Oral History: Green Day's "Longview"

How a small Washington town inspired the song that brought Green Day to the world.

On Feb. 1, Green Day's monumental pop-punk landmark Dookie turned 20 and, subsequently, so did the single that introduced the band to the world. That was "Longview," a song about TV, boredom and masturbation, which helped make their neon-haired Nor-Cal punks globally famous. The people of Longview, Wash., a town on the Columbia River an hour north of Portland, weren't surprised by this-they knew the band members well. Bite your lip, close your eyes, and let us take you away to paradise, pop. 36,648.

"They'll never admit it, but we know it was our Longview. What else could it be about? Here's a place they visited every year for five years or longer." —Bruce LaVerne, 64, former owner of 13th Avenue Music in Longview, now Commerce Consign & Vintage Wares

"The story goes that they had this song written already but they didn't have a name." —T.J. McNeely, 36, former Longview concert promoter

"They came through Longview every time they toured, whether they played or not. They had a buddy named Mike whom they would stay with somewhere in one of the nice semirural neighborhoods outside town. They would stay at his house and play his backyard, where he had keggers. I know a bunch of people who were there, but I was not in that clique. I was too old."     —LaVerne

"I saw them when they played Cafe Forum. It was like [Portland's] X-Ray Cafe but not so dirty. It's now Lite Weights for Women, a little exercise gym for ladies only. I know they also played this place called the Rainbow Tavern. Now it's just a screen print shop called Bigfoot. I didn't go to those, I was too young." —McNeely

"They came in the shop. They weren't famous, they could be themselves and just be nuts back then. They're very short people. Billy Joe is like 5-foot-5. He's not a large human being, but when he walks into a room he commands the space." —LaVerne

"Longview has great audiences. The kids come out, they're appreciative. It was a mill town, and at least 50 percent of the town worked at the mills. You'd be surprised who'd go to these things, because there was nothing else to do." —McNeely

"They couldn't come back to Longview after Dookie. They sold 8 million copies of that thing [as of 2013, sales total more than 20 million], and every 14-year-old girl in the world would tear their clothes off." —LaVerne

"It pretty much describes every small town you've been to. But the line about 'unlocked doors,' that's Longview. And I heard it was about the hotel they stayed at, which was the Travelodge."     —McNeely

"Our friend/roadie Kaz Hope suggested we call our song Longview because the 1st time we played was in Longview Washington in spring 1992." —Billie Joe Armstrong via Twitter in 2011

WWeek 2015

Willamette Week’s reporting has concrete impacts that change laws, force action from civic leaders, and drive compromised politicians from public office. Support WW's journalism today.