Billie Joe Armstrong: 'I'm Still Trying to Figure Out If What I Do Is for Real'

The Green Day frontman is about to be a father, but he's a long way from having it all figured out

November 17, 1994
Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day performs at Lollapalooza in Mountain View, California.
Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day performs at Lollapalooza in Mountain View, California.
Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images

A mere two years ago, Green Day were playing the tiny clubs of the East Bay hardcore scene in Berkeley, Calif. Today, they're an MTV staple, instant generational icons. In the weeks after the California punk trio appeared on the Lollapalooza tour and at Woodstock '94, sales of their first major-label release, Dookie, inched past the 2 million mark. On "Longview" and "Basket Case," frontman and primary songwriter Billie Joe Armstrong, 22, depicts a young man at odds with himself and the world around him. He still spits out lyrics with the same punk passion; it's just that the world doesn't fight back like it used to. In another sea change, Armstrong recently got married. He and his wife, Adrienne, are expecting their first child in March.

Was Woodstock '94 what you expected?
Going into it, I thought that the nostalgia reasons behind the show were kind of a joke. I mean, at least they could have come up with something new. So we went in thinking, 'This is lame.' But then it turned into something that was completely different from what I'd expected.

To tell you the truth, it was the closest thing to total chaos I've ever seen in my life. The audience took over everything. I saw police and guards throwing down their badges, quitting on the spot, saying, 'I can't do this anymore.' Technically it was a human disaster. Everybody was living like dogs, pretty much.

Did anything positive come out of it?
I don't know, but if in another 25 years they have a Woodstock Part III, we're probably going to be the only band from this one that's going to be able to play it – because everybody else is going to be old or dead.

Would you guys do it?
That depends on if we're going to be around for the next five years. I mean, that's a lot of energy for a man in his 40s to put out. Last thing I want to do is look like Steven Tyler doing backflips and stuff on the MTV Video Music Awards. Or like the Rolling Stones.

There's nothing wrong with aging gracefully with your music and just doing it – I think Tom Petty has a lot of class. He looks great. And every time he has this new, refreshing start. He writes the songs and doesn't give a shit about anybody else. And he doesn't try to act like a 50-year-old sex symbol, which is the whole Mick Jagger thing. It's like "Come on, man, act your age!"

Is there a political aspect to Green Day's music?
More personal politics. It is a little more about getting used to yourself or changing yourself or coming to grips with yourself, like the song "Coming Clean." Kids will always stop to think about the fact of the possibilities of not knowing what their sexuality is all about: 'Am I homosexual? Am I bisexual? Am I heterosexual? Am I no sexual? Or am I just plain sexual?' People don't know what the fuck they are. I still struggle with that, too – it's part of adolescence and growing up.

Do you think that music can change people's opinions?
Definitely. I know it's changed my opinions on a lot of things. The Replacements, for example, gave me a new respect for drinking a lot. They took drinking a lot to this new art-form level – not about being a total idiot but about being this beautifully perfect drunk. I know that when I drink, it makes me able to relax and not care as much, and when I write lyrics, it allows me to go at it with no holds barred and attack what's on the paper. When I'm sober, I think, 'Maybe I shouldn't.' It's kind of pathetic, but. . .

What kind of father are you going to be?
Adrienne asked me what I was going to do when our kid wants to drop out of school. But what can you do? You can't change their mind. You can try to talk them out of it, but at the same time I know how evil school is. I fucking spent the worst years of my life in high school. It held me back from doing what I wanted to do. And nothing in it was interesting. Opinions are force-fed to you. You're forced to read – which is evil. You can't force someone to read. That's no way of dealing with people in society: 'Do this, or suffer the consequence.'

I write a lot about being a loser because I was conditioned to think that way. I was brainwashed to think that I was nothing as compared to these people who are so-called geniuses that were teaching me all this crap. So I was like 'OK, that'll be my art form: being a fucking idiot, being a loser.' If that's what I was trained to think I am, then that's what I'm going to do, and I'm going to do it the best way I possibly can. Now, I'm 'losing' in a big way.

To read the new issue of Rolling Stone online, plus the entire RS archive: Click Here

Music Main Next

blog comments powered by Disqus
Around the Web
Powered By ZergNet
Daily Newsletter

Get the latest RS news in your inbox.

Sign up to receive the Rolling Stone newsletter and special offers from RS and its
marketing partners.


We may use your e-mail address to send you the newsletter and offers that may interest you, on behalf of Rolling Stone and its partners. For more information please read our Privacy Policy.

Song Stories

“Bird on a Wire”

Leonard Cohen | 1969

While living on the Greek island of Hydra, Cohen was battling a lingering depression when his girlfriend handed him a guitar and suggested he play something. After spotting a bird on a telephone wire, Cohen wrote this prayer-like song of guilt. First recorded by Judy Collins, it would be performed numerous times by artists incuding Johnny Cash, Joe Cocker and Rita Coolidge. "I'm always knocked out when I hear my songs covered or used in some situation," Cohen told Rolling Stone. "I've never gotten over the fact that people out there like my music."

More Song Stories entries »