'No racism, no sexism, no homophobia.' Green Day brought an inclusive culture from a Berkeley punk club to the world. 11 years since first discovering it, I toured and photographed the San Francisco Bay Area's Green Day history. The locations are strikingly normal, yet loaded with meaning for any fan. I hope my photographs can serve as an archive and documentary.
924 Gilman Street
The club where Green Day's career truly began.
‘Armstrong and Dirnt began living for their weekends at the Gilman Street Project. Run out of the back of a caning-and-wicker-shop, the club would go unnoticed by anyone passing by. For those familiar with the side entrance, however, the shop opens into a world that Armstrong refers to as "salvation": dilapidated wood floorboards; graffiti splashed across every inch of wall space; band after band with the look and sound of early British punk like the Sex Pistols and the Buzzcocks.’ - Rolling Stone Magazine, 1995
924 Gilman Street is still open with many new East Bay punk bands starting their careers under its graffitied rafters. Its original 'no racism, no sexism, no homophobia, no violence' sign now includes 'no transphobia.' The doorway is covered in the names and messages of mostly Green Day fans. Inside, you'll also find original 'Sweet Children' - Green Day's very first name - graffiti.
'That place and that culture saved my life. It was like a gathering of outcasts and freaks. It wasn’t about people moshing in a pit and taking their shirt off.' - Billie Joe Armstrong, 1995
7th Street warehouse
The warehouse squat Billie Joe had just moved into when he wrote Welcome to Paradise. Its bathroom was infested with rats, so he used a cat litter instead. It's also referred to in the Sweet 16 line 'throwing down a bottle of Olde English back in the warehouse' and inspired the 'wicked warehouse in Oakland' Brandon moves into in Spike by The Network. One of My Lies was written here.
‘Billie Joe left home at 17, and he lived on couches and in a scary live-work band space. He once lived in an old brothel and hotel, located on a desolate block in West Oakland under the BART trains.’ - Spin Magazine, 1994
The Ashby/Longview house
The Longview video was filmed in the basement here, where Billie Joe and Tré lived with another band called the East Bay Weed Company. Amanda - the subject of many Green Day songs including She, Sassafras Roots, Stuart and the Ave. and Whatsername - lived upstairs.
‘The record company guys would come to see us rehearse in the basement and their wives would go shopping on Telegraph Avenue. And when we went on tour we would come back to discover these crusty punks had squatted our place, and every single thing we owned was gone.’ - Tré Cool, American Idiots and the New Punk Explosion, p.82
Also known as Jingletown Studios, this is where Green Day recorded Warning, the Foxboro Hot Tubs’ Stop Drop and Roll!!!, the ¡Uno! ¡Dos! ¡Tré! trilogy and parts of American Idiot and 21st Century Breakdown. It got the nickname ‘Jingletown’ when the Foxboro Hot Tubs used it to cover up their identity. Fans might recognise the parking lot from ¡Cuatro!
Carquinez Middle School
The school where Billie Joe and Mike met.
‘Our school district went bankrupt, so they closed down the junior high and combined two elementary schools. We used to have to take the bus out there. First day of elementary school, I think in fifth grade, I was like the class clown - but Mike was like the class clown, so it was kind of like these dueling banjos that were going to go back and forth. What you get is Deliverance. Mike is my musical soulmate.’ - Billie Joe Armstrong in his Rock & Roll Hall of Fame acceptance speech, 2015
Where five year-old Billie Joe was taught to play piano and sing by Marie Louise Fiatarone and her husband. Look For Love was composed in the back studio, where walls are adorned with Green Day fanart.
‘Billie Joe’s mother brought him in because she was signing him up for piano lessons. Jim took one look at him and said, “He looks like he really belongs in show business. Why don’t you take him in the studio and see if he can sing?”’ - Marie Louise Fiatarone, 2006
West Oakland BART Station
The station referred to in the Welcome to Paradise line 'a gunshot rings out at the station,' since the 7th Street warehouse was by the BART tracks.
‘I was living in West Oakland at the time. It was my first time ever being out on my own, out of my parents’ house and I just tried to capture that feeling - sort of frightening but at the same time you come to the conclusion that it’s freeing and you can end up growing as an individual.’ - Billie Joe Armstrong, 2005
Rudy's Can't Fail Cafe
Named after Rudie Can't Fail by The Clash, Rudy's is co-owned by Mike Dirnt. It opened in Emeryville in 2002, with an Oakland location following in 2011. Sadly, the Oakland cafe closed in 2018, but Rudy's is still open and popular in Emeryville with options for all tastes. It's open every day until 1am and serves Mike Dirnt's Oakland Coffee.
Look for Love and Dookie were recorded here. Sadly, it closed in 2018.
‘[Fantasy Studios] definitely had that Seventies coke-y vibe, mahogany and strange dead wood around the place. We would go into the vaults and see all of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s master tapes. But I felt we belonged there. Our first album cost $700 to make. Kerplunk! was like $1200. “Let’s record these as fast as we can – because we don’t have a choice.” This time, I learned how to dial in good sounds, get the best guitar tones. I was able to take a little time doing vocals. I loved that experience.’ - Billie Joe Armstrong, 2014
Billie Joe's hometown and where Mike Dirnt spent some of his teens at the Armstrong home. It inspired Jesus of Suburbia. Green Day have also been photographed on the tracks overlooking the San Pablo Bay.
‘I grew up in a town called Rodeo. It’s right off the 80. It’s off the 80 at Willow. And it was the inspiration for this next song. This is Jesus of Suburbia.’ - Billie Joe Armstrong on stage at The Warfield, San Francisco, 2005
1-2-3-4 GO! Records
Green Day have supported this 40th Street store since it opened in 2008. Billie Joe built the stage with his son Joey, which hosted an ¡Uno! ¡Dos! ¡Tré! surprise show billed as a 'Bay Area Fan Appreciation Event.' They've played more secret shows there since. Eagle-eyed fans might recognise the bathroom graffiti from Billie Joe's selfie announcing The Longshot's first show at this store. The pop-up shop celebrating Green Day's show at the Oakland Coliseum was also located here.
Passalacqua Funeral Chapel
This chapel in Benicia gave the 39/Smooth song Going to Pasalacqua its name. The song title misspelled it. Green Day supposedly drove by the chapel while Billie Joe was writing the lyrics, hence the name. He also said 'this song is about revenge' before playing it in 2010, so he may have picked up on a funeral chapel for that reason.
'I toss and turn all night thinking of your ways of affection / To find that it's not different at all / I throw away my past mistakes and contemplate my future / That's when I say / What the hey!'
John Swett High School
Billie Joe and Mike Dirnt's first high school.
‘I had this kid in class who became a rock star. I remember Billie Joe well. He used to sit in my math class on the third floor of the ancient, run down brick building in the back of the room right next to the window. He had a perfect view of “Tight Wad Hill.” I don't remember if he was a good student... if he did his homework or got good grades. But I do remember him as a good person, he got along with just about everyone – except, perhaps, the vice principal – and he was pretty cool, mature for his age.' - John Goar, teacher, 1997
Art of Ears Studio
1000 Hours, Slappy and 39/Smooth were recorded at a now-closed branch of Art of Ears in San Francisco. Kerplunk was recorded here at Art of Ears in Hayward. All were produced by Andy 'Andro' Ernst. As of 2019, Andro is working on his own music before selling the studio and moving to Las Vegas, where he says there's a lively punk club.
C&H Sugar Factory
This factory gives Crockett the nickname 'Sugartown,' which influenced the line 'Sugar City urchin wasting time' in Tight Wad Hill. It also appears in the Nightlife lyrics 'sugar-coated halls' and 'this dirty city is my Sugartown,' most likely since Lady Cobra worked at Sugar City Tattoo in Crockett.
'A thrill seeker making deals / Sugar city urchin wasting time / Town of lunatics / Begging for another fix / Turning tricks for speedballs / One more night.'
Pinole Valley High School
Billie Joe and Mike Dirnt's second high school after moving from John Swett. Green Day also played an iconic show on the grounds here. Its sign celebrated Green Day as 'Spartan Alumni' when they were inducted into the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame in 2015 - despite Billie Joe's story of handing an EP to a teacher for it to be returned with red marks all over it.
Berkeley's iconic marina, with views of San Francisco and Golden Gate Bridge, gets a mention in The Ballad of Wilhelm Fink. It's a little-known song from the Fat Wreck Chords compilation Short Songs for Short People.
'Said that I'd meet you / At the Berkeley Marina / 3AM when no one will be found / All I got in mind / Is a Boone's Farm jug of wine / Smash a bottle in the parking lot / But considering our luck / We'll get busted by the cops / Instead of sex we'll go to jail / Another lesson learned and failed.'
Berkeley Repertory Theatre
The American Idiot musical was developed and opened at the Berkeley Rep's Roda Theatre. The premiere was on September 4, 2009. One of the theatre's promotional banners still boasts a photo of John Gallagher Jr., who played Johnny. Nearby is a sidewalk plaque celebrating Operation Ivy's Knowledge.
'It doesn’t make a lot of sense, but that’s what I love about it. When people see it, it’s going to be my wildest dream.' - Billie Joe Armstrong, 2009
Just five minutes down the I-80 from Rodeo, this housing development (and its hot tubs) gave the Foxboro Hot Tubs their name. Hot tubs are still dotted around the town.
‘The Foxboro Hot Tubs were a place we used to sneak booze and chicks into late at night. But most of the time it was just “dude soup.”’ - Billie Joe Armstrong, 2008
This popular San Francisco street is referred to in Misery, when the character 'Mr. Whirly' - a Replacements reference - ends up homeless and begging there.
'Mr. Whirly had a catastrophic incident / He fell into the city by the bay / He liquidated his estate / Now he sleeps upon the Haight / Panhandling misery.'
One of Oakland's major roads, this was also the name of a clothing line and record label owned by Billie Joe and Jason White. It released albums by Pinhead Gunpowder, The Frustrators, The Network, Jesse Malin, AFI, The Influents, Emily's Army, special edition Green Day vinyls and many more. The record label survived longer than the clothing line, but closed when Green Day parted ways with manager Pat Magnarella in 2017.
Alameda County Sheriff's Office
The 'facility on East 12th Street' where 'Jesus is filling out paperwork now' in Homecoming, rumoured to refer to Billie Joe's DUI.
'Jesus is filling out paperwork now / At the facility on East 12th Street / He's not listening to a word now / He's in his own world and he's daydreaming / He'd rather be doing something else now / Like cigarettes and coffee with the underbelly / His life on the line with anxiety now / And she had enough and he's had plenty.'
A Foxboro Hot Tubs song is about this dive bar near Lake Merritt.
'14th Street, booze and swallow / I'm gonna drown my sorrow / Dirty floors and sticky tables / For the willing and the able / All the zombies on a hot Friday night / Goin' down to the Ruby Room / I'm gonna meet my doom.'
Lake Merritt & Gardens
Oakland's iconic lake gets a mention in the Foxboro Hot Tubs song Mother Mary, along with the Gardens at Lake Merritt.
'Or we can take a walk around the lake / There's a garden in the park there / Under the stars next to the fireside / Anywhere is better than here.'
Powell Street BART Station
Green Day walk through this BART station in the When I Come Around music video. Billie Joe pulls one of the payphones off the wall during the line 'so go do what you like.'
Fans can re-enact the scene if they feel so inclined!
The 7-Eleven, Pinole
The '7-Eleven where I was taught' in Jesus of Suburbia, where Billie Joe worked for a while.
'At the center of the earth in the parking lot / At the 7-Eleven where I was taught / The motto was just a lie / It says home is where your heart is but what a shame / 'Cause everyone's heart doesn't beat the same / It's beating out of time.'
27th Avenue, Oakland
27th Ave. Shuffle by the Foxboro Hot Tubs is named after this street, probably because it was recorded at Studio 880 which is on 27th Avenue.
'Things are so much harder now no matter how I try / Junkyard days and toxic waste, still love is on my mind / I can see the ledge now / Golden Gate is falling from behind / Well, if you call this living I just wanna hang my head and cry / Voices in my head telling me that I am lost / Pills and alcohol are making me a lost cause.'
Before the release of 21st Century Breakdown, Green Day played the full album at four exclusive small shows in the Bay Area. The Fox Theatre performance on April 14, 2009 was recorded and released on DVD.
The theatre also hosted the Dookie celebration and 924 Gilman Street benefit gig, where mayor Libby Schaaf declared February 19 Official Green Day Day in Oakland.
Warning's cover shoot by Marina Chavez took place in San Francisco's Chinatown. All of the streets and alleys seen in the booklet can be easily found.
Hyde Street Studios
Green Day recorded Insomniac at this San Francisco studio.
'The fact that that album came out, like, a year and a half after Dookie was us trying to cut off the bullshit in its tracks and just keep making music. That’s all we wanted to do, keep making music. Sometimes I feel that Insomniac is the most honest record I ever made at the particular moment that it was written and recorded.' - Billie Joe Armstrong, Kerrang
Tight Wad Hill
A place where cheapskates and addicts watched football games for free. There's a famous Tight Wad Hill in Berkeley, but it's a lesser-known hill by John Swett High School that inspired the Green Day song. Since the school's football field has moved since the song was written, today's Tight Wad Hill probably doesn't look like the Tight Wad Hill of 1995.
'This is where all the losers, the cheapskates, would come up and watch the football games without paying for them. It's actually the best view in the whole place. A lot of tweakers come and hang out up here, the crank victims and stuff.' - Billie Joe Armstrong, 1995
This 40th Street guitar store, across the road from 1-2-3-4 GO! Records, is co-owned by Billie Joe. Walls are decorated with Green Day and other East Bay Punk flyers.
Jingletown and La Barca Market
Although the 'suburbia' that inspired American Idiot was Rodeo and surrounding areas, Jingletown - a real neighbourhood in Oakland - gave the album's fictional small town its name. La Barca Market, a store near Studio 880, appears for a few seconds in the ¡Cuatro! scene That Just Happened and is notable for having one of the only signs that actually says 'Jingletown.'
'Home! We're coming home again / I started fucking running / As soon as my feet touched ground / We're back in the barrio / And to you and me that's Jingletown / That's home.'
The Red Onion
Billie Joe worked at this diner opposite the 7-Eleven in Pinole. Also right by the diner are Pinole Library, Pinole Valley High School, Fiat Music and the mall where Jesus of Suburbia 'read the graffiti in the bathroom stall, like the holy scriptures of the shopping mall.' It's another snapshot of the sleepy small town life that influenced the song.
Both Sweet Children and Green Day played the Camel Barns in Benicia. Bands they shared bills with include Monsula, Separate Ways, Bumblescrump and Blatz.
'We used to play at Desba's house and the Camel Barns. We had great shows there with Monsula.' - Billie Joe Armstrong, 2011
The Foxboro Hot Tubs song Highway 1 is named after California's longest state route.
'I'm on a midnight death trip / I'm on a mission from God / A stolen car and a death wish / To hell on Highway 1 / Four on the floor, a hundred miles per hour / I'm gonna fly til the tires can't fly no more / I've got my booze, gonna make a racket / Nothing to lose but this straitjacket on too tight / I'm alive.'
The Coverups, a 'cover band that doesn't take requests' - including Billie Joe, Mike, Jason White, Pinhead Gunpowder bassist Bill Schneider and audio engineer Chris Dugan - played their ever first show here. At a later show, they held a raffle and gave away the Cadillac limousine they'd used to travel to their shows.
Opposite Pinole Valley High School, the now-closed Pinole Library is rumoured to be the setting for At the Library - in which a young narrator becomes infatuated with a girl he sees there, only for her to walk away with her boyfriend.
'Hey there lookin' at me / Tell me what do you see / But you quickly turn your head away / Try to find the words I could use / Don't have the courage to come up to you / My chance is looking a bit grey / Staring across the roomAre you leaving soon? / I just need a little time.'
This city northeast of Oakland gets a mention in The Network's Spike. Obviously, The Network have nothing to do with Green Day, but...
'If I would've known that I would've gone to Concord / What do you mean go back to Concord then?'
Telegraph Avenue and Stuart Street
'The corner of Stuart and the Avenue' is where Telegraph Avenue meets Stuart Street in Berkeley. The song is about Billie Joe's breakup with his ex Amanda, the girl who lived upstairs at the Ashby House, which a five minute walk from this corner.
'Standing on the corner of Stuart and the Avenue / Ripping up my transfer and a photograph of you / You're a blur of my dead past and rotting existance / As I stand laughing on the corner of insignificance.'
Rodeo San Francisco Refinery
The towers of Rodeo's oil refinery appear on the cover of Dookie. It also inspired the 21st Century Breakdown lyric 'my town is blind from refinery sun,' in reference to the polluted air Billie Joe grew up with.
‘We came from such a highly polluted area in Rodeo, California. It’s a refinery town and we ended up getting sent home from school because kids were having headaches and nobody could understand why, when of course, 200 yards away from the elementary school I went to was the biggest refinery in America.’ - Billie Joe Armstrong, 2005
Rod's Hickory Pit
On October 17, 1987, when Billie Joe and Mike were 15 - Sweet Children played their first ever show at a Vallejo diner, Rod's Hickory Pit. Billie Joe's mom Ollie was a waitress there and arranged the show. Its 30 attendees were impressed enough to invite them back.
Sadly, the diner has now been demolished and replaced with a Starbucks.
The Uptown Nightclub
This 300-capacity club on Telegraph Avenue, just a few minutes from the Fox Theatre, was the last place Green Day played 21st Century Breakdown in full on April 15, 2009. The Coverups also played here September 30, 2018.
The deserted road off Highway 4 that inspired fan favourite Christie Road from Kerplunk, also one of Mike's favourite songs. Billie Joe and Mike hung out with friends, or alone there and smoked weed. Close to the highway, it's still noisy and exposed, but only a few minutes down the road there's undisturbed silence. Despite the nearby refinery, the air is clear. Occasionally a train rolls by. It's easy to see why it was such a beloved refuge for the band. For many fans, it's not only a favourite song, but a favourite landmark.
'Take me to that place that I call home / Take away the strains of being lonely / Take me to the tracks at Christie Road.'
Christie Road returns in Outlaws, described as a nostalgic ode to lost youth and sequel to the 1992 track. 'I found a knife by the railroad track / You took a train and you can’t go back / Forever now you'll roam.'
Misión San Francisco de Asís
The When I Come Around music video begins and ends with a night shot of this San Francisco church.
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