“American Idiot” is the seventh album from the modern punk/pop legends Green Day. The album is a rock opera, as within its 13 tracks a story is told. While this story is open to interpretation, this is what I believe the story of Green Day’s “American Idiot” is, track for track:

*NOTE: All dates are taken from the liner notes of “American Idiot”

”American Idiot"
The intro track to the album, which I see has more of a prologue to the story than the start of the actual story. While it could be Jesus of Suburbia contemplating just how fear-ridden and bigoted he thinks the United States of America is, I see it more as an is just an aside that the band put in to set up the setting of 21st century U.S.A for the rest of the story.

”Jesus of Suburbia”
This song introduces us to our main character. “I'm the son of rage and love, The Jesus of suburbia.” In a sprawling and beautiful 9:08 minute song that goes through five musical movements, we are well-introduced to Jesus of Suburbia. The setting is early-March in his suburban town and he appears to be a typical suburban teenager who is hungry for escapism, whether it be caffeine, cocaine, pills, alcohol, cigarettes or television. He describes his suburban surroundings as “The land of make believe, That don't believe in me.” The next four movements go into Jesus’s discontent with his surroundings. He states how out of place he feels in his home, and that he was once taught the motto Home is where the heart is yet he believes that that’s “a shame,/'Cause everyones heart, Doesn't beat the same.” He then angrily states that he doesn’t care if he doesn’t fit into his surroundings (”I don’t care if you don’t care!”), because he hates the people that surround him anyway (“Everyone Is So Full Of Shit!/Born and raised by hypocrites,/Hearts recycled but never saved,/From the cradle to the grave”). Then after concluding that nothing, neither drugs nor therapy, can make him stand his suburban surroundings, he decides to get out of his upsetting town and out of his upsetting life at home, as he is raised by a single mother who is often gone dating other men (“The living room in my private womb/While the Moms and Brads are away” with the use of “Brads” instead of “Dad”). Jesus of Suburbia decides to leave his suburban home and move into the city.

”Holiday”
While many have pegged “American Idiot” as being a very politically charged album, politics are a distant second in content, and the main object is to tell the story of its characters. Yet “Holiday” is by far the album’s most charged piece. It is now April 1st and although Jimmy has escaped his home, yet he finds that he still can’t escape the neo-conservative feel of America, “Trials by fire setting fire/Is not a way that's meant for me.” One part of the song finds him in a fantasy in which he's addressing a legislative body on how he feels. The song ends with Jesus’s raucous yet pointed opinion, which serves as the chorus in “Holiday,” “I beg to dream and differ/From the hollow lies/This is the dawning of the rest of our lives/This is our lives on holiday.”

”Boulevard of Broken Dreams”
While “Holiday” ends with Jesus feeling almost excited about his rebellious attitude, “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” finds him crashing back to earth the very next day and realizing that not only could he not escape the things he hated in the city, but he’s incredibly lonely as well. This song is a throwback to the “Jesus of Suburbia” track in which he mentions that ”I walked this line/A million and one fucking times/But not this time, this song uses the “line” metaphor twice (”I'm walking down the line/That divides me somewhere in my mind and “Read between the lines/What's fucked up and every things all right.”) This song is simply Jesus walking down an empty street late at night in the city, feeling lonely among hundreds of thousands of people living around him (“The city sleeps/And I'm the only one and I walk alone”).

”Are We the Waiting”
”Are We the Waiting” tells that while Jesus escaped his horrible life back in the suburbs, he isn’t sure if he’s found what he’s looking for in the city. It’s Easter Sunday and Jimmy reflects on the dreams he had of leaving his suburban home, “Starry nights city lights/Coming down over me/Skyscrapers and stargazers/In my head.” He remembers how his old town was “burning down in my dreams” and he was “lost and found, city bound in my dreams.” He claims at the end of the song's final verse, “The rage and love, the story of my life/The Jesus of suburbia is a lie.” As stated in “Holiday” it seems like everything he hated about his town are still alive and well in the city and as stated in “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” he finds himself lonely as well, “Are We the Waiting” serves as a combo of those two feelings, to cite Jimmy’s early discontent with his new surroundings.

”St. Jimmy"
Yet, a couple of weeks later, Jesus meets St. Jimmy, the second main character in “American Idiot.” He seems to be just as anti-establishment as Jesus (”And I'm here to represent/That needle in the vein of the establishment”) and he enjoys similar types of escapism (”Cigarettes and ramen and a little bag of dope”) yet unlike Jesus, Jimmy was ”raised in the city under a halo of lights” (*NOTE*: The "halo of lights" line leads me to believe that "the city" in this story is Los Angeles, which is also known as the "city of angels" and that Jesus comes from an Orange County suburb). Jimmy is a very angry youth, like Jesus, yet while Jesus seems to only talk the talk, Jimmy walks the walk as well (“I'm a teenage assassin executing some fun/In the cult of the life of crime.”), he steals, he vandalizes, he beats people up, all to rebel against whatever he dislikes. Jesus and Jimmy take a liking to each other via there fascinating similarities and differences, thus, Jimmy tells Jesus he can live in the city with him (“Welcome to the club and give me some blood”). Jesus moves in with him and they live together in a downtown residence together.

”Give Me Novacaine”
A month into living with Jimmy, Jesus finally begins to really find something he couldn’t find in the ‘burbs. Jimmy and Jesus obviously do a good amount of drugs together which Jimmy tells Jesus are ”better than air.” Jesus finds a certain sense of belonging and comfort with Jimmy in the city. He compares this feeling to a young child being tucked into bed (”Give me a long kiss goodnight/and everything will be alright/Tell me Jimmy I won't feel a thing”). Jesus has finally found a sense of belonging in the city with Jimmy.

”She’s a Rebel”
The introduction to the third major character in “American Idiot,” a girl known only as Whatshername. Jimmy met her after he met Jesus and they have been dating since. The song is dated to July 4th, and although Jesus knows she is involved with Jimmy, he is incredibly infatuated with her, which isn’t good because he doesn’t want her getting between himself and Jimmy (”She's a rebel/She's a saint/She's salt of the earth/And she's dangerous”). Yet, he still finds himself deeply in love with her (“She's the symbol/of resistance/and she's holding on my heart like a hand grenade”...which is the image that appears on the album's cover), mostly because he feels that she’s incredibly smart, and unlike Jimmy, she seems to be rebelling in a much smarter more effective way than just drugs & booze (”she sings the revolution/the dawning of our lives/she brings the liberation/that I just cant define/nothing comes to mind) yet the song ends with the repetition of ”She's a rebel, She's a rebel, She's a rebel, And she's dangerous,” which is Jesus reminding himself that he can’t go for her.

”Extraordinary Girl”
Jesus has noticed how Jimmy and Whatshername act in their relationship, and he begins to become angry and jealous over how Jimmy treats her. He bashes Jimmy, stating “He lacks the courage in his mind/Like a child left behind/Like a pet left in the rain” and how she loves Jimmy so much that she can’t see through his wrongdoings and poor lifestyle and get rid of him (”She's all alone again/Wiping the tears from her eyes/Some days he feels like dying/She gets so sick of crying”). He claims that Jimmy “Steals the image in her kiss/From her hearts apocalypse” and that he doesn’t see them ever breaking up despite things, ’Some days he feels like dying/Some days he's not worth trying/Now that they're both up on it She gets so sick of crying.” The song ends with him repeating just how extraordinary he thinks Whatshername is.

”Letterbomb”
It is now August 18th, Whatshername has found herself fed up with both St. Jimmy and Jesus of Suburbia. The beginning (from “Where have all the bastards gone?”) is Whatshername writing a letter to Jesus. She calls him ”a flunkie along for the ride” and tells Jesus that while him and Jimmy sit around and bitch about how bad things are, they don’t actually act on their words (“The town bishop is an extortionist/And he don't even know that you exist,/Standing still when it's do or die/You better run for your fucking life”). She then finishes off the letter with a harsh insult to both of them, ”You're not the Jesus of suburbia,/The St. Jimmy is a figment of,/Your fathers rage and your mothers love.” The song then ends with St. Jimmy telling Jesus that he talked with Whatshername, and ”She said I can't take this place, I'm leaving it behind,/She said I can't take this town, I'm leaving you tonight." It’s worth noting that the opening part of the song (Nobody likes you/everyone left you…”) is sung by former Bikini Kill frontwoman Kathleen Hannah and is foreshadowing the effect Whatshername will have on both Jimmy and as a result, on Jesus.

”Wake Me Up When September Ends"
While this song fits into the storyline of “American Idiot,” it is also a tribute to band frontman Billy Joe Armstrong’s father, who died when he was only ten years old (”like my fathers come to pass/ seven years has gone so fast”) yet can also be attributed to the story, as Jesus hinted at having a single mother earlier in the story. This song is dated September 10th in the story, summer is coming to a close, and with Whatshername gone, Jimmy is incredibly depressed and it’s rubbing off on Jesus. He reflects on the spring and summer he spent with Jimmy (“summer has come and passed/the innocent can never last” and ” ring out the bells again/like we did when spring began”) and he’s sad that they aren’t having fun like that anymore. He hopes that by the end of this month, they’ll both start feeling better again.

”Homecoming”
”Homecoming” like “Jesus of Suburbia,” in that it is a yet another 9+ minute epic. It is now October 19th, September has ended...and things have not improved. Jesus begins explaining how Jimmy taught him “how to live,” and explains cryptically what has become of Jimmy (“ In the streets of shame,/Where you've lost your dreams in the rain,/There's no sign of hope,/The stems and seeds of the last of the dope,/There's a glow of light,/The St. Jimmy is the spark in the night”) and how the last thing he remembers Jimmy saying was "We're fucked up",/But we're not the same,/And mom and dad are the ones you can blame.” He then confirms it, Jimmy killed himself earlier in the day by shooting himself in the head near the bay. After the death of Jimmy, Jesus asks himself ” Does anyone care if nobody cares?”, which is quite the opposite of the ”I don’t care if you don’t care!” statement he made earlier in the story. The song turns into a third person narrative, stating how Jesus is filling out a police report on Jimmy’s death, yet is not listening to anything anybody says, he’s now “in his own world/and he's daydreaming.” It’s then made clear that he ”rather be doing something else now” and then, for the first time, he shows a bit of hate toward Whatshername (“And she had enough/And he had plenty”). Jesus then concludes that the city life isn’t for him and he isn’t even sure if there IS anything for him out there (”I just wanna be free/Is there a possibility?/Get me out of here right now/This life like aint for me”). Then loneliness begins to kick in again, as Jesus begins to wonder just where Jimmy went (The ”Where’d you go?” backup vocals) and start thinking that everybody hates him (” Nobody likes you, everyone left you/They're all out without you havin' fun.”). Then Jesus gets a piece of mail originally intended for St. Jimmy, which appears to be from Whatshername’s new boyfriend in New York City. The letter boasts that they are living a life of glam and excess that her new man provides her with (”I got a rock and roll band/I got a rock and roll life”) yet still maintaining a quasi “normal” family life (”I got a kid in New York/I got a kid in the bay/I haven't drank or smoked nothin'/In over 22 days) and ends with the new man telling Jimmy to “Get off of my case.” Jesus then finally acts on his decision, and gets out of the city, heading back to his suburban home (“Here they come marching down the street/Like a desperation murmur of a heart beat/Coming back from the edge of town”) and realizes that perhaps this decision was for the best (“ The time has come and it going nowhere/Nobody ever said that life was fair now) and although he realizes suburbia is still filled with materialism (” Go-carts and guns are treasures they will bear”), establishment (”From the 7-11…”) and fear-mongering (“…to the fear of breaking down”) he realizes that he didn’t find what he was looking for in the city, and thus, decides to try to start over once again at the town he started his inital journey in, “Jingle Town.”

”Whatshername”
New Years Day, yet a couple months after Jimmy died and Jesus moved back home. Jesus is speaking to Whatshername in this song, stating how he thinks he saw her on the street, but he just dreamed it. He made a point to destroy any memory of the girl, and obviously holds her responsible for the demise of St. Jimmy, (”I made a point to burn all of the photographs/She went away and then I took a different path”) yet he still can’t help but “wonder how Whatshername has been.” showing that perhaps he wasn’t 100% over her. He wonders if she ended up marrying that man from New York City, (“did she ever marry ol’ whats his face?”) and says how it all seemed “like forever ago.” He feels he couldn’t of stopped what happened to Jimmy (“The regrets are useless”) yet he recognizes that he still thinks about her (“ She's in my head”). Yet he once again tells himself that he can’t fix what happened (“ I'll never turn back time”). The story of “American Idiot” closes with Jesus stating how he doesn’t want to think about Whatshername anymore, but he does want to learn from the experience he had in the months in which he decided to escape his suburban hell for a life in the city, in which he learned valuable lessons from St. Jimmy, both on things he could learn to do right from St. Jimmy, and things he learned not-to-do-right from St. Jimmy. He considers the experience over the past year to be a very important experience, yet doesn’t think any influence that Whatshername had in his experience is beneficial to his growth into the person he eventually wants to be. Thus…“Forgetting you, but not the time.

Highest praise is due to mfishrules for the keen and well laid-out summary of the lyrics and plot of this phenomenal piece of modern mayhem, however, this only covers half the ground on this particular album. I will attempt to do for the music of this album what mfishrules has done for its lyrics. Having said that...

PROG-PUNK???



To call this album a punk-rock album would be both inaccurate and an insulting over-simplification. American Idiot covers a huge base of musical genres, and is the culmination of a long career of growth for Green Day. I personally no longer have to think of them as a guilty pleasure. After writing such rants as The good musicians play music that idiots listen to and Hardcore is Becoming the "New Jazz", I was forced for a time to wonder why I still liked Green Day.

Now I know.

One more note: Some "old-skool" fans of Green Day may accuse them of having given up their punk-ness in favor of pop. This is not pop. Fuck that. Pop is flaccid. This is better.

American Idiot's opening and title track is by far the most classically Green Day, and I agree with mfishrules in that it is merely a bookend to the album. The lyrics are playfully scathing, but the music, although clean and tough is nothing to get too excited about. Tre Cool's thumping work on the toms is exciting, but anyone who's heard any amount of Green Day knows he can whip beats like this out without breaking a sweat.

The monster medley which comes next not only rocks, but transitions beautifully from one section to the next, cutting cleanly and effortlessly from one time to the next, half- and double-times abound, and we get our first taste of the killer gang-vocals which will come in full force in a few tracks. We also get... is that... yes it is! In the second movement, "City of the Damned," great big Wagner-ian chords on the piano fill out the wall of sound in the chorus. The third movement, "I Don't Care," takes us in and out of a 12/8 punk shuffle, and drops us into an acoustically underscored tune featuring glockenspiel and a counterpuntal "oooo" almost worthy of a Brian Wilson tune. Then we're jerked, smiling, into an anthemic groove, although that "oooo" is still there, lurking beneath the distortion. Suddenly, Billie Joe's voice, accompanied only by piano, cuts in, only to swell back into a reprise of madness to close this punk epic.

On to "Holiday." Here the gang vocals, typical of punk-rock, begin to truly take a front seat, although they are used carefully and sparingly, never becoming stale, even when the lyric is simply "HEY!" or "AMEN!" The chorus whips in, bringing with it some great, classic Green Day harmonies, but thicker than you've ever heard them. Billie Joe also seems to have really learned how to play guitar well. Suddenly, we're faced with Jesus' fantasy accusations before the senate and then whipped back into the chorus for a final "all-together-now."

"Boulevard of Broken Dreams" is not unique in its laid-back tempo in the Green Day catalogue. They had a minor hit with "Redundant" from the Nimrod album, but this song is clearly superior to the earlier effort. The lyrical words of the verses are contrasted with the harmonized and distorion-underlaid choruses, which further cut in and out of a nice "echoing string" guitar, itself balanced against a simple strumming acoustic. All in all, this is a simple song, but unbelievably catchy. The bridge section right at the end is a flavor I've not heard from Green Day before, using progressions that sound like they're straight out of the art-metal handbook.

Ah. Here we are. "Are We the Waiting" is the first undeniable proof of Green Day's total mastery of punk and its possibilities. The gang vocals become more like monastic chant than punk-rock anything, and the tom-heavy drums suggest that there is a great deal more to Tre's drumming than speed. This is a song I will never get sick of. I can almost picture Brian May playing the guitar riff and Freddie Mercury howling along.

"St. Jimmy" serves as a well-timed wakeup call from the grooving artiness of "Are We the Waiting." It's almost a nudge to the listener a "hey, we could write songs like that all the time if we wanted, but we are, after all, a punk band." It's fast, mean, clean, and simple. Put very simply, it rocks. We also get a half-time break with a minute to go at the end of the song with some conspicuously Beach Boys influenced backup vocals. We'll hear them again.

"Give Me Novacaine" more than any other song on the album shifts beautifully from soft to loud, thick, easy, bob-your-head acoustic verses with some Polynesian-sounding slide work, broken up by shredding choruses. You hardly notice the difference, except that suddenly you're not just bobbing your head, but really rocking it, and if you know it well enough, you may find yourself playing air guitar while trying to drive. This bobbing/guitar playing/driving combination is not advised, and if you can't resist, you may want to skip ahead to...

"She's A Rebel," another classically Green Day piece, with the return of the terrific "oooo"-ing, as well as a well-place clap track. The final moments of the song give us some great harmonies, as well.

"Extraordinary Girl" opens with tabla. Honestly, I don't know why, unless it's simply a smirking homage to prog-rock. The vocal harmonies are rich, and the sound is almost an updated mid-50s hard-bop tune. I almost see them in suits with pampadour haircuts (although what three punks in suits with pompadours would be doing hanging out with a tabla player I can't imagine.)

"Letterbomb" opens with a girl's voice singing a sort of preview of what we'll hear later in the second montage tune (see below). It's pretty straightforward after that, a typical Green Day tune, fast and gravy, with typical choral harmonies, with appropriately Green Day-ish in-and-out cuts and some real dynamic variance.

"When September Ends" echoes the dynamic tension of "Give Me Novacaine," including glockenspiel and concert bass drum in the quiet verses, slowly adding strings, building part by part to the mix until suddenly our patient listening is fullfilled with the total opening of all stops. Almost as soon as they're opened, however, they're reigned back in. The song keeps wanting to blow up and out, but the band controls the momentum of the tune wonderfully, never letting it stay at top volume for long, and keeping the listener off-balance. For a brief moment the bottom drops out and we're left with nothing but glock and Tre's brushes on the snare to support Billie Joe's voice, but then the band finally lets loose for the final twenty second rally at the end of the song.

The next tune (if you can even call it that, it's more like a whole album cut into one track) is what I'd consider this band's Magnum Opus. There's no way to accurately describe everything that goes on in this song without writing a much longer node than I intend, but the instrumentation suddenly grows to orchestral proportions, especially in the percussion department. Harmonies abound in every section after the intro, our old pal the "oooo" track is back, and the band plays with tempo, tone, and time in a way I've never heard from them or any other punk-ish band. The Brian Wilson-inspired harmonies are back, and we're even given a brief taste of something that smecks deeply of the rapid acoustic-to-distorion slashes in Aqualung, of all things. And then there are chimes and a marching snare under Mike Durnt singing the lines we heard from the girl at the beginning of "Letterbomb." And then all hell breaks loose. Tre is sing lead vocals... about being in a rock band! He goes so far as to say "I play the shit out the drums." He actually wrote this piano-heavy movement and sings it over complex harmony and counterpoint. Then we're into a shuffle-oompah beat and the "oooo" has returned. The final movement, "We're Coming Home Again" is practically a reprise of "Are We the Waiting," with similar instrumentation and lyrical styling. Oh, and there are Tympani! And they're tuned! Hooray! Okay, enough of this tune already!

"Whatsername" is practically a bookend after the mammoth of the second-to-last tune. It's a controlled, up-and-down and perhaps overly sentimental tune, letting loose for only tightly packaged bursts. The lyrics above these bursts are well harmonized and play a counterpoint to the next section of vocals as well. Tightly and well composed, "Whatsername" makes an excellent closing to an excellent album.

GO BUY THIS ALBUM. DON'T THINK YOU'RE TOO OLD OR THAT YOU DON'T LIKE PUNK MUSIC. YOU'RE NOT AND IT'S NOT. GO. DO IT NOW.

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