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“I thought I was writing the greatest song ever”: Billie Joe Armstrong says he was on crystal meth when he wrote Basket Case lyrics

“As you know with drugs they wear off, and then I felt like I’d written the worst song ever. I felt like the lyrics were just embarrassingly bad.”

Billie Joe Armstrong on stage in 1994.

Image: Jeff Kravitz / Getty

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Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong has revealed that he was on crystal meth when he wrote the original lyrics to the band’s 1994 hit Basket Case. At the time, he thought he was “writing the best song ever”, only to hate the lyrics when the effects of the drugs later wore off.

What originally started as a love ballad was later picked back up by the band when they were writing for their third album, Dookie, and it evolved into a song about Armstrong’s experiences with panic attacks.

In a new episode of Song Exploder, the original demos of the track can be heard as Armstrong explains just how the popular track came to be: “I thought the song could have this intro that would be like a ballad that would blast into the full band coming in, making it like a rocker,” he begins.

“I did a beatbox effect with my mouth to create the drum sound. But the true confession is, I was on crystal meth when I wrote the lyrics to it, and I thought I was writing the greatest song ever.

“As you know with drugs they wear off, and then I felt like I’d written the worst song ever. I felt like the lyrics were just embarrassingly bad. I had a few songs before that I’d written on drugs but this one was the most pitiful, I felt. And so I just kind of let the song go for a while because I felt so gross about it,” he reveals.

Later in the episode, he shares that the songwriting angle for Dookie was to stray away from ballads and explore the emotions we face in regular life. Armstrong was between the ages of 19-21 during this time.

“We were leaning less towards love songs and trying to make more of a statement of everyday life and feelings and emotions that you go through that people can identify with. I think I just got the courage to get into it again and write the lyrics.

“It was the best decision I ever made, probably, as a songwriter. The approach sort of changed, [and] now the song was about panic attacks. I think I just went from there and started to piece it together.”

Armstrong says he dealt with panic attacks from as young as “10 or 11 years old”, and back in the 1980s, attitudes towards mental health were not as open as they are now. You can listen to the full episode below:

Dookie celebrates its 30th anniversary this February. Green Day’s latest album Saviors is out now. They are also set to tour later this year, where they will play both Dookie and American Idiot in their entirety. Find out more via their official website.

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