“Don’t want to be an American Idiot.”
It’s September 21st, 2014 and I’m a 26 year old adult, sitting on the couch in my adult apartment, cracking open an adult beverage, trying to figure out how the hell those words are 10 years old. Could it really be 10 years ago today that Green Day’s American Idiot came out and blew my 16 year old mind, becoming my all time favorite album? It feels like yesterday and a whole lifetime ago all at once.
“I’m the son of rage and love, the Jesus of Suburbia.”
It’s sometime in the Spring of 2004 and I’m a pop-punk loving 16 year old high school sophomore. Like most kids my age, I’m full of overblown existential angst about the world around me, always complaining how no one understands me (it’s a good thing I’ve totally grown out of that… Right? Right? Anyone?). On top of all that typical teenage drama, it’s only been three years since 9/11, an event that re-shaped the entirety of my psyche. Watching 3000 people die on television, in my own city rocked me to my very core. Then suddenly America was at war, and I found myself terrified at just now much I disagreed with it but I had no idea how to express it. Also, much less seriously, like most kids that age, I spent a shit-ton of time at the mall. On one of those mall-Saturdays I was shopping at Hot Topic (It was 2004, and I was an emotive kid into pop-punk, where did you think I shopped?) I was looking for a Green Day tee-shirt, as I’d been into them for a few years at that point thanks to owning the International Superhits compilation. Now in all fairness, the store was probably just sold out of GD shirts that day, as I’m pretty sure they did carry them. But I still asked the young clerk if they had any, and his response achieved mythical status among my certain friends of mine thanks to the ubiquitous amount of Green Day merchandise that would clog the store’s shelves a few months later. He looked me in the eyes and said “Green Day’s over man. You should grab a Good Charlotte shirt, that’s the future of punk.”
“I walk a lonely road, the only one that I have ever known…”
It’s September of 2004, and I’m about to listen to a burnt copy (Shh, nobody tell Reprise) of American Idiot. The title track had come out the month before and frankly hadn’t blown me away. It was a good song, no question, but it was a tad simplistic and the political message, while one I agreed with, was way too blunt. With that in mind, I spun the CD-R for the first time. The title track went by like I thought it would, then the opening of Jesus of Suburbia exploded through my headphones. From the opening lyric of “I’m the son of rage and love, the Jesus of Suburbia” I was hooked. I even gained a new respect for the title track became obsessed with American Idiot that day, and remained so for most of the fall of 2004 and winter of 2005. I listened to the album 2 or 3 times a day, and once I got an actual copy for Christmas, I obsessed over the intricate liner notes. I ranted to anyone who would listen about how the record wasn’t the hour of Bush-bashing the media portrayed (the only two truly political tracks are the title track and Holiday) but rather used the post 9/11 Bush Administration motif as a canvas to paint a tale of youthful disillusionment. I even came up with own interpretation of the (loose) narrative of the album. In my mind, the Jesus of Suburbia character left the suburb he was stuck in, went to the big city, met a girl, fell in love with her, she left him, he had a mental breakdown (possibly involving drugs, though that wasn’t integral in my mind) revealing the destructive St. Jimmy part of his personality, eventually he hits rock bottom, goes home and falls back into his old life, but never truly stops pining for Whatshername. Yeah, I really had way too much time on my hands, though to be fair it’s not that far off from the plot of the Broadway version.
“Starry night, city lights coming down over me”
It’s September 1st, 2005 and I’m sitting with my dad and my then (and now, and hopefully forever) girlfriend watching Green Day tear through a stadium set on the American Idiot Tour. I’d been to a few concerts before, but this was the first time I was going to one hell-bent on hearing material from the album the band was touring in support of. I’m sure that sounds insignificant to people who aren’t music/concert dorks, but it was a huge deal to me for some reason. The emotional high point of the show was easily Wake Me Up When September Ends. Not only was it literally the first of September (as lame as that sounds, it did give the song extra resonance) but it happened to be the day after I’d started senior year of high school. The melancholy wistfulness of that track fit my mood perfectly, something it would do again years later.
“Tell me that I won’t feel a thing, give me novacaine.”
It’s November of 2006, and I’m freaking out in my dorm room. Two and a half months into college and I’d hit a bit of a breaking point working on my first truly big college paper. In retrospect I can’t remember what exactly I was having trouble with, but I became almost catatonic with nerves. The only thing that kept me going was Give Me Novacaine on repeat for about 4 hours straight. Since the song wasn’t a single or a live staple it’s a bit overlooked by a lot of people, but for my money there very few songs that describe desperation better. (Note for the grammar/spelling police: on all American Idiot material, it’s spelled Novacaine so that’s the spelling I’m using.)
“Some days he feels like dying, she gets so sick of crying.”
It’s somewhere in June of 2010, and I’m sitting in the St. James Theatre watching a harnessed actress fly 20 feet above the audience singing Extraordinary Girl. I had a lot of mixed feelings going onto the American Idiot Broadway adaption. On the one hand, the theater-nerd in me loved the idea and was quite excited about the prospect of seeing how the AI narrative could be translated to the stage. On the other, as someone whose borderline obsessed with the record, I was petrified that they’d screw it up. I ended up seeing the show twice that summer, and I can honestly say I enjoyed it immensely. There were some stylistic/thematic choices I didn’t enjoy. For example, I hate the fact that Extraordinary Girl is about a different character than Whatshername, since in my mind Extraordinary Girl and it’s preceding track She’s a Rebel were completely interconnected as a look at the two sides of her psyche. Those narrative nitpicks aside, the show did capture the spirt of the album and the cultural that created it quite well. Also, for the record, I’d highly recommend the Original Cast Recording for anyone who hasn’t heard it. It’s the show’s cast on vocals with Green Day playing all the instruments, and makes a really cool companion piece to the album proper.
“We’re back in the barrio, but to you and me, that’s Jingletown.”
It’s early June of 2011 and I’m sitting shotgun in a U-Haul truck on the Long Island Expressway, the entirety of my 5 of my five years of college life (4 years spent in the same illegal apartment) rattling around in the back. Homecoming may look like a clichéd choice to listen to in that situation, but I couldn’t help myself. In ended up being a perfect choice in retrospect, as my life took a similar turn to the song. Much like Jimmy, I went back home after a wild adventure (though mine shockingly didn’t involve a full mental breakdown) and settled back into my old life while partially yearning for the adventurous life left behind.
“Summer has come and passed…”
It’s August 12, 2014 and I’m sitting in my end, trying to contemplate the day I just had. Twelve hours earlier my father had passed away and I spent a whirlwind day with my mother bouncing between a funeral and a cemetery making arrangements. It was only after I’d gone to bed for the night that I truly let the emotion of the day wash over me, and like any other emotional time in my life I sought solace in music. Wake Me Up When September Ends (which is about the death of Billie Joe Armstrong’s father, not 9/11 as is often thought) became my go to track that night. I listened to every version in my library; album, live, live acoustic, Broadway cast and any other I could find. I don’t want to say it made things better, it didn’t, but it the song was there to comfort me like an old friend, and really what more could I ask for out of a song?
“If my memory serves me right I’ll never turn back time.”
It’s still September 21st and I’m still sitting here, having spun through a American Idiot a couple of times while writing this. The adult beverage is long gone, and in a lot of ways so is the 16 year old version of me who first heard this record. American Idiot is still here though, and like all great pieces of art always will be.