The Crawling Ear: the night Green Day and/or my friends inadvertently Punk’d me
Rumours of a decent support band drag James to a gig he otherwise never would have attended...
By the time I was a freshman in college, my love for Green Day was all but dead. The snot-nosed California trio that opened the punk door for me in the summer of ’94 had become utterly meaningless thanks to the passage of time and my continued exposure to much harsher and more obscure bands. I would have never admitted to liking them publicly and made sure all evidence of my GD fandom had been eliminated (i.e. giving my copy of Dookie and matching t-shirt to my younger, more pop-oriented cousin). Indeed, it would have taken an act of God to get me to attend a Green Day concert in 1998… or an unconfirmed rumor regarding an exciting and unlikely opening act.
The latter is exactly what happened that May or June (I can’t remember exactly; cut me some slack, it was ten goddamn years ago). I was hanging out with a few pals one afternoon when the subject of Green Day came up. At the time, they were touring for Nimrod and would soon be coming to the nearby metropolis of Orlando, FL. Someone blurted out a rumor that our personal favorite New Hampshire bubble gum trash punks the Queers would also be on the bill. Back then, word of mouth carried a little more weight. The Internet was years away from being a reliable source for anything, and the local newspaper carried no auxiliary information regarding the wacky carnival that would be this Green Day concert. Thus, I accepted what my friend spoke as very possible truth, despite the fact I sort of suspected he made the entire thing up to trick me into attending a Green Day concert.
The night of the show came and we barreled down I-4 toward what is universally accepted as the really gross part of Orlando. We still had no confirmation that our beloved Queers would actually be appearing at this musical review, but the promise that they might be there had been enough to get us in the car. Eventually we reached the decaying strip mall that boasted the Embassy, Orlando’s answer to whatever smelly rock n’ roll coke den sits on the edge of your town. The marquee told us nothing we didn’t already know (“GREEN DAY”). If we were smart, we would have asked Green Day bassist Mike Dirnt who the hell else was playing his damn show that night when our party turned a sharp corner walking towards the club and almost crashed right into him. Unfortunately, embarrassingly, I think we all became a tad star struck. I know I was. Aside from Robert Vaughn, this was the most famous person up to that point I had been within poking distance of.
We stood around outside in the parking lot waiting to get in, as most people tend to do before events of this nature. Patrolling the sidewalk in front of the club was the Embassy’s fat, petulant owner. He liked to hang around before concerts, teasing his club’s patrons between bites of a really gross sandwich. This night he seemed more irritated than usual. Darting his eyes around, gesticulating wildly to people – when I asked him who was opening this amazing punk rock show, he curtly replied, “a band.” It was around this time that my party began chatting with a few kids who had driven three hours from Tampa for this auspicious occasion. The rumor going around in that neck of the woods was that Chicago punk legends Screeching Weasel would be the surprise guests for this incredible night of mohawks and moshing. The plot was thickening.
Right before the doors opened, a neon green sign went up near the front of the club that finally revealed what band would be sharing the stage with Green Day on this muggy Florida night. The answer shocked us all: Superdrag. Superdrag, of “Sucked Out” fame, a hit song that came and went in 1996 like a 3 Ninjas sequel. Superdrag, a lightweight pop rock seventies throwback band who, it seemed, would be better suited on a bill with tepid post-grunge swill like Everclear or Bush. A giant WTF? was now looming over the Embassy, laughing a deep, earth-shaking laugh while we humans tried to process this strange, perplexing information. While Green Day wasn’t exactly lighting up my life at the time, I acknowledged they had security clearance for the government building that was punk rock. Superdrag, on the other, wasn’t even allowed on the premises. A small wave of anger washed over me, my friends, and pretty much everyone within a five mile radius.
It was then that I realized why the sullen figure with the Moe Howard haircut peering out the window of the giant tour bus parked next to the Embassy looked so familiar: it was Superdrag singer Tom Pappas, and he looked like he wanted to kill himself. I don’t know if this was the start, middle, or end of the tour, but I could tell by the muted pain on his face that Superdrag had already faced the wrath of Green Day fans at least once before. I wondered if his band’s name was being purposely suppressed on this Nimrod jaunt. Would anyone who was actually into Superdrag know about these shows? Would it just be an endless parade of pissed-off blue-haired teenagers for these Tennessee-based quasi-hispters? That would most assuredly suck for them. At one point, Tom’s glazed over eyes met mine. I gave him the “What’s up, dude?” head nod. He slowly waved back, like an innocent man on death row half an hour away from being gassed.
I’m making Superdrag look a little bit like martyrs here, but the fact is they kind of screwed themselves when they took the stage that night and played “Sucked Out” three songs into their detached, bitter set. Obviously that was the only tune any Green Day fan in attendance gave a shit about, and they gave it away up front. After that, it was just a hail of plastic cups and spit for the wide lapelled retro rockers. Maybe that’s the way they wanted it. Maybe Superdrag just didn’t care and were purposely committing musical suicide. I can’t say for sure, and the world will probably never know. I say this because I attempted to interview the members of Superdrag a few years later specifically about this confusing night for a long-forgotten rock e-zine. They initially agreed to the interview, but once they saw my questions (sample: “What the hell were you thinking playing ‘Sucked Out’ so early in your set?”), they cut off all contact with me. It’s understandable. The memories could be too painful.
As for Green Day, my pretensions melted away the second Tre Cool came dashing out on stage with his arms spread out like airplane, pretending to soar around as Devo’s “Whip It” blasted out over the house system. These guys were fun, and after their boisterous, rollicking set, I never pretended to not like them again.
Another thing I never did after that night was get to the bottom of the wild Queers rumors that surrounded this show in the first place. Since I hate admitting I’ve been duped and that my friends are capable of orchestrating such elaborate pranks, I’ll just blame it on Osama bin Laden. Goddamn terrorist asshole.
James’s Crawling Ear will be back next Wednesday; read his last column here.