Cometbus 54, Green Day in China, and me

Cometbus 54, Green Day in China, and me

Since 60 Minutes was on right before the Grammys, some of you might have caught Andy Rooney's rant on The King's Speech. It turns out that when the commentator was reporting on WWII, he and other correspondents were actually visited by King George VI in North Africa. Wow. It's always been easy to dismiss him as that cranky old curmudgeon, but on Sunday night he crossed the line from being really old old to historic! But the pontificator's point was that he likes movies that remind him of things that he knows about.

Conversely, one of the things I've always liked about the Cometbus zine is that the author/drummer/photocopy artist Aaron Cometus writes about going to places I've never been and doing things I'll never do–embarking on long tours with bands, living in squats and punk houses, or riding a bike through Europe, for example. So it was odd that the latest issue features so much material that I am quite familiar with. In Cometbus 54, he accepts an invitation from Green Day to join the band on the Asian leg of its tour. Stops include Thailand, Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea, and Japan. As much as he can, he does his trademark wandering through alleys, scoping out used bookstores, and imbibing mass quantities of coffee on a continent that's new to him. But the real story is also about his longtime connections with the band, the different paths they chose–fame and obscurity, major label and DIY–and their lasting, evolving friendship.

While I've gathered some knowledge about Asian culture as the editor of Giant Robot, I'm also very aware of the band. Green Day actually stayed at my house after they played a gig at UCLA's Coop when my friend Craig was booking shows there. The group had one album and a couple of singles out at the time and they only spent one night, but everything Cometbus writes about them rings true in my memories. Tre was the goofiest one, fucking around in his “Mack” baseball cap and yelling “Bass!” all the time (Public Enemy was huge). Mike was the sympathetic one who apologized for everyone sleeping in after I got busted for speeding on the way back to Westwood with them to catch the Mr. T Experience's lunchtime show and pick up their check the next day. Billie Joe was mostly quiet but left his phone number and said to call if I ever made it up to the East Bay. All three had stinky feet, and I baked cookies after they left so my roommates wouldn't have to smell the aftermath.

I never dialed BJ's number, but I did keep seeing Green Day a lot back then. A pilgrimage to Gilman St., a road trip to some shack in Santa Barbara, and a date at the Palomino come to mind as being particularly amazing, with merely great shows ranging from a lowly slot at the Coconut Teaszer to opening for Bad Religion at the Palladium. I never saw the band play an arena show, so it was interesting to read Cometbus's takes on the young punkers taking their music as far as they have. The van has become a fleet of vehicles, the crew has grown from a roadie to an army, and (most importantly) the songs don't rhyme “brain” with “insane” as much, but their personalities and tendencies seem exactly the same. As for the band's punkness, I'll defer to Cometbus's writing because the topic is too complicated to summarize. And it's actually shocking that he even names the band–not to mention place it on the cover–since in past issues he would leave them anonymous.

Most Green Day freaks will just be teased by Cometbus's intimate-but-limited time with the band and the 95 pages of prose can't possibly serve as a true travel story because the narrative is tethered to fancy hotels and free pre-show buffets, but for me Cometbus 54 is like the aligning of stars. East Bay Punk, Asian culture, and Cometbus–these are things that I know about. I hope I don't make myself sound historic by saying that.

When the show in Santa Barbara was busted for being too loud, Green Day played an acoustic set accompanied by a homeless man. Circa 1991?