Common cause

Even after Operation Ivy, Jesse Michaels is one of the Last Wave Rockers

Michaels isn't complaining -- he's honored that Operation Ivy still has such a large and devoted following -- but Common Rider is his new opportunity, not an attempt to relive former glories. If he wanted that, he would've gotten around to it sooner. While Armstrong and Freeman formed the platinum-punk Rancid and drummer Dave Mello founded Schlong, Michaels simply disappeared. Rumors circulated that he had renounced worldly possessions and retreated to a Buddhist monastery in Northern California. Or had he moved to Africa? Tibet? There was that most dreaded of celebrity rumors, that he'd contracted AIDS. "I did live at the Zen Center in Marin for a year," Michaels explains. "For me, Buddhism is a way to look at a deeper side of life. But I definitely never renounced worldly possessions."

The other rumors, Michaels says, are "absolutely untrue. I spent three years in Florida. The Berkeley punk scene was pretty crazy back then, and I wanted to move somewhere that was a bit slower. In 1993 I did this project called Big Rig. I lived in Pittsburgh." Michaels pauses briefly and shrugs. "You see, Tim [Armstrong] and Matt [Freeman] knew from a very young age that they wanted to be musicians. I didn't."

Jesse Michaels, right, looks more like a grad student than a punk rock icon.
Jesse Michaels, right, looks more like a grad student than a punk rock icon.

As for the success of his former bandmates and friends in Rancid and Green Day, he's sympathetic and supportive. "I'm happy for them," he says. "I totally support them and respect their choices. I know it sounds diplomatic, but it's true. They're still the exact same guys, you know? It's higher stakes for them now." Michaels cautions that he doesn't necessarily have the same aspirations as Rancid and Green Day, though new projects are in the works. Two new tracks will be featured on upcoming samplers from East Bay labels Adeline and Lookout, and a new album is slated for release before the end of the year. "I've never played a show larger than the Great American," says Michaels. "I might try something larger and think it sucks, or I might fall in love with it. One thing I'm sure of is we're going to perform, one way or the other. A lot."

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