Green Day stunned the pop crowd at the American Music Awards last night by inserting some punk politics into their performance of their Revolution Radio single "Bang Bang." Deep into the song, Billie Joe Armstrong led an impromptu chant of "No Trump, no KKK, no fascist USA," a catchy, almost cheerleader-like refrain that has caught on with protesters since the election.
It's a line that stretches all the way back to the early Eighties, when the hardcore group M.D.C. clashed with Nazis in Austin, Texas, so they wrote the song "Born to Die" about it. The track would make its debut recorded performance on the band's 1982 LP, Millions of Dead Cops. At the time, however, singer Dave Dictor was chanting, "No war, no KKK, no fascist USA." Armstrong and his bandmates played with M.D.C. in the past, so the lyric has likely stuck with them over the years.
"Born to Die" remains a set-list staple for the group, which has taken to singing the "No Trump" variation live in recent years. Although Dictor's phone didn't blow up last night during the AMAs, he says people were contacting him about Green Day's use of the line via every other method. Here, the singer reflects on the song's legacy of protest.
What's the story behind "Born to Die"?
Back in 1980, I was in a band the called the Stains, which morphed into Millions of Dead Cops in 1981, in Austin, Texas. We were aware of the Ku Klux Klan's harassment and violence against the farmworkers in Texas. Cesar Chavez's people were organizing. At the same time, and what I believe was unrelated, the Klan started recruiting at punk shows in Texas. We as punks stood up to them at our shows outside of Inner Sanctum Record Store in a parking lot in Austin as well as when they tried to march, at the state capital, in the fall of 1980 in Austin as well.
The "No Trump" variation has resonated with some protesters. Has that line been appropriated by other protesters that you know of?
I've been to various protests through the years where the line, "No war, no KKK, no fascist USA" was used. I remember it specifically during the Iraq War in the 1990s and again throughout the last 15 years with Iraq again and Afghanistan.
Why do you think this line has resonated with protesters?
I don't consciously remember when and where it first started, but I think it's just a good line that captures what we want.
Are you friendly with Green Day?
I have known the guys through Gilman Street in Berkeley in the late 1980s and 1990s. We played a backyard party and crossed paths at clubs through the years. They are nice people and I always wished them well as they became more famous. Though I had no heads up, I do know they are aware, good people so I'm not shocked.
What did you think of Green Day's performance and use of the line?
I just totally applaud it. We have a video on YouTube that I hope gets a few views with the same title. But it's something that needs to be said and they obviously have the platform to get that thought out there far and wide. Good on them.
What are your personal feelings about President-elect Trump?
It's weird, I always thought he was a character and I'd enjoy sitting next to him on a plane ride. But these lines about Mexican rapists and registering and barring Muslims play to the worst in our character. I am so sad to think of the kids being bullied in school right this moment as well as the walls that will grow separating our human family. We as humans need to evolve and figure out how to live together. His ultra-rightwing cabinet choices are the icing on the cake. America is heading down a very dark road. So yeah, "No Trump, no KKK, no fascist USA!"