Reading time: 6 minutes
By Alice Austin
It all started when I picked up a Green Day CD at the colossal HMV in Singapore. My mum says that I left our house in London as her little girl and returned from visiting my dad an angry little grunger.
By the time I’d returned home that summer of 2002 it was too late. I was completely in love with Green Day. I would sit next to the CD player in my room and listen to Shenanigan’s, a collection of Green Day B-sides and covers, over and over again. I’d stare at the album art completely besotted with every one of them. I bought a drum pad and sticks and obsessively drummed along to each of their songs every night, not wanting to talk to anyone, especially my mum. I’d discovered Green Day. I wanted to be left alone.
I was delighted to discover that the band recorded audio messages on their official website. I spent hours listening to them talk nonsense and make in-jokes. As I got to know their individual personalities I became more infatuated.
I was ecstatic when I listened to an old message from the drummer, Tré Cool, announcing a Hotmail address for his fans to write to him. I wrote a gushing email telling him how much I loved Green Day, how I was their biggest fan, had started to play drums because of him. I clicked Send and went about my day, chatting to my mates on MSN and watching Finding Nemo for the millionth time.
When I checked my inbox the following day the last thing I expected to see was an email from Tré Cool. But it was there. My heart stopped. My hands were shaking so much I could barely click to open it. Tré Cool thanked me for my email, said he loved catching up with his fans and was really happy to meet me. He asked where I’m from and what my favourite Green Day album is.
I almost vomited with excitement. I charged down the stairs to tell my mum that Tré Cool had emailed me back. I could hardly breath. My mum was confused. I sprinted back upstairs, two at a time, to respond to Tré. I gushed out answers to his questions and pressed send. I could barely sleep that night.
The next morning at school I told all of my friends. None of them believed me until we snuck into the IT room at lunch and I opened my emails to show them. And there was another email from him. We all shrieked.
As the weeks continued I became used to having an email from Tré in my inbox every day. My heart jumped into my throat every single time, but I came to expect his responses. He was very friendly, interested in what I was doing, funny, kind. Eventually he asked if I had MSN and if I wanted to chat there. I said yes, yes I do have MSN Tré Cool. Same email address – firstname.lastname@example.org. Add me.
So Tré Cool from Green Day and I started chatting on MSN. After a little while he added me to a big group chat full of people I didn’t know. “Guys this is my new friend Alice!” Tré announced.“Heyyyy Alice!” “Hi Alice!!!” “Heeyoooo!”
I typed a shy greeting and then sat back to watch a steady flurry of excitable in-jokes pop-up on my screen. I slowly adjusted to who and what everyone was.
The MSN group consisted of about 5 girls of around my age from all around the world. One was from Sydney, one from Colorado, one from Norfolk, one from Croydon in South London (not far from me), a girl from Portsmouth and, of course, Tré Cool from Green Day.
The conversation was usually about Green Day, what they were up to, their latest news and music. A lot of it was dominated by the girl from Portsmouth. Her name was Lauren and, as it turned out, she was the niece of the lead singer of Green Day – Billie Joe. Her and Tré chatted like old mates.
Shortly after I joined this online community Tré Cool introduced two new key players to our MSN conversation – Mike Dirnt and Billie Joe Armstrong. The remaining members of Green Day. “Heyoooo!” They said. I was unspeakably excited.
I’ll try to articulate the intricacies of this small online community of Green Day and fans. One example is they were very disapproving of text-speak. My ‘how r u?’ Quickly turned into ‘How are you?’ This did amazing things for my grammar; my marks in English shot up.
I would sit at the clunky desktop computer in the playroom of my house and chat online for hours a day. Slowly I realized that everyone was in love with everyone else. Ruth, from Norfolk – her and Billie Joe were an item. They loved each other, they were a thing. But then Maya from Sydney started chatting to Billie Joe more and more and he started to develop feelings for her. And then they had to break it to Ruth that, well, him and Maya loved each other now! But Billie Joe loved them both! He didn’t know what to do. These are the kinds of things we discussed.
Another example. Lauren from Portsmouth was bi-sexual. She loved Sally from Croydon! Sally wasn’t sure how she felt about it, did she love Lauren? They would talk throughout the night, trying to make sense of all these complicated feelings.
The best one, the absolute best one, was that actually, actually Billie Joe and MIKE DIRNT were bi-sexual and they were in love. (I printed that conversation out and saved it and I swear it might still be in the cupboard at my mum’s house, I’m going to hunt for it next time I’m there.)
I became close friends with the other girls in the group. One afternoon Ruth came down from Norfolk and me, Sally and her went shopping on Oxford Street together. I didn’t tell my mum they were off the internet. Another time Lauren came along too. We talked about her uncle Billie Joe from Green Day and the last time she saw him. We adored spending time with her because she knew them, she was flesh and blood. I caught Lauren staring lovingly at Sally a few times.
The following summer I was at my dad’s house in Singapore again. One evening my mum phoned him to tell him I was spending way too much time online. It was back in the day when the internet and the phone line were mutually exclusive and the phone made that EEEEEEEOOOOOEEEEEEE noise. My mum was sick of not being able to talk to her pals on the phone because I was on the internet all the time.
My dad told me that when I returned to London, my mum would have put a lock on the playroom door. I could only chat to my online friends for 1 hour a night.
I went full-on nuts. I was completely obsessed with the entire fiasco and was staying up talking online til 3am most nights. I was exhausted at school but this was my priority. They were magical and exciting and me and Tré were kind of in love these days and HOW could she??? How could she do this to me?
When I got back to London I commenced a straight-up military operation to get into the playroom after hours. Not only had my mum screwed a padlock onto the door but she’d taken away the internet modem. So I found a screw driver in one of the drawers in the kitchen and used my pocket money to buy an internet modem from PC World.
I shit you not, every evening of Year 9 I’d pretend to go to bed, wait until my mum went to sleep, and then take my secret spare modem and screwdriver and BREAK IN to my own playroom. I’d turn the computer on, terrified that the ‘VROOM’ of the 2003 desktop starting up would wake my mum, and would proceed to chat to Green Day and fans until 3 or 4am in the morning. I’d get up for school and go about my day until evening time where I would do it all over again.
It took a surprisingly long time (1.5 years) to figure out that we absolutely were not talking to the real Green Day.
It’s hard to pinpoint what made us realise this. Perhaps it was the fact that Green Day were 32 years old and had wives and young children. Perhaps it was because Sally and I had been to a Green Day concert and found it weird that we weren’t put on guest list. Perhaps it was because a successful band wouldn’t be online so regularly. Or perhaps it was because obviously, obviously, it was not fucking Green Day.
Me and the rest of the girls conducted the second military operation of this story – to find out who had been pretending to be Green Day all along. We did some sly questioning, a cheeky bit of email hacking and lots and lots of frantic discussing at 2am after my nightly play room operation. It didn’t take us long and we didn’t need much proof to figure out that it was Lauren.
Somehow she’d hacked into the Hotmail account of the real Tré Cool from Green Day. When I’d emailed him, the audio message he’d left was about a year old. She must have seen it as a monumental catfishing opportunity, too good to miss, and hacked into it after the frantic fan-mail had calmed down.
But honestly that’s not the most important part of the story. How did it change the course of my entire life? Well, Sally and I became real-life friends after all we’d been through together. One weekend, shortly after we’d realized that we’d spent 10% of our lives on earth being catfished by a fake Green Day, Sally invited me around to her house for dinner in Croydon. I went along and met a few of her friends. I was unbearably shy, they were all about a year older than me. They were all really mean to each other and I found it hilarious. I wanted to spend more time with them.
The next weekend I went along with them to a pub in Croydon called The Harp. There I met more of their friends. I was drinking snake bites and trying to smoke cigarettes. I was snogging emo boys and talking about new bands that weren’t Green Day.
Every weekend from then on was full of The Harp, Croydon, snake bites and Sally’s friends who were becoming my friends. The extended group was around 30 people, all of them went to various schools in Croydon. I slowly stopped spending time with my school friends and solely spent time with these friends. I even decided to go to university with one of my Croydon pals. 14 years later they’re still my best friends. I went to Sally’s wedding in February.
When I first met everyone in Croydon I was too embarrassed to tell the truth. I told everyone Sally and I met at a gig. But more and more recently I’ve been asked how it is I know everybody. I didn’t go to the same school; I didn’t go to university with everyone, I’m not even from Croydon. So how do I know you? And I’m like… got a minute? I think you better sit down.