Fresh Air Interviews: Green Day front man Billie Joe Armstrong - 'Having The Time Of His Life' The frontman for the pop-punk band Green Day details the group's early days in Berkeley and describes what it's been like to see American Idiot, a new Broadway musical based on one of his albums.

Billie Joe Armstrong, From Green Day To Broadway

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This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

In 2004, Green Day, the punk-pop band fronted by my guest, Billie Joe Armstrong, released a Grammy-winning album called "American Idiot." Instead of looking inward for his material, as Armstrong had done when he wrote songs about his anxiety, relationships and panic attacks on the albums "Dookie" and "Nimrod," he decided to write about politics, specifically the alienation and anger he felt during the presidency of George W. Bush.

The punk-rock opera, as the album was called, was recently adapted into a Broadway show with virtually no dialogue and with the actors telling the story largely through movements on stage. Armstrong says that watching his musical vision come on the stage was a transformative experience.

We're going to start with Green Day's version of "American Idiot," followed by the version on the new Broadway cast recording, which features singers from the show accompanied by Green Day.

(Soundbite of song, "American Idiot")

GREEN DAY (Music Group): (Singing) Don't want to be an American idiot. Don't want a nation under the new media. And can you hear the sound of hysteria? The subliminal mind (bleep) America. Welcome to a new kind of tension all across the alien nation, where everything isn't meant to be okay. Television dreams of tomorrow...

(Soundbite of song, "American Idiot")

Unidentified People: (Singing) Don't want to be an American idiot, one nation controlled by the media. Don't want to be an American idiot, one nation controlled by the media (unintelligible) calling out to idiot America. Welcome to a new kind of tension all across the alien nation, where everything isn't meant to be okay...

GROSS: Billie Joe Armstrong, welcome to FRESH AIR. So you play on the soundtrack of a Broadway cast recording, but the cast sings. What would you say are the main differences between the Broadway versions of your songs and your versions?

Mr. BILLIE JOE ARMSTRONG (Musician): Oh, you know, I mean, it goes from a three-piece band to a 20-piece vocal ensemble, you know. When we did the album the first time around, it was me, Mike Dirnt and Tre Cool doing everything. And then this time it was, you know, dealing with the string section and dealing with how all the characters were kind of coming out and as far as the play or the musical, if you will, were involved.

GROSS: One difference I've noticed, I think the Broadway singers enunciate more clearly than you do.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ARMSTRONG: That was a big - yeah. That was a big deal when - you know, being a rock singer, I can get away with a lot, you know, because most of the time people don't know what the hell you're saying anyway. That's why we have lyric sheets, you know.

GROSS: And there's a long tradition of that in rock.

Mr. ARMSTRONG: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, and then - but the tradition, you know, we were in the studio with Michael Mayer, and...

GROSS: He's the director.

Mr. ARMSTRONG: Who's the director, and Tom Kitt's the arranger. And when they were listening to the singers, they were saying things like, you know, can you please - I can't hear the T in this particular word. And we were looking at him. You know, we're like I can hear it fine, you know. But that's just the difference between theater people and rock people, I guess.

GROSS: I bet no one has ever said to you: I can't hear the T.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ARMSTRONG: Yeah, no, I don't think so.

GROSS: So the songs on "American Idiot" are rooted in part in the Bush administration era, and I'm wondering what performing for you was like then, particularly performing songs from "American Idiot."

Mr. ARMSTRONG: I think I felt a sense of empowerment. I think I was -you know, in the beginning, you know, right after, you know, 9/11 and then watching sort of the tanks going into Iraq and everything sort of, you know, these embedded journalists, you know, going in, you know, live. It felt like a cross between - it was a cross between war and reality television.

And so I just felt this, like, great sort of confusion, and I was, like, someone needs to say something. I don't really know - you know, I don't know how it's going to come out, but, you know, whatever it has to be, it's got to be something very bold and get someone's attention immediately.

Just as - you know, because if you're so distracted, you know, by what's going on on television, you're just watching it, it's like, but in reality what you're doing is you're sitting there on the couch and just sort of seeing, you know, the world unfold and explode and lives being lost right in front of your very eyes.

So for me it was just I kind of felt this moment of just, it was like rage and patriotism, I guess, if you'd want to call it that. And I just wanted to write something that was, you know, it just felt very - that wrote itself in probably 30 seconds.

GROSS: I want to play another song from "American Idiot," and this is "Holiday." Would you put this song in the context of what you've been talking about politically?

Mr. ARMSTRONG: Yeah, you know, it's - when I think of "Holiday," it's, like, fragments of sort of political confusion. And it takes the English language and it kind of - it's like it goes again, you know, using English words against itself or something, you know, especially, like, sieg heil to the president (unintelligible) which actually was German also.

But it's - yeah, it is, it's kind of another one. Like it was sort of -after the song "American Idiot," then doing "Holiday," you felt even - I felt even more empowered to write something like that.

GROSS: So here's "Holiday" from the Green Day album "American Idiot."

(Soundbite of song, "Holiday")

GREEN DAY: (Singing) Hear the sound of the falling rain coming down like an Armageddon flame, the shame, the ones who died without a name.

Hear the dogs howling out of key to a hymn called Faith and Misery, and bleed, the company lost the war today.

I beg to dream and differ from the hollow lies. This is the dawning of the rest of our lives on holiday...

GROSS: That's "Holiday" from the Green Day album "American Idiot," and of course now there's a Broadway musical called "American Idiot," featuring the songs from the album.

"American Idiot" is in part about the anger and discontent of young people entering the larger world, and the Broadway show, it's also about, you know, one of the characters having to fight in Iraq. How far away does that part of your life seem when you were in your teens or early 20s, finding your place in the world?

Mr. ARMSTRONG: For me, I mean, you know, when, you know, the first time that you escape from home or the small town that you live in or whatever, you know, there's a reason the small town is called a small town, because not that many people really want to live there.

So to try to get out and see something more, and, you know, for me, I had a place called Gilman Street, and it was a club, a punk-rock club in Berkeley, and I was just introduced to a lot of new ideas. And...

GROSS: So that was your escape?

Mr. ARMSTRONG: I think that was my escape. And there was this sort of feeling of, like, I felt there was another moment in time where I felt empowered and because I was getting an education and that I wasn't really getting being at home anymore, or from the schools that I had to go to. It was sort of this feeling of just like, oh, I'm out of prison, you know.

But in the musical there's a lot of - you know, the guy Johnny, or Jesus of Suburbia, you know, as he's finding this sort of self-righteousness, he ends up finding sort of some self-destruction, and I think those are the bumps in the road that you take because you have to take bruises as you get older or coming of age.

GROSS: Did you have that problem, self-destruction?

Mr. ARMSTRONG: Oh, yeah. I mean, I still do, you know. Any time that you challenge yourself or you take risks, you have to deal with scars, you know, and the only thing you can do is look down and learn from them and keep moving on, you know.

GROSS: There's a lot of anger in the songs in "American Idiot," and I assume anger is an emotion that you're familiar with.


GROSS: So when you were a teenager, where - what was generating most of the anger?

Mr. ARMSTRONG: Feeling lost. I always say that - in every song I write, whether it's a love song, or it's a political song or, you know, something, or a song about family, the one thing that I find is feeling lost and trying to find your way.

I think a song like "American Idiot," it's a series of questions. You know, I think "Holiday" is a series of questions. It's like, it's -you're trying to battle your way out of your own ignorance, and that's where it's personal. It's like, you know, I don't want to be an American idiot. What I want to be is I'm not sure. I just want more. And I'm willing to take the risk to try to get out of that, you know, or to try to find something more.

So that's - I don't know, so it's just lost and trying to dig your way through all the sort of, you know, the mental wrecking yard, I guess.

GROSS: I know your father died when you were young. How old were you?


GROSS: And he had cancer of the esophagus. Did that contribute to you feeling lost, do you think?

Mr. ARMSTRONG: I think so. I mean, I think it went, you know, beyond that. You know, I remember I was always the kid that got lost in, like, the shopping mall or, like, I got lost in Santa Cruz, you know, walking the boardwalk when I was, like, five or six. I was always just daydreaming constantly, and I still am.

You know, I have a lousy sense of direction in so many different ways, and you know, I think losing someone, you know, that young, it's hard because, like, when you deal with death, like when you lose someone when you're young, and you're dealing with death, you suddenly realize that death is a part of life.

So when death comes knocking again at a certain time, or if it's a friend or a loved one, you just, you start to not get used to it, you know, you just, you just see it, and when you see it over and over again, you just realize, like, that it, like I said before, that it's a part of life.

But it's hard because you see this very strong, strong-willed man, it's like you see him crumble within a matter of three months. It's just, it's like, you know, it's the beginning of summer, and then at the end -by the end of the summer it's a completely different person, and then they're reading his last rites to him. So it's just a lot to take in, you know.

I worried about my mother. I worried about a lot of things that I think it's unfair for kids to worry about because - but you have to, you have to man up, and for a 10-year-old to man up on something like that and sort of - you know, my brother was 13. He had to man up too, and it was, you know, that's a really young age for someone to sort of have to grow up very quickly.

GROSS: So it's interesting, you know, that you discovered punk, and it meant so much to you. So once you got deep into punk, did that, did that also bring on any kind of, like, physical transformation just in terms of how you wanted to look physically and what kind of, like, attitude you wanted to present to the outside world?

Mr. ARMSTRONG: I think so. You know, I mean, there was definitely - it wasn't really a dress code. I think the time when I was getting into punk, there wasn't really - I think the uniform was gone, you know, in the scene. You know, I mean, I wore stuff that my dad wore as a truck driver.

You know, I mean, I wore dickies and Ben Davis shirts and derby jackets and flipped-up baseball caps and Chuck Taylors and with, you know, a pile of bleach on top of your head. You know, it was, you know, you went around and you borrowed eyeliner from girls that were around the scene at the time, and it was, it was just, you know, it wasn't really a dress code. I mean, that was just what we were into in the punk community, you know.

GROSS: So you mentioned that you would borrow eyeliner from the girls. Why couldn't you buy it? Why'd you have to borrow it?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ARMSTRONG: I think it was just good conversation, you know? You know, it was - I think that's sort of almost where it came from. And you know, there were the girls that were around. You know, I think all, well, not all, but I think a lot of women like to see what guys look like dressed up like women. So - you know, or just put makeup on them or whatever, you know.

So it was, it was just kind of a fun little activity, and I think it just sort of stuck throughout the years.

GROSS: My guest is Billie Joe Armstrong, the front man of Green Day. We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Billie Joe Armstrong, the lead singer, guitarist and songwriter from the band Green Day, and Green Day's album, "American Idiot," is now the basis of a Broadway show by the same name, which features all the songs from the original album. And on the cast recording, the band Green Day actually accompanies the Broadway singers.

So some of your songs are also about psychological issues. Like one song mentions soda pop and Ritalin. There's a song "Basket Case," the song "Give Me Novocain." And I'm wondering, like, how much of that is about you, if you were, like, medicated at all or in therapy or told you should be in therapy when you were in your teens, in school.

Mr. ARMSTRONG: Not so much. You know, I think I tried to mix humor with mental health. You know, a song like "Basket Case" is sort of about panic attacks. And, you know, "Give Me Novocain" is just, you know, where you self-medicate, whether it's with alcohol or weed or speed or, you know, whatever your drug of choice is. You know, it's just kind of falling into that, experimenting with that, you know, escapism in unhealthy ways.

But I think when I was a kid, you know, a lot of - there was a lot of, you know, it was just, it was drinking and acid and mushrooms and...

GROSS: Did you do a lot of acid?

Mr. ARMSTRONG: I did my share.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Tell me what your trips were like and whether you saw them as kind of like spiritual, you know, meditative, exploratory things, or whether it was more about music or more about, like, something else altogether and whether they were good trips or bad trips.

Mr. ARMSTRONG: It kind of depends on the moment of the trip, you know. I think the first part of a trip is always - is the funnest part.

GROSS: When you feel it coming on?

Mr. ARMSTRONG: Yeah, yeah, and then there's about the two or three hours where you're completely confused and, you know, and there's certain hallucinations that are happening that I'm not particularly fond of.

But then there's the, you know, the comedown, which I always enjoyed also. But the whole experience itself was never really - I don't think it ever really contributed to music. I think, you know, it cracks open your brain a little bit, but in the long run, you know, in seeing sort of all the casualties around Berkeley and San Francisco because of it, it was - it was always kind of something it was like I never got completely into.

GROSS: So you never played while you were on acid?

Mr. ARMSTRONG: I did. The first time I ever dropped acid, I played. I played with this band called Blatz, and I remember they were a local band, really crazy. It's like - they were basically like the B-52s on acid.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ARMSTRONG: There were two female singers, and there was one male singer. The male singer always - this guy Jesse Luscious always ended up naked on stage. It was a very memorable experience, you know, to see guitar strings that were - started kind of wrapping around my neck a little bit.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Seems funny now, maybe not so much then.

Mr. ARMSTRONG: Well, it wasn't - that was part of the downside, which when I was coming down, it was like oh, this is kind of fun, you know, but not really something I ever did with Green Day.

Mike and Tre, you know, they definitely did their share of playing. I think we played the Gorge outside of Seattle, Washington, on Lollapalooza, and they dropped acid then, and that was, you know, an interesting experience to see a rhythm section look at each other and giggle for, you know, 45 minutes.

GROSS: So the guy who used to take off his clothes while he was performing, could you ever imagine yourself doing that?

Mr. ARMSTRONG: Yeah, I did.

GROSS: You did?

Mr. ARMSTRONG: I used to do it a lot when - you know, right after "Dookie" came out. I was arrested for it in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I did it at Madison Square Garden, because I didn't know if I was ever going to play Madison Square Garden again. So I, you know, I said, well, there's one way to remember this occasion, is to be the guy who was naked on stage at Madison Square Garden.

And then, you know, and then it came down to a point where everywhere we played, the cops started showing up and saying, you know, if this guy gets naked on stage, he's going to be arrested immediately. You know, and sure enough, it happened eventually in Milwaukee.

GROSS: So what statement were you making by taking all your clothes off?

Mr. ARMSTRONG: It was, like, this non-statement statement. You know, I mean, there was no - I just was - it was, you know, old enough to know better but too young to care, you know, kind of attitude towards it.

GROSS: So let's hear another song, and this is "Give Me Novocain," and there's a line I particularly like in this: Bittersweet migraine in my head, it's like a throbbing toothache of the mind. I like the throbbing toothache of the mind. I think most of us have had a throbbing toothache of the mind. So "Give Me Novocain" reminds me of The Ramones title "I Want to Be Sedated." Were you thinking about that at all when you wrote it?

Mr. ARMSTRONG: No, I mean, that's definitely a kind of poetry that I definitely relate to, you know, a song like "Now I want to Sniff Some Glue" or something like that, it's, you know, I think that was a new way of, you know, writing lyrics and just, like, straight, right to the point, you know exactly what's going on.

GROSS: My guest, Billie Joe Armstrong, the front man of Green Day, will be back in the second half of the show. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of song, "Give Me Novocain")

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Im Terry Gross back with Billie Joe Armstrong, the front man of Green Day. The band's 2004 album, "American Idiot," which won a Grammy for best rock album, has been adapted into a Broadway show and is nominated for a Tony as best musical.

One of the amazing things about Green Day is that you met Mike Dirnt from the band, the bass player in middle school so...

Mr. ARMSTRONG: Yeah. Ten years old.

GROSS: It's kind of amazing, like very few relationships withstand the test of time from middle school to adulthood.

Mr. ARMSTRONG: I remember the first conversation we ever had was in -because we ended up in the same class. It was Miss O'Connor's class. And I met Mike pretty much the first week in school and then we, you know, he just ended up coming over to the house all the time and we just became really close. You know, I think somehow I think sometimes my father dying and Mike coming into my life at the same time sort of coincided.

But I think it was around we really - when music really started hitting us both together playing at the same time was around I think 7th grade. And we started learning like, you know, heavy metal songs together and just, you know, jamming together all the time. He'd come over with his guitar and I'd go over to his house with my guitar and it just sort of, you know, lasted till now.

GROSS: So Tre Cool, who's the drummer with the band, he grew up in an unusual way. He grew up in a home without electricity, no television, I dont know if he had radio or probably not a stereo or anything. So I think, stop me if I'm wrong here, that his father was a veteran who wanted to kind of like move away from the world when he got home and that's why they moved to like a mountain or something? Is that close to...

Mr. ARMSTRONG: Yeah. They moved up to the mountains up in Mendocino County, basically like a back to the land kind of family way, you know.

GROSS: I see. Okay. Okay.

Mr. ARMSTRONG: And I think Tre had a lot of freedom growing up up there and, you know, he didnt have a typical childhood at all, you know. I think, you know, if you talk to him and hang out with him for a while you would understand he's not a typical guy at all, you know. He's -but, you know, he ended up playing in a band called The Lookouts and, you know, the first time I ever saw The Lookouts play, you know, he was wearing an old woman's shower cap and he had like a tutu on or something like that, you know.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ARMSTRONG: And I remember thinking that he was an amazing drummer. So it was a difficult transition going from our old drummer to Tre, just because Tre was just a showoff, you know, and so it was kind of - but I knew that the way that he played and the different beats and the background and because he had a background in jazz and he could play any sort of particular beat or that you wanted that I knew I can - as a songwriter - I know that I can always write a song that he's going to be able to play immediately, you know. So it kind of opened up my world at the same time.

GROSS: Now when you started touring, Tre's father, your drummer's father, was driving. So, yes or is that incorrect? Yeah?

Mr. ARMSTRONG: Oh yeah. He started - well, we started touring in 1990. We, you know, we did the van tours first. This is before Tre's dad came in. So we did three, four tours before that and then when we got a little bit of money together we bought a bookmobile but someone needed to have a trucker license to be able to drive this thing. And so Tre's dad knew how to drive it so, or he had the license for it. So he became our driver when we were touring. We opened up for a band called Bad Religion, then we ended up going on tour all through, you know, the United States again after that in a bookmobile, you know, that we just converted into this little touring bus.

GROSS: So did it feel funny to be playing punk music and having one of the band member's fathers having to drive you?

Mr. ARMSTRONG: No. No. I mean Frank was - Tre's dad was, he was one of the guys, you know. There was no rules or anything like that we had to, you know, that most kids had to abide by so, you know, we just - it wasnt like he was, you know, he turned into everybody's parent or - he wasnt even Tre's parent.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ARMSTRONG: He was just, you know, he just kind of let us just roam, do whatever the hell we wanted. And, you know, we would go out and get tattoos and he would get a tattoo with us and he would, you know, it was not really like a, you know, a typical, you know, he was just, he someone that you could relate to. And I remember when this band Tribe Called Quest would go up and play during Lollapalooza and there would be these big low-end subs that would go out and it would just shake the entire backstage and it's just like this really boom, you know.

And I remember one time Frank going oh, I dont like that noise. And we're like why? He said because that reminds me of dropping napalm in Vietnam. And that was like, it was like oh my gosh, you know. So there was a whole different - he kind of added a whole different perspective and he wasnt just Tre's father but he was this, I dont know he was this kind of this cool guy at the same time.

GROSS: My guest is Billie Joe Armstrong, the front man of Green Day. We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest is Billie Joe Armstrong, the front man of Green Day. Green Day's 2004 album "American Idiot" has been adapted into a Broadway show and is nominated for a Tony as best musical.

Well, let's hear another song. For this one we'll go back to "Dookie," which won the Grammy for best alternative music album in 1994. And I want to play "Basket Case," which has a line about being neurotic to the bone.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Can you talk about writing this song?

Mr. ARMSTRONG: I remember that song being hard to write. It wasnt an easy song to write. And, you know, the lyrics kept changing and it started out as a relationship song and then it got the idea for it to be more neurotic and a panic attack song, and it seemed to hit home. And I didnt even expect the song to actually be a single. It was just seem like it was just a difficult song to play. But then, and then it got released and then, you know, I guess I was wrong about that.

GROSS: Well, it had a video too.

Mr. ARMSTRONG: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, a video. Like we were in a band in an insane asylum, you know, and that was pretty heavy to see just all the different, you know, there would be scratch marks on the walls of people trying to climb out and it was very like "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," you know, kind of moment. It was like, you know, there was - the ghosts that were in that place were just it was kind of terrifying really.

GROSS: Okay. So this is "Basket Case" from the Green Day album "Dookie."

(Soundbite of song, "Basket Case")

GREEN DAY: (Singing) Do you have the time to listen to me whine about nothing and everything all at once? I am one of those melodramatic fools, neurotic to the bone, no doubt about it. Sometimes I give myself the creeps. Sometimes my mind plays tricks on me. It all keeps adding up. I think I'm cracking up. Am I just paranoid or was I stoned?

I went to a shrink to analyze my dreams. She says it's lack of sex that's bringing me down. I went to a whore. He said my life's a bore so quit my whining because it's bringing her down. Sometimes I give myself the creeps.

Sometimes my mind plays tricks on me. It all keeps adding up. I think I'm cracking up. Am I just paranoid? Uh, yuh, yuh, ya.

GROSS: That's "Basket Case" from the Green Day album "Dookie," and my guest Billie Joe Armstrong is the lead singer, guitarist and songwriter for the band. And, of course, now on Broadway is the show "American Idiot," that's based on the Green Day album of the same name.

I'm wondering what it's been like for you to basically become a man on stage. In other words, when you started performing you were a teenager, you were probably in your 20s when the bad started taking off. Is that about right?

Mr. ARMSTRONG: Yeah, 22.

GROSS: Yeah. That's pretty young. And so, you know, and then you became a father, you have two children, so youve grown up a lot since you started performing. But, you know, a lot of your songs are about the questions and the problems of being young and of like, finding your place in the world. But youve kind of found your place. Youve grown up. Youre the father of two. Do you feel like youve been able to grow and change on stage? You know what I mean? Growing up - like becoming a man in a public way like that.

Mr. ARMSTRONG: Yeah, I think so. It's kind of one of those rare things. I think I've become better at being on stage through the years, especially right around when the record "Nimrod" hit. I think, you know, especially with big audiences there were certain things that I had to learn to, you know. I think there's a more of an emotional thing that happens at our show. It's not just about chaos and out of control and, you know, I think it becomes about people dancing and people having a really great time and knowing that I'm responsible for that.

So it's a, and it's become sort of this gathering and you see all the, you know, one thing about our show is that what I try to do is to have the dynamics of it. And I'm not just talking about when music gets loud and music gets soft. It's also I think like concerts for me they do become about anger. I think they become about sadness and then they bring you back to some sort of conclusion and the crowd feels involved. Its not just about the singer or it's not just about the band.

GROSS: Is performing cathartic for you? Do you feel like you undergo some transformation during the course of a concert?

Mr. ARMSTRONG: Yeah. I mean I think if there's a place to die then I guess on stage would be the, you know, it's like a lot of people would die in their sleep. I think I would rather die on stage. I just put everything I possibly can into a show, you know, and just make sure that I walk away with the same experience, you know, where I'm not, it's not just about the maybe the performance of it but it's like you sort of guide the audience too or where, you know, or where the audience has guided me to, you know, at the same time.

GROSS: Is it ever a problem that life itself isn't as vivid as life on stage can be?

Mr. ARMSTRONG: Sometimes its hard. You know, when youre at home on Sundays and there's not much going on, becomes a little tough, you know.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ARMSTRONG: I think because those are such extreme highs that you go through. It's an addiction, you know, being on stage. So finding those moments, it takes a lot to find those moments of silence, you know. Sometimes it's trying to find moments of silence when youre actually on stage where you look out and you go and you think to yourself I have to make sure that I am enjoying every second and just notice that no one is sitting in their seats.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ARMSTRONG: You know, everyone is up and I'm just trying to take it all in, you know. And then when youre at home, it's just trying to take in where it gets really silent and it's like whoa this is a kind of a mundane experience, you know. And it takes an adjustment. It takes me a week or two to adjust from being, you know, when I get home from tour. I mean sometimes I think Adrienne, my wife would, you know, she's like, you know, when you come home why dont you stay at a hotel for a week or something like that, just for the transition, you know?

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Like coming up from the bottom of the ocean and getting the bends or something.

Mr. ARMSTRONG: Yeah, totally.

GROSS: So you met your wife at a Green Day show. Was she a fan?

Mr. ARMSTRONG: I dont know if she - no I dont think she was a fan. She was just a girl in Minneapolis that was part of the Minneapolis-Mankato punk rock scene. And, you know, I met her, we played in a basement and she happened to be there and then we played at this place called the Varsity in Dinkytown a couple of days later and she showed up there and everyone was - we got everyone to come up on stage and start dancing and she was the only one sitting down in the audience. And she came up to me after because we ran out of - we had these EPs that we were selling and she asked me for an address where she could get one and then I just gave her my address. And then, you know, we started writing letters back and forth to each other from Minnesota to California.

GROSS: Oh. Interesting. And then you actually started spending time in person together.

Mr. ARMSTRONG: Yeah. We were talking on the phone and we were writing letters. And I was just like, I got to go back and see this girl. I haven't seen her since the summer before and I think it was around spring of '91 and then I had to see her again. So we had this mini tour. It was like five shows that we had to drive all the way out to the Midwest. We played in Beloit, Wisconsin, Sioux Falls, and then we played in Minneapolis and we played in Mankato.

And then she showed up in Sioux Falls, and then she just grabbed me. She said Billie Joe? And I turned around and my first, I was just, I had to remember what she looked like because I couldnt - it just didnt register at first. I remember her voice just from the phone. And she turned and looked at her friend and goes, he doesnt remember me. And I felt like the biggest tool at that second. I was, oh my god. I can't, you know, I was like, yes I do. And so we, I dont know, then we went to there was a dumpster out in the back and we just talked all night long and so that was 20, almost 20 years ago.

GROSS: Dumpster. Sounds very romantic.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ARMSTRONG: Yeah. Well, you know.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: And so you were sending real letters to each other, not emails.

Mr. ARMSTRONG: No. This was I dont even think I got an email address until about two years ago. So we were yeah, we were just writing letters and, you know, running up large phone bills.

GROSS: So I'm thinking about how much youve seen the music industry change. Like you started as this, you know, punk band and an Indie band, and now youve got a Broadway show and youve got like a new rock band video game coming out that will be called "Green Day Rock Band." So I dont know. It seems like youve seen both extremes.

Mr. ARMSTRONG: Yeah, it keeps evolving and I like kind of being on both extremes too. I would never abandon one. You know, I still, I love playing clubs and doing these different projects for something like the Foxboro Hot Tubs or Pinhead Gunpowder or something like that. It's just I still get the same charge out of ita and then putting out EPs and things like that. But I also like the opposite extreme of doing things like rock operas and getting into, you know, musical theater and, you know, and seeing where, what different formats that you could put records out on. Whether it's vinyl or a CD or digital downloads or a video game. So its a, I dont know and it just keeps changing and you just got to be open to those ideas.

GROSS: Well, it's really been great to talk with you. Thank you so much.

Mr. ARMSTRONG: Yeah. Thank you. Thanks for having me.

GROSS: Billie Joe Armstrong is the front man of Green Day. Their 2004 album, "American Idiot," has been adapted into a Broadway show that's received a Tony nomination for best musical.

You can listen to several tracks by Green Day, including "Basket Case" and "American Idiot" on

Here's "Welcome to Paradise" from Green Day's album "Dookie."

(Soundbite of song, "Welcome to Paradise")

GREEN DAY: (Singing) Dear mother, can you hear me whining? It's been three whole weeks since that I have left your home. This sudden fear has left me trembling 'cause now it seems that I am out here on my own. And I'm feeling so alone. Pay attention to the cracked streets and the broken homes. Some call it the slums. Some call it nice. And I want to take you through a wasteland I like to call my home. Welcome to paradise.

GROSS: Coming up, recently discovered and released recordings by an obscure band from the late '60s that our rock historian Ed Ward is a fan of "Louie and the Lovers."

This is FRESH AIR.

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