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Intimate Portrait: Billie Joe Armstrong

Since 1991, NoCal trio Green Day has released six albums of raucous,irreverent pop punk that’s just tart enough to make you smirk. After afour-year absence, singer/guitarist Billie Joe Armstrong, 32, has leddrummer Tre Cool, 31, and bassist Mike Dirnt, 32, into unchartedterritory. Prepare yourself for Green Day’s punk-rock opera, American Idiot.

So the next logical step for Green Day was a rock opera?
It started out as a joke. Mike was alone in the studio and called meand said, “What am I going to do here?” I said, “Why don’t you write a30-second song?” So he did, and it was really good. I connected another30-second song, then Tre did, and all of a sudden it started taking onthe characteristics of a rock opera. You have to keep your sense ofhumor when you do something like this, because you don’t want it tosound pretentious. I like [the Who’s] Tommy, but it’s so literal. I didn’t want to write, [sings] “Here I am, walking down the stairs, preparing some food.”

The band has been together for 15 years. How has your relationship with Tre and Mike changed?
Before we started this record, we had to sit down and really talk aboutwhy we should be doing this. I love those guys, but it was like, “Howcome everybody treats me like a decent human being except these twoguys, who treat me like I’m 17?” We had to say, “Hey, we’re grown-upsnow, it’d be nice if we treated each other with a bit more respect.”Then we made love.

Do you look back at the early days and have any regrets?
I’mpretty proud of everything we’ve done. Even something like Woodstock’94 [where the band started a massive mud fight with the audience] welooked at as kind of a joke–like, this isn’t real, right? It’s, like,free love and Pepsi. And it ended up turning into something that reallylaunched our career.

Do you think that emo bands like Taking Back Sunday and Saves the Day are just watered-down versions of Green Day?
Well, they both have “day” in their names. They took one bad name and actually made it worse.

Your name’s not bad! Oh, come now, that’s a bad name. You’re puffing on a joint and going “Dude, you know what would be a good name for a band?”
I was, like, 16 years old! Now I’m stuck with it.

Considering the title of your new album, is it safe to say you are concerned about young-voter apathy?
No, because I can understand why someone wouldn’t want to vote. Thelast election, voting didn’t count. How can you send a message topeople that every vote counts, when obviously people voted and [theloser] got elected?

For many fans, Green Day has always been about personal angst. Did you hesitate before inserting politics into your music?
We’ve always been active in different political things, like doingbenefits for Food Not Bombs. When someone was looking at the [newalbum’s] lyrics, they were like, “You’re probably going to catch someshit.” I was like, “I hope I get assassinated for it.” [Laughs.]

You’ve been in the public eye for a good chunk of your life. How have we seen you change over the years?
I think I’ve changed in size. There was this fat Elvis period I wentthrough, and there’s a skinnier version of a fat Elvis period that I’min right now.

Was the “fat Elvis” period an enjoyable time?
I kind ofbecame everybody’s weird uncle. I was just drunk all the time andwearing a fucking leopard G-string. What’s not to love about that? So Icut back on drinking beer. I had no balance in my life–I had to starttaking better care of myself. Just going for long walks and listeningto Tony Robbins.

You have two kids now. Do you miss the days of decadence?
No, I still do it. I have healthy habits, not just bad ones. I think I’m doing okay. As soon as this Ativan kicks in.