It’s been ten years since the opening riff of Green Day’s American Idiot rocked the country and the world. Punk music would never be the same. Maybe it would be resurrected. Maybe it would be dead.
On the other hand, maybe all the disc would do is change some lives and spawn a Broadway musical.
I am not writing this to give any sort of international retrospective on the impact this CD has had on pop culture. I am writing this because it changed who I am, in whatever small way it could change a kid in middle school.
When I was 10 years old, I heard “Wake Me Up When September Ends.” I liked it. My dad had a copy of American Idiot (I remember thinking the image on the back of the album was a magnifying glass, not a pulled-out grenade pin), so he gave me a copy of the song on a mix, matched with a censored version of “Boulevard of Broken Dreams.” This was the first in an age of mix CDs, where the greatest gift a friend could give me was a disc with a band’s name scrawled in Sharpie, and the only acceptable response for me was to make one in return.
Maybe about a year passed. I discovered Evanescence. I learned what it means to love a band.
Sometimes, in the fall evenings, I would play Madden on Gamecube with my dad and my brother. On the menu screen one day, a song grabbed my attention. It was the first time I had ever recognized a guitar as playing a riff, instead of just a bunch of chords put there for the lyrics to stand on.
“What is that?”
“It’s Green Day.”
“Well, why don’t I have it?” I half-faked indignity, as though I deserved every inch of Green Day the world possibly had – although I had never displayed interest in them past “When September Ends” before.
And so a different era began: the era of patiently waiting for my dad to use the computer to cut out bad words in Green Day songs so my 6th grade ears could take them in.
Slowly, carefully, the songs came through. We also owned a copy of Dookie, so tracks deemed more or less harmless like “Welcome to Paradise,” “She,” and “When I Come Around” were mixed in with an edited “Jesus of Suburbia” (a grand gift of a song, at 9 minutes) and “Are We the Waiting.” A favorite Christmas present was a green envelope in the tree, filled to the brim with newly edited Green Day songs and rare live tracks. I was ecstatic.
Through this time, my best friend shared my obsessive love of this music. I went over to her house during the holidays to watch the Fuse TV Green Day special she had taped, and I played her Tré’s bonus track from Dookie. I remember running around my living room with her while “Jesus of Suburbia” played over the speakers.
It became a tradition to watch the “American Idiot” music video first thing after school. I collected Green Day t-shirts. My mom realized she liked them, too, and more and more albums came into my life, song by song. (I still haven’t listened to every single track.) I impatiently waited for her to watch Bullet In a Bible while she wrote down each inappropriate moment, so they could be skipped during my viewing. (I still haven’t seen the whole thing.)
After receiving American Idiot tracks all out of order over the past few months, I was given the last piece of the puzzle, “She’s a Rebel,” shortly after my 12th birthday. I signed emails to my best friend as “Jimmy.” We wrote back and forth what we thought were the most accurate explanations of the rock opera’s plot. She gave me a full, typed copy of the album lyrics for my birthday, complete with asterisks for the expletives and different fonts to match the different handwriting in the original liner notes. (It’s still one of my favorite birthday presents.) In 7th grade, I was allowed to purchase an uncensored copy of the album for myself. I bought a studded belt, stole my dad’s one red tie, and spritzed black hair spray on my head. I ran around the living room as “St. Jimmy” was being performed on Bullet in a Bible, pretending to be Billie Joe Armstrong. When I finally bought a guitar, it was a sunburst Les Paul Jr. I printed out tabs for every song I loved, painfully figuring out the chords for “Homecoming” and giving up almost immediately on “Letterbomb” in favor of the far simpler “She’s a Rebel.”
The years moved on, and, somehow, my love of music expanded to include songs not exclusive to Green Day’s discography.
I rarely put American Idiot on anymore because it’s not something I have to listen to – it has become a part of me. The messy, pre-teen, embarrassing part, sure. There are a lot of memories associated with it that are painful to recall (so many awful attempts at songwriting, an ignorant view of the rest of society, and – well – middle school), but that one hour of music stretched past its length and touched every year of my life.
I don’t think my reaction to it at 12 years old was the least bit profound. It was a very obsessive, materialistic kind of love – but those songs were unlike any I had ever cared about before. They unlocked a deep internal connection to music that is with me to this day.
“Homecoming” is still my favorite song.
“Whatsername” still make me cry.
I still wish I had the charisma and energy of St. Jimmy, while realizing he’s just a shell that the real Jesus of Suburbia hid inside.
I’m still here.
You’re still here.
Thanks for making songs.