Billie Joe Armstrong holds nothing but affection towards Nirvana, and he even referred to them as his generation’s version of The Beatles, which is about as high praise as one could possibly give in the realm of rock and roll.
Armstrong only had one encounter with Nirvana, and bizarrely, they were the ones who came out to watch Green Day rather than vice versa. This came before his group had truly established themselves and played shows in whatever places would have them. Whereas Nirvana were on the brink of becoming superstars, and their ascent looked clear.
It was before the release of Nevermind, and Kurt Cobain could still enjoy a normal life before fame would stop him from being able to do the little things like watching a punk-rock show. Following the stratospheric success of the album, Cobain would be harassed wherever he went, and things like seeing a new, exciting band like Green Day were a thing of the past.
“We were playing Evergreen College in Olympia, Washington, like in 1991 and him [Kurt Cobain] and Kathleen Hanna were up front getting drunk,” Armstrong later reminisced. “We were playing, like, someone’s house, like a co-op or something. It was before Nirvana blew up. At that point, they put out Bleach and a couple of singles from Sub Pop.”
Armstrong fully bought into what Nirvana had created, and Nevermind marked a critical moment in his life. Even though it wasn’t the trio’s debut album, it was an evolution for the group, and the Green Day frontman finally felt like his generation had a band that spoke for them.
In 2014, Armstrong opened up about his relationship with the group, two decades after Cobain’s death. “You know, the guy just wrote beautiful songs. When someone goes that honestly straight to the core of who they are, what they’re feeling, and was able to kind of put it out there, I don’t know, man, it’s amazing.”
He added: “I remember hearing it when Nevermind came out and just thinking, we’ve finally got our Beatles, this era finally got our Beatles, and ever since then it’s never happened again. That’s what’s interesting. I was always thinking maybe the next 10 years. OK, maybe the next 10 years, OK, maybe. … That was truly the last rock ‘n’ roll revolution.”
Although Nirvana were a lot grittier than The Beatles, Cobain’s ear for melody was an underappreciated vital element in his artistic arsenal and he drew direct influence from the band. However, the comparison by Armstrong was largely related to their cultural impact rather than similarities in their sound.
Like ‘The Fab Four’, they stood for something, oozed integrity, and their importance transcended music. It remains to be seen whether we’ll see another rock and roll revolution on that scale again, but here’s hoping.