Back in 1992 or so, my friend Kevin showed up to school with a tape by some random pop-punk band in his Walkman. They were called Green Day, and I’d heard their name a lot from their shows with other Lookout bands like Operation Ivy and Crimpshrine as well as some of the Bay Area crust/hardcore bands I was into like Neurosis and Stikky.
They were an integral part of the 924 Gilman St/MRR scene, and for all its many faults, that scene was truly something special and unique. Although I only went to Gilman a couple times, the culture of that era was incredibly influential and in many ways still the template for how I think and approach projects. It was DIY to the core, smart and focused not on the dumb, self-destructive stuff that kneecapped a lot of earlier punk but on CREATING things. It was fundamentally a maker culture, and that spoke to me on a very deep level as someone who has an almost biological compulsion to make things.
Anyway, over the next couple years we all watched as Green Day went from just another Gilman/Lookout band to the top of the Billboard charts (super weird but cool), and in the decades since then I’ve been stoked to watch them become one of the biggest rock bands of all time. The magnitude of their impact really hit me when I watched some middle school kids play a set of Green Day covers in the park last summer. Those kids were the same age as we were when we discovered Green Day in the “Kerplunk” days, and they’re just as stoked as we were when our bands played Green Day songs at high school talent shows – to see a band have that kind of impact across several generations is pretty incredible.
Don’t ask for permission
I’ve written about this before, but the importance of this can’t be overstated – this is THE guiding principle behind basically everything I’ve ever done, and the Gilman scene was without a question the spark that ignited it in me. I could literally write a book about all the ways the 90s Bay Area scene inspired me and informs my work today, but take this 7″ by Heroin as one simple example for now.
It’s printed on a brown paper bag like you’d get at a grocery store, screenprinted by hand in heavy black ink. It’s the kind of thing people do today because it’s cool and artsy, but we did shit like this because we were broke and had no idea how to get a record cover printed. So we just did something – sometimes it turned out amazing like this, other times it turned out shitty. But that doesn’t matter: the point is that we did something.
In a time where you can look up how-to articles and videos on literally any topic you can possibly think of, there is absolutely no excuse for saying “I can’t.” You CAN. Don’t sit around waiting for someone to tell you it’s ok. Don’t tell yourself that you’ll do it as soon as X happens, or that you don’t know how… just fucking DO IT. If you fuck it up then do it again, only fuck it up less this time.
Forward motion is the key.
Somehow or another I went to this show when I was in 10th grade- seeing my favorite band (Spazz) at the legendary Gilman was pretty much a dream come true and one of my fondest memories
At the risk of sounding corny, Gilman and MRR weren’t just a venue and a zine, they were the focal points of an incredibly passionate community of people who were on a mission. And that mission was to build the scene they wished they had, one based on the (mostly) shared values of equality and DIY culture that today are taken for granted but DEFINITELY weren’t universal at the time.
Here’s the thing about doing anything worth doing: it’s gonna suck at times. It’s gonna be hard and frustrating and you’re going to want to quit. But if you have a mission – if you have something bigger than yourself that you are driving toward because it’s what you believe in your core – then you won’t quit. You’ll keep grinding because you are dedicated to your mission, just like everybody who cleaned puke up off the floor of some DIY venue after a show, spent hours putting up flyers or folding and stapling zines (how I spent many nights when I was in high school), or took on the financial risk of putting out records to document a local scene that they believed in but nobody else gave a fuck about.
The cold truth is that if you don’t have a mission, then you’ll probably never amount to shit. If you don’t have a mission, then you need to do some serious introspection, soul-searching and exploration until you find it.
The nasty basement room with the filthy couch Billie Joe is sitting on isn’t a video set, it’s the living room of the apartment they actually lived in – and this is after they signed with Warner Bros and were “”rockstars”” according to the punk police
Be patient – hard work ALWAYS pays off
If you’re doing something cool and innovative, the fact of the matter is that it’s going to take people way longer to catch on than you probably think. It took 25+ years for the mainstream to start catching on to how special the Gilman scene was, bands like Black Flag and the Cro-Mags are adored by the likes of Rolling Stone now but were totally ignored when they were actually around, galleries didn’t give a shit about guys like CHAKA until literally two decades into their careers, and so on.
And by the time Green Day blew up in 94, they’d been a band for 7 years, eating shit and grinding it out one show at a time eating ramen and sleeping on the floors of gross punk flophouses next to a pile of barf with a moldy Amebix shirt as a pillow.
So don’t expect overnight success or anything remotely close to it. Expect it to be a long and oftentimes frustrating grind– but know and trust that if you stick with it, that the grinding WILL pay off.
I’m sure nobody in this obscure Redwood City band called Radioactive Lunch knows that their 7″ cover inspired design work I did years later for Procter & Gamble… but it did
And last but not least, it’s very easy to think that everything you’re doing is just a tree falling in the woods with nobody to hear it – to think that you’re putting all this work in for nothing, because nobody cares. But it’s not true– no matter how small your project is, there is SOMEONE out there who’s paying attention and you’re probably making more of an impact on them than you realize. They might be too shy to say something or on the other side of the planet, but I PROMISE you that they’re out there.
The proof is in this documentary. Aside from the big names like NOFX, Green Day, Rancid, etc the vast majority of the bands in this scene never really got attention on a national level, probably played to 100 people on a good day, and released nothing more than a 1000 copies of 7″ (and 400 of those are probably sitting in their basement today). And ditto for the people who put on shows, did zines, or had a label. In reality, it was a small scene that pretty limited reach at the time.
But these people made a difference in my life. They don’t know it because I never met most of them, but they did. And they made a difference in the lives of others like me and my friends, and I’d like to think we went on to do some pretty cool stuff that they’d be stoked to know was inspired by what they did 20 years ago. And I still hear from people who read one of my zines that I made when I was 17 years old.
We don’t all get to be Green Day, with an audience of millions across the world who listen to our every word. But you will reach SOMEONE and they WILL care, whether you know it or not.
You might not change the world, but you can and will change your own corner of the world.