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Time of Their Lives: Green Day’s 22 Biggest Days

As the punk rockers enter the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, we look back at the memorable moments that helped get them there.

As the punk rockers enter the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, we look back at the memorable moments that helped get them there.

It’s been a long and twisted road, but somehow the three snotty punks in Green Day – singer and guitarist Billie Joe Armstrong, bassist Mike Dirnt and drummer Tré Cool – have made it from the cramped stage at Berkeley’s 924 Gilman Street to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The band’s induction this weekend is only the most recent significant moment in a career filled with ’em. From Woodstock to Broadway, smash albums to smashed teeth, mud fights to meltdowns, Green Day has experienced more than its share of highs, lows and downright odd incidents. Here, we look at some of the most memorable ones. Because as Armstrong sang on 1995’s “Jaded,” “Going straight will get you nowhere.”

Rockin’ at Rod’s

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Anthony Pidgeon/Getty

These days, Billie Joe Armstrong and Mike Dirnt are more accustomed to playing venues like Madison Square Garden. But back on October 17th, 1987, the pair’s first-ever show was a one-night-only affair at Rod’s Hickory Pit, a BBQ joint in Vallejo, California. They likely landed the gig because they had a serious in – Armstrong’s mom was a waitress at the restaurant. The performance, under the name Sweet Children, apparently went well enough to get the two invited back – reportedly, both later worked at Rod’s as busboys.

Young Punks

In the late Eighties and early Nineties, the all-ages punk-rock club located at 924 Gilman Street in Berkeley, California, was the sociopolitical, not to mention musical, hub of the East Bay punk scene. It would also become a launching pad for bands like Operation Ivy and Green Day, who played their first gig there on November 26th, 1988, while still called Sweet Children. In addition to serving as a place where they could hone their sound and style, Gilman Street was also where the band would meet future drummer Tre Cool. But the venue’s strict punk ethos would come back to bite them in the ass: “As soon as we signed with a major label,” Armstrong told Rolling Stone in a 2005 cover story, “we weren’t allowed to play there ever again.”

Blast Off

Green Day’s debut EP, 1,000 Hours – which features drummer John Kiffmeyer (A.K.A. Al Sobrante) – was the band’s first effort for Lookout! Records. But the four-song effort is also significant for being their first release as Green Day. The band made the switch from Sweet Children mere weeks before the EP’s release in April 1989, reportedly due to the existence of the similarly-monikered East Bay act Sweet Baby – a move that, according to Lookout! head Larry Livermore, made him go “ballistic.”

And Tre Makes Three

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Steve Eichner

It’d be hard to imagine amphetamine-charged tunes like “Basket Case” and “Brain Stew” being even half as propulsive without the precise, rapid-fire rolls of drummer Tré Cool. And yet it wasn’t until November 1990, that the drummer, born Frank Edwin Wright III, joined up with Armstrong and Dirnt after Kiffmeyer left to attend college. Ironically, Cool had also drummed in the Lookouts (which he joined at the age of 12), the band fronted by Lookout! head Larry Livermore. The Lookouts’ 1990 EP, IV, features not only Cool, but also Armstrong, who contributed lead guitar and backing vocals.

Major League

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Tim Mosenfelder/Getty

Though Green Day had been building an underground following in the early Nineties, it wasn’t until their demo tape fell into the hands of Warner Bros. A&R man and producer Rob Cavallo in the summer of 1993 that things really took off. “I took the cassette and listened to it in my car on the way home that night,” Cavallo recalled in Marc Spitz’ 2006 Green Day bio, Nobody Likes You. “‘Basket Case’ was on it. ‘Longview.’ I loved it.” Soon after, the two sides met for a jam session. Later on, a friend of Cool’s recalled the drummer telling him, “This guy from Reprise just came over and he got us stoned and signed a record deal with us. We’re gonna be really big.” Indeed.

Video Stars

Even in the throes of alt-nation mania, the video for 1994’s “Longview,” which featured three weirdoes (four, if you count the monkey) hanging out in a trashed house, watching cartoons and jamming, while mouthing lyrics about doing nothing much – other than masturbating and getting stoned – was jarring enough to make a huge splash on MTV when it premiered that winter. Plenty of close-ups of bad skin and bugged-out eyeballs only served to put a finer point on the foul proceedings. Suitably, Dirnt once told Rolling Stone US he wrote the signature walking bass line to “Longview” when he was “flying on acid”; the song was also skewered by those uber-burnouts Beavis and Butthead, with the former observing Armstrong’s mouth was “all encrustulated with globules of feces.”

Live From New York

“They can’t wait to begin,” commented Conan O’Brien as waves of feedback threatened to drown out his introduction of Green Day for their first ever network TV performance. On March 16th, 1994, the band blasted through a super-charged version of “Welcome to Paradise” on Late Night With Conan O’Brien, and they were only getting started: Roughly three months later they tore through “Basket Case” on the Late Show With David Letterman, and on December 3rd they barnstormed Saturday Night Live with “When I Come Around” and “Geek Stink Breath,” playing the latter almost a year before its release onInsomniac.

Raining Mud

Though Woodstock ’94 boasted major artists like Aerosmith, Bob Dylan, Metallica and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, it was Green Day – or, perhaps, their fans – that delivered the festival’s most memorable performance, on August 14th. After being pelted with mud through much of their set, Armstrong took action during “Paper Lanterns,” dropping his guitar and hurling chunks of dirt back at the crowd. Things devolved from there, with plenty of mud-slinging – literally – and the band eventually pulling the plug on themselves as fans rushed the stage. In the ensuing chaos, a security guard, mistaking Dirnt for an audience member, tackled the bassist, knocking out several of his teeth. “This isn’t love and peace,” Armstrong shouted mockingly. “It’s fucking anarchy!”

Award Tour

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By the time of the 37th Annual Grammy Awards on March 1st, 1995, Dookie had spawned four hit singles and sold more than six million copies in the U.S. alone. So the awards show was something of a victory lap for Green Day, with the band being nominated in four categories and taking home a statue for Best Alternative Rock Performance for Dookie. And while they lost in the Best New Artist category to Sheryl Crow, at least, in Crow’s case, she was actually nominated for what was her debut – rather than third – full-length album.

Something Unpredictable

The late Nineties and early 2000s saw Green Day weather something of a commercial downturn. But the period also spawned one their biggest hits in the uncharacteristically gentle “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life).” Released as a single on October 17th, 1997, the song went on to soundtrack weepy moments on Seinfeld and ER, not to mention a million high school proms. Its acoustic guitar strums and general mellowness led Dirnt to once call the song the most “punk rock” thing the band could have done, though “Good Riddance” also contains some more traditional punk moments, such as Armstrong’s audible utterance of the word “fuck” as he flubs the guitar intro. Then there was the time Cool lit his drums on fire while Armstrong performed it on the Warped Tour…

On Top of the World

Despite MTV not being able to go seemingly 10 minutes without replaying a Green Day video in the mid 1990s, it took the band until September 10th, 1998, to earn a “Moonman” at the channel’s Video Music Awards. During a post-show interview with Kurt Loder, a celebratory – or perhaps bored – Cool wandered off and proceeded to scale the rotating Universal Studios globe, smiling and waving to fans as he went for a spin. Ever the consummate professional, he then climbed down, walked back over to Loder and his bandmates and dutifully wrapped up the interview. “I’ll ride anything,” Cool later explained. “I like the horses in front of the supermarket as well.”

They’re Number One

A hour-long punk-rock opera put together by a band that, in 2004, seemed to be well past their popularity sell-by date, hardly seems like a recipe for a mainstream smash. And yet, American Idiot, which came a full decade after the breakthrough Dookie, was just that. Following colorfully-named characters like Jesus of Suburbia, St. Jimmy and Whatsername through an America in decline, the politically-charged concept album became Green Day’s first chart-topping album upon its release on September 20th, 2004, debuting at Number One on the Billboard 200, and ultimately selling more than 6 million copies in the U.S. alone.

Charity Case

Back in 2006, there were arguably no bigger rock bands in the world than U2 and Green Day. So it was appropriate that, looking to raise funds to aid those affected by Hurricane Katrina, the two acts teamed up to record a cover of the Skids’ 1978 song “The Saints Are Coming” as a charity single. That September 25th, prior to the first New Orleans Saints home game at the Louisiana Superdome since the venue had been heavily damaged in Katrina, the two groups appeared together at the sold-out stadium to perform that song and others live. As an added bonus, the Saints pummeled the Atlanta Falcons that night, 23-3.

Toon Tunes

Visually speaking, Green Day have always veered toward the animated. So, if anything, it’s surprising that it took until 2007 for the band to receive the yellow-skinned, four-fingered treatment from the Simpsons. The band members appeared as themselves in The Simpsons Movie, performing on a barge and playing a punked-up version of the show’s iconic theme song – after which they’re pelted with trash (shades of Woodstock ’94?) and left to drown in Lake Springfield. Which likely rules out any chance of a returning role in the much-discussed movie sequel . . .


In December, 2007, the members of Green Day, along with Prima Donna singer and guitarist Kevin Preston, created a MySpace page and website for a band called Foxboro Hot Tubs. Over the next few months, rumors ran rampant that the group was, indeed, an alias for Green Day (the fact that the original songs available on the band’s website and MySpace page clearly featured Armstrong on vocals were something of a tip-off). By April 2008, Armstrong confirmed as much in an email to MTV: “The only similarity,” between Foxboro Hot Tubs and Green Day, he wrote, “is that we are the same band.” Soon after, the Hot Tubs issued a full-length album, the garage-rocking Stop Drop and Roll!!!, and, in a particularly meta moment, performed on Last Call With Carson Daly – during a week dedicated to Green Day.

Bright Lights, Big City

Where do you go after you’ve topped the charts and packed arenas throughout the world? If you’re Green Day (or, a few years later, U2) you head to the Great White Way. In 2009, the band and Spring Awakening director Michael Mayer adapted American Idiot for the stage, launching the production first in Berkeley, California, and then, on April 20th, 2010, at the St. James Theatre on Broadway. In an even more improbable twist for the once-snot-nosed punk rockers, Armstrong himself inhabited the role of St. Jimmy for 50 or so shows. After a run of more than 400 performances, the production closed in New York – but not before winning two Tony awards and a Grammy.

Green N’ Roses

Green Day might not be getting inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame until this year, but they put their stamp all over the ceremony three years ago, on April 14th, 2012, in Cleveland. The band kicked off the show with an explosive run-through of American Idiot’s “Letterbomb,” and Armstrong later reappeared onstage to induct Guns N’ Roses into the institution. He then returned once again, this time to sing backup on G N’ R’s classic “Mr. Brownstone,” a collaboration that had been rehearsed only moments earlier – in a bathroom stall in Guns’ dressing room.

21st Century Breakdown

As far as concerts go, the iHeartRadio festival has proven to be a fairly smooth-running event – that is, until Green Day showed up. During a performance of “Basket Case” on September 21st, 2012, an inebriated Armstrong flew off the handle after a monitor signaled the band had only one minute left in what he believed was an abbreviated set. “You’ve gotta be fucking kidding me!” Armstrong exclaimed, adding, “I’m not fucking Justin Bieber!” He then removed his guitar, smashed it to bits and walked offstage. The next day, as the outburst made headlines in the music press, Armstrong recalled to Rolling Stone US, “I woke up and asked [my wife] Adrienne, ‘How bad was it?’ She said, ‘It’s bad.'” But the very public meltdown was also a wakeup call as Armstrong subsequently entered a rehab facility to deal with a years-long struggle with drugs and alcohol.

Triple Play

In a move that had shades of Kiss’ simultaneous release of four solo albums, in the final months of 2012 Green Day issued three full-band albums, each, in Kiss-like fashion, emblazoned with the face of a different member. The wide variety of music on the discs, combined with the whimsical packaging, made the whole thing feel more ambitious, and also more lighthearted, than the two concept albums that preceded it. Either way, the release of ¡Uno!¡Dos! and ¡Tré! – on September 21st, November 9th and December 7th, respectively – was another definitive step forward for the band. “We are going into the unknown,” Armstrong said to Rolling Stone US prior the release of ¡Uno! “I don’t know what’s going to happen.”

I’ll Be You

Armstrong has often referred to the Replacements’ Paul Westerberg as a “hero,” and so when Westerberg was grounded with back pain for the Minneapolis legends’ reunion gig at Coachella on April 19th, 2014, the Green Day frontman was only too happy to come to the rescue. Armstrong, who once recalled seeing the Replacements perform in 1987 all dressed in plaid, came on stage at Coachella – in a plaid suit, natch – and backed up Westerberg as the ‘Mats singer reclined on a sofa. Armstrong provided similar support at various festival gigs through the summer. Was he psyched? Before playing the Forecastle Festival in Louisville, Kentucky, Armstrong uploaded a photo of himself with Replacements bassist Tommy Stinson to his Instagram account with the hashtag, #holyshitIminthereplacements.