American Idiot: One Decade Later

Green Day’s American Idiot was released ten years, almost to the day, before this was written. It was particularly important to me because as a straight-laced 14 year-old boy attending Catholic school I was making up more and more things to be mad about at the time. Now my upbringing was pretty swell if you ask me, but at some point I began to recognize  the faults and hypocrisy of those that had power over my life and before I figured out how to challenge them that rage bottled up in 120 pounds of passive-aggressive rage that was (mostly) expressed through sports. Then I heard American Idiot.

At school, I only knew one person listening to American Idiot. We had all been over-exposed to the single by then, but my friend Justin was the only one I knew that actually cared about the rest of the songs on that disk. While I didn’t know it at the time, Justin had his own reasons for rebelling against the doctrine we were both taught in school and American Idiot was the perfect outlet.

One morning, Justin brought in his copy of the album to rave about knowing that I too was a huge fan. I poured over the lyrics sheet inside the CD case and filled in as many mental blanks as I could think of, but I soon realized one peek wasn’t going to be enough. That night, I went home and read the lyrics online while I listened to the album and my mind exploded.

It was poetic, it was loud, and it was meaningful. Green Day weren’t just playing guitars over singles about smoking weed and other teenage nonsense – they had something to say, and it sounded fucking great. I immediately put the bible behind me and accepted the gospel of Jesus Of Suburbia as holy scripture, re-confirming myself St. Jimmy – a teenage assassin executing some fun.

Coming from such holy beginnings “rebelling” to me meant spiked hair, dark clothing, and a commitment to the loudest, most aggressive music I could find. While I had yet to discover other rebellious strongholds like Rage Against The Machine or Metallica, Green Day still sounded like it to my parents, and that was enough for me and every other teenager that devoured Much Music’s (Canada’s MTV) idea of punk music at the time.

It was a regrettable era for the thousands of teenagers that slapped on pseudo-gothic makeup by the score, but those who connected with the deeper meaning of the music had found something that would certainly outlast the “emo” style of the early 2000s. While American Idiot predominantly became the rallying cry of suburban teens looking for something to scare their parents with, it also offered a sharply political message of frustration that illuminated the hypocrisy of powerful institutions.

Like the album’s title track, the single ‘Holiday’ is capable of standing alone outside of its context within American Idiot. The song’s lyrics, which clearly take aim at the Bush administration and its handling of the Iraq war, offer a harsh but realistic critique of a global military power that has become an international bully. The song had a profound effect on me, and the more I thought about it the more I began to wonder what gave one country the right to invade another. One day, I decided to write a MSN Messenger status update to reflect my epiphany and I decided to quote ‘Holiday’ bracketed by music note emoticons:

“Sieg Hiel to the president Gasman, bombs away is your punishment / Pulverize the Eifel towers who criticize your government / Bang bang goes the broken glass and kill all the fags that don’t agree”

Now in hindsight I understand what this must have looked like coming from a 14-year old Catholic teenager, but I was learning, dammit. And unlike my grandmother, I had taken the time to Google the lyrics to try to figure out just what Billie Joe must have meant. It was likely the first time I had ever used the word “fag” with proper intentions, and yet I was called to the dinner table and tried for my sins. Ultimately the post was removed and I was (mostly) forgiven, but the rush I felt when challenging authority and arguing my position was a drug that felt better than Novacaine, and I was hooked.

Unlike my concerned relatives, my friend Justin was one of the few users on my friends list that would have understood what my status meant. And it’s a damn good thing too, because Justin was likely to be one of the people most insulted by the status if they had failed to pick up on its facetious sentiment. You see, one decade later my friend Justin is planning to marry the man he loves, and it was Green Day that first taught me that’s more than OK. Sadly I didn’t stop using the three letter F-word for years, but thanks to the representative from California I learned how to look past the labels people throw on their opponents, whether it be “fag” or “terrorist”.

“Trails by fire, setting fire / Is not a way that’s meant for me / Just Cause, just cause, because we’re outlaws yeah!” – Holiday

The former epithet is a word the world has begun to recognize as wrong since American Idiot was released in 2014, however the latter remains one of the most common labels used to describe enemies of the modern (North) American idiot. One does not need to read an excessive amount of world news to read about the big bad Terrorists, err Militants, err, Extremists doing bad things in one area of the world or another. And yet, whenever an American drone ignites another trial by fire the world seems to use different vocabulary.

It makes me wish more people listened to punk rock, or whatever you would like to call American Idiot. Like Tommy, The Monitorand many other concept albums in between Green Day’s best release transcends any one word used to describe it, demanding the critical analysis and attention it so eloquently provokes. One decade later American Idiot‘s message remains as pertinent as ever, and one can only hope North American teens are hiding in their headphones thinking about what they’ve heard before they too devolve into a St. Jimmy of their own.

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