“One nation controlled by the media/Information age of hysteria/Calling out to idiot America.” Sound familiar? Green Day’s 2004 album “American Idiot,” though written with George W. Bush ’68 and the Iraq war in mind, has new relevance in the Trump Era of alternative facts and disenfranchisement. Its empowering hard rock songs scream for revolution, while its ballads remind us of the confusion and loss associated with feeling alone in a nation whose government does not support us.
The album is more narrative than Green Day’s other works, loosely following the story of a disillusioned Jesus of Suburbia and his interactions with St. Jimmy, a violent insurgent; Whatsername, an extraordinary girl; and the rebellion. The songs have a grunge vibe: The guitar chords are gritty and the lyrics describe scenes of urban decay and teenage angst (“on a steady diet of soda pop and ritalin”). The contrast between the poetic and even religious elements of the song “Jesus of Suburbia” and the disgusting images it paints highlights the overall tone of the album: a mixture of beauty and ruin. “I read the graffiti/In the bathroom stall/Like the holy scriptures of a shopping mall,” Jesus of Suburbia tells us, forcing us to question our worship of consumerism and our loss of wholesomeness and hope.
With an album so centralized in a common story and theme, there’s a concern that the songs could become repetitive or monotonous; instead Green Day keeps their songs varied in style and balances every fast-paced, drum-heavy song with a soft ballad. For example, the first introduction of St. Jimmy (in his eponymous song) has the heartbeat of a troop of revolutionaries, but the song that follows, “Give Me Novacaine,” begins with a sweet series of chords flavored with a sliding guitar technique. This alternation between different styles lends the album nuance and sophistication underneath its punk garage-band lyrics.
The album closes and ends with multipart songs about Jesus of Suburbia. The second song on the album, named after his character, introduces him as a bored, disgruntled teenager breaking free “to run away/to find what [he] believe[s].” Throughout the album, he experiences the pain of a tyrannical government and a rebellion that fights amongst itself and is unsure of how to effect change. He tries to escape through drugs and even love, but by the end finds himself lonely and disillusioned. In the penultimate song “Homecoming,” Jesus of Suburbia returns home after St. Jimmy’s suicide. He laments that he “should have stayed home” and that “the time has come and it’s going nowhere/Nobody ever said that life was fair now.” Jesus of Suburbia represents a member of the failed resistance, and, more generally, a teenager whose dreams of change and empowerment in adulthood have been crushed by the realities of the world.
“American Idiot” is filled with songs that will make you feel empowered and dismayed and remind you of the pangs of lost love and the dreams of youth. Each song is strong enough to stand alone, but, when put together, the album weaves a story of hope, fear and crushing truth. In an age of confusion and terror, “American Idiot” serves as both novocaine and anthem.
Carrie Mannino | firstname.lastname@example.org .