Dear Dionysus XXVIII: Mike Wirnt

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Dear Dionysus XXVIII: Mike Wirnt

Dear Dionysus,

Things have changed quite a bit, but some things never change. For example, I’m still a kid when it comes to music. I still sing along at the top of my lungs to some of the same old punk rock songs and dance in my room when nobody’s around and practice rock and roll poses in the mirror. And I still get that same giddy, excited feeling when I hear a particularly good song for the first time and know that I’ve stumbled across something special that really resonates with me.

You may be the patron saint of song and dance, Dionysus, but I was rocking out long before I ever laid eyes on you.

The first band that really grabbed me, that really made me feel the music on a primal level and want to figure out how it worked, was Green Day. Don’t laugh, mate–I was only eight years old. Dookie had just come out, and like a lot of other young kids, I was way into it. I had no idea what they were singing about really (homelessness and masturbation weren’t in my lexicon), but something about the music had me hooked. Indeed, I had discovered my first favorite band, Dionysus.

Up until that point, my experience with music was limited to some classic rock and stuff like Sinatra and Christian worship music (thanks, Mom). Now, there’s nothing wrong with any of that stuff (except the Jesus jams), but it didn’t grab me. Green Day, on the other hand, made me think about music as a very real, very concrete thing that I could possess as my own– if I could only figure out how.

When I was twelve years old, my parents got me a bass guitar. This was a pretty big deal for me, as it was hard enough for me to convince my mother to even let me have Green Day cassettes in the house.* It was just a black and white Fender knock-off, but it was the raddest thing in the world to me. I wasn’t going to take lessons though. Part of the reason may have been financial, but I think the bigger issue was that I was too scared to play in front of another person. However, my father used to play bass when he was a teenager, so he showed me a few songs** that I proceeded to play over and over and over again.

But it just wasn’t doing it for me. You see, Dionysus, I wanted to be Mike Dirnt from Green Day. I knew that I could never be Billie Joe because I wasn’t frontman material and I couldn’t be Tré Cool because Mom said a drum set was too loud and the neighbors would get pissed, but maybe, just maybe if I tried hard enough, I could be Mike Dirnt.

Perhaps you noticed that I didn’t say that I wanted to be like Mike Dirnt or play bass like Mike Dirnt. This is because I didn’t want to be like him– I wanted to be him. Even at that young age, I would find people to admire and adore and then endeavor to become them. You see, Dionysus, I always wanted to be somebody else. I don’t know why this is, but the simple and lamentable truth is that I just never wanted to be me.

So I set about becoming Mike Dirnt. I went about this in a few ways. Firstly, I adopted, as best as a preteen boy could (I was too young to get tattoos), his style of dress, which was essentially T-shirts and Dickies and high-top Converse (at least judging from the album inserts). And secondly, I learned how to play every single Green Day song in existence on the bass guitar.

I listened to those Green Day cassettes on repeat for hours on end in my room with my bass strapped to my back until the tapes came undone and my fingers bled. And I learned every single nuance of every single note of every single song on every single Green Day record, love. To be honest, I’m still quite proud of this accomplishment, and I can still remember how to play most of those songs.

I was a pudgy punk rock impersonator of the first order, Dionysus, and I’m sure the entire neighborhood grew to loathe Green Day as much as I loved them.

After I had learned all these songs, I had no idea where to go from there. Should I just wait for the next record to come out and then learn those songs? I thought. Should I buy more pairs of high-top Converse? I wonder if I could convince Mom to let me get a tattoo?

It didn’t occur to me for a really, really long time that I could start a band of my own, Dionysus– because I was Mike Dirnt, and I was already in a band.

Even when I had the epiphany to start one (around fourteen), it never occurred to me that I could (and probably should) play some songs that weren’t Green Day songs. Of course my band would only play Green Day, Dionysus. What else was there? Luckily, I had a friend that kind of played guitar and another one that didn’t play drums but could probably figure it out once he convinced his mom to buy him a set and they both liked Green Day so we were a band.

Sometimes this honesty kick is a hard one, Dionysus. Because, honestly, I’ve done some pretty embarrassing things. Exhibit 2375: I wanted to call the “band” Red Night.

Get it? It would take me awhile to get the naming bands thing down, Dionysus.

But anyways, I had a band even though we didn’t have songs or play shows or do any of the things that bands do. I think we had one practice, which consisted of the guitarist and I getting about halfway through “Welcome To Paradise” while  the “drummer” just kind of watched us fumble the fretboards.

When it came down to it, I was far too frightened to ever imagine playing in front of an audience and could barely even play in front of my friends, so the whole band thing didn’t work out for me too well at that point. But that was all right, because I was still Mike Dirnt, right?

The thing about trying to be somebody else is that, in order to carry on the illusion, you have to raise the person to unattainable heights. They become greater than human, which is of course why you want to be them in the first place. But if you ever happen to meet them, it can be a very bittersweet reality check indeed. For one, you’ll probably realize that they aren’t superhuman, and for two, you’ll probably see that you’re not them and you never will be– in spite of the first realization. And now they’re not so far removed from you, which fucks everything up because the thing about escapist roleplaying is that it’s only a worthwhile endeavor as long as the worthy idol you endeavor to be is so far and away greater than your own mundane and insufficient self that you are able to lose yourself entirely in the vicarious delusion.

Did you get all that? Good–neither did I.

I met Mike Dirnt thrice, Dionysus. Well, between one and three times, depending on how you look at it. Let’s look at it, shall we?

The first time I was fifteen years old and he was playing a show with his side project (The Frustrators) at the Showcase Theater. I was standing near the front waiting for the show to start, and he came out of the dressing room door near the stage and walked right past me. I could have touched him, but of course I couldn’t: he was an ideal towards which I strove, and therefore  untouchable.

The Frustrators were really good, but I was fixated on Dirnt most of the time. I remember at one point he pulled a little bottle out of his pocket, drank it down, and then said into the microphone, “I didn’t know that iced tea came in such small bottles…”

Because it was an all-ages venue and that wasn’t iced tea and I suddenly realized that my hero (who was really me) drank and that I should probably start doing that somewhere along the line even though hitherto I was terrified of alcohol.

After the show he was hanging out at the merch table and I somehow got up the nerve to go talk to him and tell him that he was my hero and that I knew all of his songs and that he was the reason I was into punk rock and how I was, in fact, actually him.

That’s what I said in my head at any rate. What probably actually came out was me asking for an autograph in a shaky, scared teenaged voice. Regardless, he told me that he liked my Screeching Weasel shirt, smiled, and signed my show poster.

The next time I would see him was at a Green Day concert in San Diego. I lost my front row ticket in my excitement at seeing my favorite band and was nearly on the verge of tears when my father gave me his. He had to sit way back in the nosebleeds instead; It was the nicest thing he or anybody else has ever done for me.

I don’t know if they still do, but Green Day used to do this thing at every show where they’d invite kids up to play Operation Ivy’s “Knowledge.” I knew that fucking song like the back of my hand, and when it came time to pick kids, I was right up front. My eyes locked with Dirnt’s, imploring him to choose me. He looked back, as if to say that he knew I was the only one in the capacity crowd who could do the job.

And then Billie Joe picked some other kid who ended up doing a pretty good job, although I’d never admit it at the time. I could have been imagining things, but I still swear that Dirnt looked right at me and shrugged, as if to say, “Sorry kid, maybe next time.”

But I wasn’t Mike Dirnt, Dionysus, no matter how badly I wanted to be. Not even for a night, and the next time would be no exception.

I would see my erstwhile hero one final time, Dionysus. Years later, no longer obsessed with being him and no longer naive enough to try, I ended up right next to him in line at the Oakland airport. I was so drunk and torn up and existentially broken down by that point that I pretended I didn’t know who he was. We got on the plane and sat in separate sections, and my entire plane ride was spent in contemplation of where exactly everything had gone wrong and why I was so, so far away from the adolescent dreams I once clung to so dearly.

Three guesses which one of us rode first class, Dionysus.

</3 Sir Rateval Hurtlinge

P.S. I actually can’t remember the chronology precisely: The Frustrators show may have happened after the Green Day concert. Also, at that concert my brother caught Mike Dirnt’s pick when he threw it into the audience. It was green and had a turtle on it like the Dunlop picks, but the turtle had a mohawk and it read “Dumb Punk” instead. It was the coolest thing I had ever seen and that dickhead wouldn’t even let me have it.

P.P.S. I would end up hawking that first bass guitar years later outside of a pawn shop for twenty dollars so I could get well. For some reason, I can’t picture Mike Dirnt ever doing that.

*She actually listened to the record, read the insert, and then asked me if I knew what masturbation meant. I honestly answered that I didn’t, and then she reluctantly gave me the cassette. I think my youthful naïveté actually helped me out in this instance.

**”Purple Haze,” “Fresh Garbage,” and “La Bamba.”

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