Best Thing In Town

While Green Day Rose to Fame On the Local Gilman Stage, Their Relations With the Venue Soured

Murray Bowles/Courtesy

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Green Day at 924 Gilman

Brian Edge, author of "924 Gilman: The Story So Far", discusses how the perception of Green Day has changed over the past 20 years, and how it continues to affect 924 Gilman.

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Seventeen-year-old Anisha Narayan sat on the sidewalk off the side of the 924 Gilman Street Project building, wearing a headband and a Sublime T-shirt pulled down over her left shoulder. It was Nov. 8, and she was there because one of her favorite bands once frequented the venue. That band is now Green Day-composed of Billie Joe Armstrong, Mike Dirnt and Tre Cool-and was banned from the venue 15 years ago.

On Nov. 26, 1988, under the name Sweet Children, Green Day performed for the first time ever on the Berkeley stage that raised them, which they would later make famous.

Twenty years since that first show, the band has been on the cover of Rolling Stone, played sold-out shows worldwide and become one of the defining bands of this generation, thanks to songs like "Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)," "Walking Contradiction" and "American Idiot."

Every year, fans like Narayan travel to Berkeley to see where Armstrong, Dirnt and then-drummer John Kiffmeyer used to play. Gilman is a place they can never headline again, but it's also a place to which they are eternally linked, no matter how each feels about the other.


On "86," a cut off Green Day's 1995 album Insomniac, Armstrong sings, "Stand aside and let the next one pass / don't let the door kick you in the ass." After the band left the local label Lookout! Records and signed to Reprise Records in 1993, Gilman's door was shut to them forever.

A friend of the band, Jesse Townley, a Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board commissioner-elect who has toured with Green Day and played in local groups such as Blatz, said "86," a term synonymous with being barred from a club, came directly from Gilman's ban of Green Day. When the group put their pen to Reprise paper, they joined many other bands and patrons who were 86'ed from the club.

Pat Libby, a 23-year-old volunteer at Gilman, said Green Day's major-label status clashes with the philosophy of the club, which opened in 1986.

"It is a place for bands that live outside the major-label world, or it's not part of their plans," he said.

As Green Day grew in popularity, Gilman patrons soured on the band. This sentiment reached its height in 1994, when the band released Dookie, their major-label debut that would go on to sell more than eight million copies in the U.S.

"At the time they went from here to Slim's, people were throwing pennies at them symbolizing that they sold out," said Doug Pace, 40, a volunteer at Gilman.

But Libby does not believe Green Day sold out, because they never claimed to be against major labels.

"I never found anything to say that they stood for independence," he said.

Another volunteer, who refers to herself as Ariel Awesome, agrees, adding that most concert-goers at Gilman have little opinion on the relation between the venue and Green Day.

"There is a lot of made-up animosity toward the band," she said.

Some events, though, have provoked individual protest. When Green Day played an unauthorized show at 924 Gilman on Sept. 16, 2001, following fellow punk band the Influents, Libby left the building. However, he made it clear that his action did not embody Gilman's attitude toward Green Day.

"I left because I had different ideals at the time," he said. "That was not a reflection of anyone else."

Jesus of Suburbia

Brian Edge, editor of "924 Gilman: The Story So Far," said Gilman's strange relationship with Green Day stems from sensationalized accounts that devalue Gilman's do-it-yourself philosophy.

"People don't understand that Gilman isn't like a minor league team in baseball," Edge said. "The whole point of Gilman is to have a place for anybody to get together and go play there, not to give them the chops to rock the Fillmore."

While acts like AFI and Rancid have also passed through Gilman, Edge stressed that it is a community-based center focused on creating events rather than acting as a launching pad.

However, Townley said Green Day did not necessarily subscribe to the idea of "punk rock being an exclusive 'fuck you, we'll never sell out' " genre, due to their suburban roots.

"I think Green Day never bought 100 percent into that," he said. "Just from their background they were like, yeah, it would be great if we could sell out the Coliseum. However, they didn't think they would ever do it."

Though Gilman regulars now feel apathetic toward the situation, Edge said 924 Gilman survived because of Green Day.

"They built up a pretty sizeable cushion during that period (in which Green Day became famous) I don't know how long that Green Day money lasted, but it provided them a big cushion to keep going," he said.

According to Townley, Green Day made a donation of an undisclosed amount to Gilman last year. In February of this year, Armstrong played at Gilman as part of his side project Pinhead Gunpowder in a show that went without much advertising or notice. Even though the band is banished, they are still present in its undertones.

As for Green Day's view on Gilman today, Townley said it was unlikely that the band would want to talk about it.

Green Day's management did not respond to interview requests, and Kiffmeyer denied a request over the phone, saying, "There has been plenty written about me."

Despite rumors of a tense relationship, the band and the venue share a mutual understanding of their history, Townley said.

"It's always been an interesting dynamic between the two," he said. "They understand why Gilman can't have them play, but it doesn't mean it doesn't hurt, because they grew up there."


Rajesh Srinivasan is the assistant arts and entertainment editor. Contact him at [email protected]

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