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Non-Prog DVD/Video Reviews

Green Day

Suburbia Bomb DVD

Review by Josh Turner

It's like a Michael Moore movie without the politics. It's like "Super Size Me" without the food. There isn't much music nor does the band show themselves all that often. You may think this leave you with very little, but you'd actually be wrong. It's a comprehensive story and documentary chronicling how Green Day grew up and became the band they are today.

It starts way back in the beginning even before they were musicians, growing up in a tough neighborhood in Northern California. Ironically, the commotion and distractions in their neighborhood had one distinct advantage. Playing loud music in the garage never seemed to bother anyone. As a result, they got all the practice they needed. The narrator talks about Billie Joe Armstrong's classical training, how he started playing the piano at 5, and how he put together a band called Sweet Childhood at the early age of 15. There are also various discussions on their influences, which oddly enough include The Kinks, The Who, The Replacements, and Soul Asylum. When you think about it, this all makes sense, because their content is significantly more melodic than other bands that carry the punk rock label.

You go on to find out that their initial audiences were merely patrons at a pizzeria. They eventually got bigger gigs working alongside other local acts. The DVD catches up with some of their earliest fans. While it's obvious now, they recall how Sweet Children came on the scene and were easily the best band in the area. The DVD goes on to speculate how they got the name Green Day and how they got signed by incrementally larger labels in short time. It contains a plethora of interviews that involve people close to the band. It talks with competing bands, DJ's who spent years spinning their music, and rock journalists who followed their development closely. Jesse Michaels, lead singer of Operation Ivy, participated in much of the same scene and gigs in California and recants countless encounters with the band. Joe Selby, who is the bass player of 3 Years Down, shares his perspective as well. The documentary makes its way to many other people. One person of notable interest is Jaan Uhelszki of Creem magazine, who seems to know more about the band than anybody else. Where there are obscure questions needing answers, she always seems to have the inside scoop.

The documentary talks about how the band dealt with being labeled as "sellouts" and the criticism that came with such a harsh title. It discusses what it means to be punk and be liked by the masses and how many of the same people who called them names were also asking to open for them. The DVD talks about how they dealt with being 20-something millionaire rocksters and gives insight into how the band perceived their own success. While some people saw signing with Warner Bros as a "defection," Green Day openly embraced this landmark achievement. Many of the fans felt they were significantly more talented than many other bands in the genre. The labels obviously agreed, helping to make their style and sound a popular one, which in turn, opened the doors to many other acts such as Blink 182.

One of the most interesting bits is footage where the band pretends to "not" be Green Day when confronted by a reporter. This is one of many exhibits showing the band's humorous side. In addition to being real jokesters, one chapter points out how they went too far with a certain practical joke. As proof of their inner demons, we get an explanation as to why there is screaming on the second song of Warning and how these three little devils played a part in this act of torture. It's all in good fun, but it's still a little sick. You'll find this background information to be quite intriguing.

Bands always seem to have a lot of turnover when it comes to their drummers and Green Day didn't seem to avoid the cliché. The DVD discusses the first two drummers and why they left the band. The first didn't think he had the snuff while the second went off to college. Eventually, the band added Tre Cool and took on the name Green Day. I bet Tre's predecessors are both kicking themselves in the derrière for making such a monumental mistake.

The documentary also revisits their first label, Lookout Record. To this day, Green Day's debut album with the funky name (that would be 1,039/Smoothed Out Slappy Hour) is still Lookout Record's all-time biggest release ever. It was a match made in heaven; unfortunately, the band outgrew the label and left on good terms. This part of the story bears close resemblance to the Ray Charles story. I'm sure many bands have a similar experience being sucked up by bigger labels as climb up the totem poll of success.

Continuing on with the studio perspective, we are brought to Fantasy Studios by way of Reprise Records. This is where Green Day had their breakout success, Dookie. The studio manager gives us descriptions of the band which include punky, young, sweet, fun, and mature. She also speculates how they came up with the name of this particular album. It seemingly stems from somebody named Dookus and by this, I don't think she is referring to Count Dooku. Another interesting point is that the technician at this studio refers to them as analog, which appears to be a complement, further hinting upon their influences. You'll need to listen in on his interview to draw your own conclusions.

We also get numerous retellings of the band's participation in Woodstock II. Many people discuss the bloody teeth and mud incident, how the band felt the show must go on, and how this single brave act may have catapulted them onto success. In addition to playing against the odds and making sacrifices to keep shows going, the DVD gives further evidence how the band cares about their fans. One part discusses their decision to set the price of submission to a fixed maximum of 20 bucks in order to make shows affordable to the average fan. It also discusses the many occasions where they brought up-and-comers on stage to play with them.

One early fan states that Green Day sounds just as good in a restaurant as they do in an arena. She says they easily could have 20,000 people in the palm of their hand. She then makes the claim that this is not a band you download, because they are so good live. She states their strength is that they never stick to the standard. Other bands could learn from her wisdom.

When coming up with lyrics and titles, Green Day seemingly draws influences from an assortment of people, places, and conversations. Dookie isn't the only title with an interesting back-story. Wait till you hear how they allegedly came up with the title for the Insomniac album. You also get a view into the development of the complex artwork for that album by artist Winston Smith.

The DVD hints upon other sides of their persona as well. While Billie Joe can be an arrogant rockstar at times, it goes on to describe how he can be quite the dedicated father. There is also much discussion on how the band finds time for their fans. They never forget where they came from, how they started, or who helped them get there.

The evolution of their music is covered all the way up to the acoustic song Time of your Life off the Nimrod album. This song is suitable for a sports montage, so much so, that it was used during the airing of the Olympics. That doesn't sound very punk to me. One fan provides a credible defense for a song that's seemingly out of character by saying it has the structure and ingredients as their other punk pieces, but just slowed down and acoustic. It seems all of their songs, even their wildest ones, can be played acoustically.

One complaint I have, and I don't have many about this DVD, is that the interviews do not consistently show the names of the people who are doing the talking. When it does, it seems to be random, which is too bad, because nobody is formally introduced. Eventually, you can figure out who is who, but it does get a little frustrating.

Also, don't let the title fool you. It says it's unauthorized, but in no way is this illegitimate. This is backed by reputable dealers. I think it's a play of words or something. They never really sat down with the band to do an interview. Nevertheless, everything is effectively plugged into place through second-hand accounts. All the gaps are filled by those who were close to them at one point or another, so the fact that there is little of Billie Joe, Tre, or Mike, really doesn't retract from the story

The DVD is raw and edgy, but professionally put together. It's broken into eight chapters that not only work well together, but work independently as well-rounded featurettes. In addition to these sections, the DVD includes a photo gallery and an extensive breakdown of their discography. The documentary is not very long and moves along quickly, making it incredibly easy to watch.

I recall a time when I watched the movie Williard. The movie itself was a real groaner, but the "making of" documentary was educational, enlightening, and even more entertaining then the movie. While I'm a big fan of Team America too, the featurettes included in the Special Edition were almost as amusing as the feature presentation. I felt the same vibe going through Suburbia Bomb. Like Spinal Tap or Rockstar, the music is relatively unimportant when looking at the band behind the music.

There is something engaging when you cover the rise to fame and lifestyle of successful musicians. This DVD just happens to capture it from the perspective of punk. After watching it in its completion, I felt compelled to return to a few key spots. I may have not started off as a fan, but their story got me interested in exploring their material further. No matter what genre gives you pleasure, if you're interested in what it means to become chart-topping superstars, I highly recommend plopping yourself on a couch and sitting through Suburbia Bomb.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2005 Year Book Volume 3 at lulu.com/strangesound.

 
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