Not long after Green Day played Woodstock '94 – a performance that scored the band mass adulation – singer Billie Joe Armstrong received a letter from his mother.
"It was a hate letter," says Armstrong.
It seems Mrs. Armstrong ordered the concert on pay-per-view and had settled in to watch the event with a friend. That's when the melee occurred. Onstage, the Green Day set culminated in a titanic mud fight; Armstrong yanked down his pants; and bassist Mike Dirnt had his front teeth smashed when he was tackled by a security guard who thought he was a fan storming the stage. Finally a mud-covered Armstrong asked the fans to shout, "Shut the fuck up," and the band exited.
"She said that I was disrespectful and indecent," says Armstrong, "and that if my father was alive, he would be ashamed of me. She couldn't believe that I pulled my pants down and got in a fight onstage.
"Everything's fine now, but her letter was just unreal. She was not happy with my performance at all. She even talked shit about my wife, Adrienne, and said how she's supposed to be my loving wife, but she's never even come over and visited."
"It was pretty brutal."
Billie Joe Armstrong is not a tidy man. It's late in the band's never-ending tour, an entire season since Woodstock, and Armstrong is holed up in Los Angeles for a three-night stand. He is standing in the doorway of his hotel room – a landfill of dirty laundry and the occasional empty – talking excitedly. He is small and appears even younger than you would expect – more like a character out of Oliver Twist than like a 6-year veteran of the rock circuit. As he speaks, his eyes continually grow wider.
Armstrong leads his guest into the chamber like a kid hurrying to get to the front of a line. Across the room, Adrienne is lying in bed, wearing a pair of boxers and a bra. Destination complete. Her husband kneels next to her and rests his ear on her stomach. "Come on over here," he says, flashing his visitor a jagged smile. "Listen to the baby." Adrienne hoists herself up on her elbows and thrusts her stomach out. "We've been lying here all day," she says. "We've just been watching him move."
The him in question is the future Joey Armstrong, the son that will be born to Billie Joe and Adrienne sometime in March. It is Joey's impending arrival along with that of Ramona, the daughter that will be born to drummer Tré Cool and his girlfriend, Lisea, in January – that stands as the most life-altering event in a year that has seen the lives of the Green Day members forever altered. Just when you thought nothing could be stranger than three American kids who look and sound like they should be railing against Queen Elizabeth, circa 1977, being named 1994's Best New Band by both readers and critics – not punk rock but a remarkable simulation – the very same kids are having kids.
All three band members are 22, and sometimes it seems more like they're 17. Bodily functions, for instance, are seen as a laugh riot. At the same time, having spent the last five years touring, they can seem world-weary and savvy. When they are together, which is almost always, they fall into roles. Tré keeps a running, hyperkinetic commentary on all proceedings, replete with the appropriate dudes and mans of the native California skate punk in its natural habitat.
Dirnt, the one Green Day constituent not to have gone forth and multiplied, vacillates between being the voice of reason and nervous comic relief. In one moment he seems like a young man on a job interview, trying desperately to appear serious. The next he is the same kid, unable to contain himself and making sound effects in the back of the classroom. Armstrong, while he remains mostly silent, is nonetheless always the center of attention. Offstage he is quiet, projecting the shyness of a kid on his first day at a new school. He laughs easily, mostly with his band mates, but will then quickly grow solemn. Still, for all his adolescent sheepishness, Armstrong retains a subtle charm that is as omnipresent as his stage demeanor is over the top.
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