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It wasn't the mud, the stench, the emergency oral surgery he required afterward or playing to thousands upon thousands of people that Mike Dirnt of Green Day remembers most from performing at Woodstock '94.

Instead, tooling around in a golf cart got Dirnt's vote as "a major highlight" of the outdoor fest.

"Us and the Beastie Boys and the Breeders all had a big race and got in a big wreck, and we hurt Mike D (of the Beastie Boys)," the wiry bassist reveals as fans clamor outside a Cologne, Germany, nightclub in the rain to be first inside for Green Day's recent sold-out show.

"He wasn't hurt that bad," Dirnt continues. "He was sore. But it was funny. Green Day and the Beastie Boys almost killed each other. We were one inch from killing ourselves off. We were going head first, as fast as we could go — we were playing 'chicken' — and none of us budged, and we missed by one inch. Every one of us nearly s--- our pants."

In case you haven't been listening to the radio, watching MTV or checking out the charts, Green Day is an all-American breakthrough band of the year with its megahit album Dookie. Combining cheery, simple melodies with nihilistic lyrics and goofy stage antics, Green Day — consisting of Dirnt, lead singer Billie Joe and drummer Tré Cool — represents the 14-year-old boy in all of us, the class clown masking anger, smarts and boredom with amiable doofiness and silly faces.

The trio's silliness — exemplified, say, by Billie Joe's spitting up to the ceiling during a show and catching the remains in his mouth when it comes down — is part theatrics and partly an attempt to let the audience know that the guys onstage are just, well, regular guys.

How much more regular can they be? Green Day invites its audiences to heckle them, announcing at regular intervals throughout the show, "Hey, I'm a f------ moron, and so are you." And forget the stereotypical rock star excesses, Dirnt says, pointing out that the band frowns on star treatment like limousines. Even more important (to Green Day), Dirnt says, is making the crowd feel like part of the show.

"I think it's time the crowd got involved. That's your 20 bucks that went into that concert. Number one, you shouldn't have paid 20 bucks. Number two, you shouldn't have to idol (sic) somebody who's onstage.

"They are the reason, you're there," Dirnt continues, referring to the audiences. "It's not because you showed up because you wanted to have people worshipping you ... They're not going to put up with that any more.

"It's a little more difficult in Europe." Dirnt says of interacting with showgoers. "There's a language barrier. That taught us a lot about theatrics. You can't go up there and just talk your usual spew."

It's one thing to interact with the crowd from the stage where a performer sets the pace and the tone for whatever will come. But offstage, it's another issue entirely: Dirnt is clearly shy about wading into a crowd of concertgoers who have come to see him and his buddies play. On the way to an interview, he asks a tour overseer if they can avoid going through the masses huddling outside the nightclub's front door. And he acknowledges feeling "kind of trapped that I couldn't go out and like walk around the shows because I would get stopped by a lot of people" during Woodstock '94.

"I'm just kind of claustrophobic," he concedes when asked about the paradox, adding that fans he encounters tend to ask him the same questions all the time. That's why he does interviews, he says, so that the message gets to everyone.

Green Day makes no secret of growing up without in California. Dirnt and a sibling were raised by their mother who had problems with that Dirnt calls "a dysfunctional husband." Billie Joe's mother, a waitress, reared him and his siblings mostly alone. Dirnt is eager to explain that the facts of earning a living today contribute to the pessimistic slant of Green Day's lyrics.

"People tap on that 'slacker-Generation X' bulls---; we get plugged with that a lot," Dirnt said. "We're not slackers. We just realize that our reality today is a lot harsher. You don't understand what it's like to go to school and have the guy next to you say, 'You better give me something, or I'm going to blow your head off.' Or even go to school through a metal detector."

"You know, I used to work really hard not to work. It makes sense, considering I know I'll be dead in at least 100 years," Dirnt said. "What am I gonna do? Well, I might as well go out and start looking for something now that's going to make me happy for the rest of my life."

But there's also a hopeful aspect to the dwindling guarantees of a comfortable life. "In any type of recession, in any time of war, things like that, you get a real cultural outburst. I think that's really cool," Dirnt said, "and we're going to have some really neat things to look forward to culturally. So I'm focusing my energies toward that. I always have, anyway."

Constantly on the road since Dookie came out earlier this year, look for Green Day to soon take six months off to reassert their roots. Dirnt reports that Billie Joe will soon be the father of a son and Tré Cool has a baby girl on the way.

"We're going to go home and take care of business," Dirnt says. "If you get too far from where you come from and who you were and from what made you big, you become a parody of what you were. And that's wrong."

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