“On Longview I used a Gibson bass. Then I broke the neck in half”: Mike Dirnt on the making of Green Day’s breakthrough single

Mike Dirnt of Green Day
(Image credit: Getty Images)

It’s the perfect musical success story: three guys get together, write a bunch of noisy songs, get signed, and wake up to discover their debut album has snagged Time magazine’s award for best rock record of the year. That’s exactly what happened to Green Day, the punk trio from Berkley, California. 

Dookie was a fixture on the charts for months and contains what many regard as the best of the early ‘90s post-punk, post-grunge songs by any artist. But what it lacks in stylistic diversity and sophistication, it makes up for in raw energy.

For bass players, it’s hard not to notice the album’s breakthrough single, Longview, which is built around Mike Dirnt’s catchy walking bassline. “That was me at the height of getting into jazz,” said Dirnt in the November ’94 issue of BP. “I had a friend who was a jazz guitarist and I was playing a lot with him out of the Real Book. I had a rapport with certain songs that I knew: Blue Dolphin, Domino Biscuit, A Train. And I’d go and play at little jazz pubs and stuff like that. So really Longview started as a jazz shuffle.”

Dirnt also told BP that he was tripping on LSD when he came up with the bassline. “For that song we had the drum part and chords worked out, but I hadn’t come up with a bassline. One night I dropped acid, and I was playing my bass flat on my legs. Bill came in and I said, ‘Dude, check out this bassline!’ It all came to me in one go; we let the rest of the song come very naturally, too. A lot of people seem to get a kick out of the sound – and they really notice the bass.”

During a 1994 TV appearance on Late Night with David Letterman, Dirnt was seen thrashing an aluminium-neck Kramer, an axe he wielded while his main axe at the time, a mid-70s Gibson G3, was in the shop. “The Kramer must weight around 20 pounds; it’s really sturdy, but it’s like a log with strings. I recorded most of Dookie with an ’85 Precision, but on Longview I used a Gibson. Then I broke the neck in half.”

Dirnt also confessed that he has no direct influences and has never sat down to work out bass parts from a record. “Doing that might have influenced me a little too much. I think my method has helped me to formulate my own style.”

That style involves playing with a pick, with most of the picking motion coming from Dirnt’s arm rather than his wrist. “A lot of pick players have really limber wrists, but I don’t – I just play really hard.”

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Nick Wells

Nick Wells was the Editor of Bass Guitar magazine from 2009 to 2011, before making strides into the world of Artist Relations with Sheldon Dingwall and Dingwall Guitars. He's also the producer of bass-centric documentaries, Walking the Changes and Beneath the Bassline, as well as Production Manager and Artist Liaison for ScottsBassLessons. In his free time, you'll find him jumping around his bedroom to Kool & The Gang while hammering the life out of his P-Bass.