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How Green Day’s ‘Dookie’ changed a Pittsburgh musician’s life 30 years ago

A cassette tap on a shelf.
Derek Zanetti
Since it first came out in 1994, Green Day's "Dookie" has sold more than 20 million copies.

Green Day’s “Dookie” was the very first time that I ever discovered music on my own. Up until then, my only experience with music was from my parents. I grew up in a conservative Christian family and always felt like a bit of an outsider. My parents only approved of us listening to gospel tracks and music from the Christian Family Bookstore at Century Square Plaza in West Mifflin.

Then, one day at school, my friend Jake handed me a copy of “Dookie” on a cassette tape. He knew I had been struggling and feeling weird about not fitting in, and told me that this tape might help me out. It was the first time I’d ever heard loud guitars like that; fast and angsty music that I felt was speaking in a language I always wanted to use, but couldn’t find on my own; ideas and thoughts about not fitting in and about feeling awkward and nervous all the time. It was the perfect soundtrack to middle school.

Most importantly, Green Day was a gateway to tons of other punk bands that were making it big at the same time, including The Offspring, Rancid, and NOFX. It opened my eyes to a world I didn’t know existed and provided a community of other weirdo misfits to enjoy this type of music. It was a rabbit hole I entered that I’m still in now — discovering new music, listening to new bands, and going to small, DIY shows.

There’s something so simple about their drums, bass, guitar, and lyrics that didn’t overcomplicate things and gave me inspiration to pursue music later on in life. The most intriguing piece of it was how distorted and chaotic it felt — it was expressing through music what I was feeling in my mind.

A man making a goofy face holds a cassette tape.
Derek Zanetti
Derek Zanetti, a Pittsburgh-based artist and musician, holds his copy of Green Day's "Dookie." Zanetti says the album changed his life.

Green Day took me by storm and shook everything in my life at the time. It unlocked an unknown passion inside of me. I still think about the feeling I felt when I listened to “Dookie” for the first time. It gave me goosebumps. I’ve been chasing those feelings for the last 30 years.

Green Day has sold 20 million copies of the album, “Dookie,” and without a doubt is the most popular punk rock band of all time. Even the most hardcore crust punks from Polish Hill have to recognize that in 1994, Green Day changed the scope of music and punk rock.

If I had a time machine to transport back to 1994, I would tell myself not to stop looking for new music. It’s the most important thing in the entire world, and the community surrounding it is worth investing in and being involved with. I would tell my 1994 self that you can be punk rock, too, and think for yourself, challenge authority, make your own band, write your own songs.

Most importantly I would like to say thank you to my friend Jake whose act of kindness via punk rock changed my life.

Derek Zanetti is an artist and musician who was born and raised in Pittsburgh (technically West Mifflin). Since 2009, Derek has released music under the moniker The Homeless Gospel choir, and has traveled the world touring and playing guitar from solo living room shows to opening for My Chemical Romance at The Forum in Los Angeles — and everything in between. Derek now lives in Lancaster, Pa. and is still just as busy as ever hosting art gallery openings, working on his next book (“Jesus Christ Hotdogs”), and traveling around touring with his favorite bands.