10 Years Later, Are You Still An American Idiot?

Something everyone seems to be currently writing and commenting about is the anniversary of Green Day’s 7thStudio Album: American Idiot. And why not? Arguably it did put punk rock back into the social system, as well reigniting the band and creating their signature look that they are now most recognised for.
Being a teenager in this century has been plagued with political disagreements that have lead to the war in Iraq, but what century didn’t have it’s political issues? And what decade didn’t have bands writing about it all?
So why does Green Day’s album stand out so much? Honestly I believe it was due to bands now days being too afraid to speak out and risk losing popularity points with their fans and press. However, most people believe that Green Day’s career was heading downhill after the release of ‘Warning’ in 2000 (although my favourite album I must say!) thus had little to lose. Yet, personally it is these risks that make bands write their best works, the more heart and passion goes into the writing process if the artists truly believe in every chord, every beat and every lyric sung.
I remember this album being the very first album I purchased for myself (as it was for most people of my generation), being the ripe ol’ age of 10 (two years after it’s release) with her money crumpled up in her hands, desperate to make the right choice of album. I had listened to Green Day a few times, but didn’t understand a lot to do with the music, as this was the same year that I had picked up a guitar for the first time. It’s safe to say that it was the exotic cover that intrigued my curious mind…I know, I know don’t judge a book by it’s cover and all that malarkey but I was 10 for crying out loud (!)…Thus the purchase was made. It wasn’t until a few years later that I truly appreciated the work that must have gone into creating the album.
This is the album that put Green Day back on EVERYONE’S radars…let’s be honest everyone has heard a Green Day song before, whether they know it was in fact Green Day or not is another story…and the chances are that the song will be off of American Idiot…unless it is Good Riddance which everyone DEFINITELY knows but is always misnamed as Time of Your Life! It even got to the degree that the media questioned the release of 21stCentury Breakdown and whether the band had set the mark too high for any other albums to follow American Idiot!
The album even lead to the rock opera being performed in Broadway then eventually the West End, in which Billie Joe played the role of St. Jimmy for a while!
I had a chance to see the musical a few years back, and can safely say that the album works ridiculously well on stage, as if it was supposed to be made into this. Now don’t get the wrong idea, it is singing and dancing, but in the form of teenage anarchy; giving a light to the Jesus of Suburbia, St. Jimmy and Whatshername that the album couldn’t quite establish. After seeing it the albums story makes so much more sense and I recommend it to absolutely anyone, not just the fans of Green Day, as is it a compelling story of the duality of the mind and teenage consequences.
So should we take the album track by track? Yeah why not aye?

The album opens with the punkish  chord progression, followed shortly by the rebellious cry of “Don’t wanna be an American Idiot” immediately setting up the tone for the remainder of the album. Billie Joe, Mike and Tré aren’t taking any prisoners with this album, and they’re making it evident right at the beginning that they’re here to cause mayhem and bring to light the corruption of their America.

The album moves on to the almost 10 minute track of “Jesus of Suburbia”in which the band attempt something that has never before been seen in the music industry. On numerous occasions all the band members have spoken about the writing process for this song as well as the other 10 minute track “Homecoming” the story goes that Mike Dirnt came to the table with a thirty second song, that inspired Billie Joe to do the same; thus the band continued to write thirty second fragments until they believed the piece to be completed…”Homecoming” was born…then this process was repeated for “Jesus of Suburbia”. In this song the band introduce their protagonist The Jesus of Suburbia, arguably an average kid lost in the world, who ends up taking the more complicated route of life that revolves around sex, drugs and rock and roll (and not the good kind!).

Ahhh “Holiday” you cannot deny that this song is catchy, definitely one of my favourites off of the album. Upon close listening Billie Joe sings about political corruption once more, possible being more direct compared to “America Idiot” with lines such as
Bombs away is your punishment,
Pulverize the Eiffel towers,
Who criticize your government,
Bang bang goes the broken glass and,
Kill all the fags that don’t agree,
Trials by fire, setting fire.
What’s more focuses on his own distaste for this mentality, and how “it’s not a way that’s meant for me”.

This song is appropriately tied with the following “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” however this connection is most evident within the videos, however if you listen closely you can hear the two merge on the album. It almost mimics the consequences of “Holiday”’s America, how this can destroy the mind of someone who questions the establishment he has been brought up by, and how no one has the drive to correct it, how it can make him feel as if he walks alone”.
“Are We The Waiting?” perhaps acts as the moment of calm before the storm? As it is placed directly before the song “St. Jimmy” in which the Jesus of Suburbia’s alter ego escapes and becomes the more dominant force in his mind. Perhaps the members of Green Day are suggesting that this is what the America in which it was written was driving it’s youths too?
“Give Me Novacaine” tells the internal fight of Jesus of Suburbia, as he tries to make sense of the mayhem around him. He speaks of St. Jimmy as if he is a real person, saying Jimmy says [novacaines] better than airhe seems to have lost the boundaries of his two personas. That he is now willingly giving in to his darker ego.

Now the love interest takes the stage in “She’s A Rebel” as the to be Whatshername is introduced into Jesus of Suburbia’s life. In the stage production she is the one that breaks the trance St. Jimmy has over the protagonist. They share a destructive love that ultimate attempts to become pure, but ends with her leaving him. Yet, within the song “She’s A Rebel” Jesus of Suburbia is too hypnotised by this girl who’s the salt of the Earth and she’s dangerous” to the degree that he’s wondering, “is she dreaming what I’m thinking”.

“Extraordinary Girl” tells the struggle of the aftermath of infatuation in the relationship. How it can become more tedious and routine-like. Dramatically juxtaposing the wildness of “She’s a Rebel” it is at this point that the listener is made aware that the relationship between Jesus of Suburbia and Whatshername is doomed to fail, especially with St. Jimmy in the mix.

The following song “Letterbomb” could take several different meanings, revolution through the line “Where have all the riots gone?” however the female vocals of Nobody likes you, they’re all out without you having fun could suggest Whatshername pointing out all of Jesus of Suburbia’s faults. You’re not the Jesus of Suburia, St. Jimmy is a figment of your father’s rage and your mother’s love as well as she said she can’t take this town, I’m leaving you tonight”. But then again it could be his subconscious continuing to torture him. Instead this war within himself has lead to the self-destruction of his relationship and the life he lead at the beginning of album. Is the band suggesting the reason for his imploding is due to the establishment he was subjected to?

Pretty much everyone in the Green Day fan base knows that the song “Wake Me Up When September Ends” is about the death of Billie Joe’s father. However the video takes the route of the Iraq war, making an anti war twist. Either way the song revolves around the heartbreak and lost love of battle…whether it is a political battle or a battle within yourself dealing with grief, or anger etc.

The penultimate song “Homecoming” is the second 10 minute song that tells the story of the death of St. Jimmy who blew his brains into the Bay, stating that this suicide was the Jesus of Suburbia killing off the more hysterical side of himself. In the musical itself it follows the leaving of Whatshername, as he takes an office job after St. Jimmy’s death, but then discovering that this isn’t the life he is supposed to lead either. Instead he returns home “Homecoming” to the scene at the beginning of the musical, where the audience are reunited with characters he left behind. In all, the song attempts to summarise Jesus of Suburbia’s journey throughout the album, from his internal struggle of “Nobody likes you” to his friends lifestyle as a true rebel in “Rock and Roll Girlfriend” and how true rebellion made his life as amazing as it is today, compared to Jesus of Suburbia’s fake rebellion leading him nowhere…this song as well as being pretty much an autobiography of Tré Cool’s life.

The album finishes with the song “Whatshername” recalling Jesus of Suburbia’s encounter with the girl sung about in “Extraordinary Girl”and “She’s A Rebel” however he can “remember the face but cannot recall the name”. The Jesus of Suburbia is back where he started. Back at home. 

To me American Idiot feels relatively new, not like it’s been around for a decade now! Green Day have come a long way in the 27 years of being together. But their candles not burnt out yet. There are been rumours that American Idiot will be made into a feature length film, but has not been confirmed yet…honestly this will be the icing on the cake if it is made!
Mike Dirnt shares his views on the album on it’s 10th birthday…how do you feel about it?
Until next time,

Rebel Yell.

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