be held elsewhere for safety precautions — if word got out, the venue was not equipped to handle the fan base of a band known worldwide.
By that point, the majority of the collective was ready to let go of the grudge, but not everyone.
“There’s a lot of people and a lot of opinions,” he said.
McCune and Luke agreed on several rules for the tribute show, foremost that all of the participants had to be fans of Green Day and Dookie. Vinocur and Goodnight, Texas, the partly-Bay Area Appalachian rock quartet, were the first to be contacted. The band performs a solemn, powerful take on “She,” on the album and at the concert. Second on their list was to reflect the diversity of the Bay Area.
“We didn’t just want white guys with guitars,” McCune said. “Our community is so much more than one story. We intentionally wanted to find artists of color, make sure there was as good of a gender balance as we could achieve, and a wide variety of genres.”
MC Rai, who has split his time between San Francisco and Los Angeles since 2000 and has performed with Bonnie Raitt, Joan Baez, and Michael Franti, was selected because of his unique interpretation of R.E.M’s “Everybody Hurts” featured in the Sacha Baron Cohen film The Dictator. Chaoua recorded and will perform “Sassafras Roots.”
The lineup was completed with pop chanteuse Oona Garthwaite’s new band Marston, Sal’s Greenhouse (funk), Jazz Mafia’s Choral Syndicate, MoeTar (prog pop), The Fuxedos (comedic/theatrical), NVO featuring Bosko (electronica), Awesöme Orchestra, Casey Crescenzo (of The Dear Hunter), and Martin Luther McCoy (soul), as well as four 924 Gilman artists: La Plebe (mariachi punk), Love Songs (punk), Skank Bank (ska and reggae), and TILT (yes, that’s right, more punk).
After the band selection was made over the summer, recording took place at Fantasy Studios over three weeks in October and November. At first, each band was asked to select three songs.
“The most-coveted track was ‘Longview,’” said McCune, who has been involved as a performer and arranger at previous UnderCover tributes to Radiohead and Sly and the Family Stone.
Vinocur said had it been up to his band to decide on a song, the four members would still be arguing over which one to choose.
To translate “She” to the style of Goodnight, Texas, the band incorporated a banjo and a baritone acoustic guitar, which they had not previously done on any recording. Vinocur and singer Patrick Dyer Wolf also decided to alternate lines. The treatment took only a few hours.
“We wanted to do a much darker version than the original,” he said.
MC Rai, meanwhile, found the lyrics and pentatonic scale of “Sassafras Roots” best matched for his Arabic singing style.
“The lyrics are poetically translated, meaning someone who speaks Arabic will listen to the song and enjoy it equally,” he said.
As for the show itself, McCune said the individual performances will be separated by videos, speeches, and introductions and several surprises. Armstrong himself may have spilled the beans on one of them when he tweeted he will be in attendance. One of the highlights for McCune will be exposing Green Day fans to genres and styles they would not normally seek out by themselves.
“What fans should not expect is a total recreation of the album,” he said. “It is going to be so different. Every turn is a left turn.”
Follow Roman Gokhman at Twitter.com/RomiTheWriter.