All art recycles ideas constantly; the trick is in recycling them in ways that actually feel new instead of derivative. As a 12-year old in 1994, I can verify that Green Day felt like something new even though we didn't understand how or why. At that point, we were about three years into the new era of music and youth culture that Kurt Cobain hath wrought, and we were already being described as the generation that didn't care. (I guess that's marginally better than the current generation, which is undoubtedly the generation that hates everything.) For people just becoming teenagers at the time, it was a bit troubling, because we weren't even old enough to have figured out what we were supposed to care about.
Good punk music generally arrives out of a dissatisfaction with a status quo. In England in the '70s, it was mostly Thatcherism and the class & economic separations of the people, while at the CBGB's scene of New York, it was mostly about the boringness of the rock and roll being ushered in by prog, disco, singer/songwriters, "classic" rock, and pretentious Led Zeppelin drum solos. Those things all sustained punk for several years, and then in the '80s MTV provided whatever motivational fodder was still needed. But Green Day retroactively feels like the first punk band to capture the dissatisfaction of just being dissatisfied.
"Welcome to Paradise" is my favorite song on Dookie for a few reasons. Sonically, the opening riff is both the most immediate one on the album and the most visceral. It just sounds like punk music in a nutshell. You could play it for someone that didn't have any idea what punk sounded like and they'd fundamentally understand the style within four seconds. In that sense, I was probably going to like this song regardless of its lyrical content, but growing up in Muncie, IN really sealed the deal. As far as I knew at the time, in my sheltered laboratory school life, Muncie didn't have any crack streets or broken homes, but it sure as hell felt like a wasteland, and that's a sensation that would only grow and fester over the years.
What Green Day did with this song, and the entire Dookie album, was tap into a collective feeling that the youth of this country was experiencing, make it sound hostile enough to feel dangerous and alienating to our parents, and yet somehow also catchy enough to be really enjoyable to listen to. Basically, it's music that felt universal and exclusionary and fun. Not an easy combination. The other best songs on the album, "Longview" and "Basket Case," were (respectively) about being so bored that even masturbation and channel flipping had lost their luster, and about appearing crazy to everyone else even though you feel completely normal. It was music that somehow felt like it was speaking to just us, even though it was collectively hitting us all at once. And by the time Green Day became superstars a few months later, it caught us all by such surprise that any backlash would have felt unfair. And it just wasn't a backlash kind of era.
Dookie came out around 18 years after the advent of punk music, and around 16 years after the advent of pop-punk. They were not a sonically original band, but their repackaging of older sonic ideas with lyrical themes that were distinctly of their time was a breath of fresh air, even to nascent teenagers of the time who didn't have the requisite knowledge to recognize whether something was repackaged or not. And regardless, some things are just fundamentally exuberant enough to transcend a lack of originality.
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