Green Day’s political punk masterpiece is timelier than ever
THE SANTA CLARA
February 9, 2017
Thirteen years ago, while our country waged war against the Iraqis under false pretenses and geared up for Kerry v. Bush, Green Day was coming off a decade of irrelevance.
Though their 1994 album, “Dookie,” had forever cemented them as rock royalty, their follow-up studio albums (“Insomniac,” “Nimrod” and “Warning”) were poorly received by critics and audiences. It seemed three chords, heavy drums and screeching lyrics weren’t enough anymore. People needed more.
Enter 2004’s “American Idiot”—Green Day’s comeback album—and the greatest rock ‘n roll album of the 21st Century. But perhaps most importantly, the album tackled the question of, “What the hell is going on in our country right now?”
Structured as a rock opera, “American Idiot” told the tale of Jesus of Suburbia, St. Jimmy and Whatsername—three outlaws trying to navigate the incendiary times surrounding the album’s release. Lead singer Billie Joe Armstrong’s rebellious, aggressive lyrics dominated the album—attacking our country’s military, government and mis-underestimated Cheney puppet, George W. Bush. The album also hit familiar punk themes such as alienation, coping and loss of individuality.
If anything, “American Idiot” provided a glimpse into a nation paralyzed by ideological disconnect. Citizens were frustrated, politicians acted like insolent babies, allies turned their backs to us and the media polluted everyone’s brains with violent war images, talks of an unstable stock market, coverage of corruption in the Catholic Church and reports of sports players using PEDs.
Because of this nationwide confusion that the album so beautifully taps into, I believe— now more so than ever—our country needs to hear “American Idiot.”
It’s no secret that our country’s current divisiveness and lack of empathy for one another—domestically and foreignly—has made things feel a little chilly, a little Cold War-ish. Fearful times such as these—where threats of a nuclear holocaust or losing basic morality lurk around every corner—demand an outlet for us to vent our frustration.
In this regard, protests are the most constructive method, as we’ve seen in recent weeks. Social media movements have provided the most convenient option. But in terms of day-to-day relief, nothing kills the demons better than some good ol’ fashioned punk rock.
Track by track, “American Idiot” showcases iconic guitar riffs, foot-tapping drums and razor-sharp lyrics that perfectly encapsulate the views of the disillusioned (i.e. those put off by the crumbling of every major institution in America).
The eponymous song features the line, “Well maybe I’m the f****t, America / I’m not a part of your redneck agenda.” Though curiously discouraged by our society, this form of rage-fueled, politically incorrect free speech typifies the album, providing an acidic voice for those who feel the government is out of touch with current sociopolitical issues.
The song also points out that we are “one nation controlled by the media” and how our 24-hour news cycle-fueled propaganda breeds widespread paranoia.
We saw it back in 2004 and we see it now more than ever. The media misreported on and incorrectly predicted the outcome of our latest Presidential election. The White House blatantly lied about the crowd size at President Trump’s inauguration. Words like “alternative facts,” “post-truth” and “fake news” have infiltrated the national rhetoric. In a sense, we’re all American idiots.
Finally, the title song engages with the issue of immigration—a hot topic given President Trump’s recent Muslim—er, um, I mean “travel” ban. Armstrong sings, “Welcome to a new kind of tension / All across the alien nation.” By referring to America as an “alien nation,” Armstrong recognizes the cold hard fact that all of us, aside from Native Americans, are immigrants. Additionally, “alien nation” implies “alienation”—a central theme on the album. Though over a decade old, the song remains as relevant as ever.
Likewise, the song “Holiday,” speaks to general disagreement with choices made by the federal government. The chorus goes, “I beg to dream and differ from the hollow lies / This is the dawning of the rest of our lives.” This idea of rebellion in the song is widespread throughout our nation today, particularly among young people.
Similarly, the principle of “dawning” in the chorus emphasizes a coming of age sensibility. As a nation following a major shift in administrations, we are “coming of age”—rapidly evolving and crossing new thresholds—for better or worse.
The other tracks on the album carry along the narrative thread while still echoing Green Day’s political commentary. In the end, the band’s thesis is this: “A lot of bad stuff is happening right now and we’re not sure what to do other than say, ‘This sucks.’” That was the case thirteen years ago, and it’s the case now. The oppressed hate having a pseudo-fascist in the White House, a government that acts against their wishes and a media that conflates facts. “American Idiot” voices this frustration and riles up anyone looking for an excuse to protest. Listening to it makes you want to punch a neo-Nazi in the face.
Whether you’re jamming to it for the first or hundredth time, “American Idiot” washes over you in a therapeutic way. It alleviates any frustration or stress you may have—if only because other people are expressing similar emotions. The gut-wrenching vocals, relentless pacing and delicious composition artfully articulate people’s gripes with inept executive leadership, mishandled foreign relationships and special interest involvements.
Years ago, “American Idiot” comforted listeners with the fact that other people were just as angry as they were. And since we now live in a country full of angry people, we desperately need “American Idiot” again—to vent our frustrations, relieve our stresses, kill our demons and above all, stick it to the Man.
Contact Jimmy Flynn at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (408) 554-4852.