Want to know what happens when you mix a rock opera like "Tommy" by "The Who" with protest Punk-Rock in the style of "London Calling" by "the Clash"?
So Green Day's "American Idiot" album released on September 21, 2004 manages to combine the two and produce the first Punk-Rock opera in history, well maybe the second if you count "Hüsker Dü's" Zen Arcade".
You could call it the "Green Day" comeback album, after almost a decade of irrelevance, but we prefer to call it the band's "Maturity" album. The group of disturbed youngsters who broke into the world consciousness a decade earlier with the album "Dookie", as an angry three chords Punk-Rock band, became a band that takes itself seriously and writes a full concept album with a plot story, to express the disillusionment and protest of the September 11 and the Iraq War generation.
The protagonists of the story are "Jesus of Suburbia" - A middle-class American teenage an anti-hero, from Manitown USA, whose parents are not getting along and turns to drugs and alcohol to survive. "Jimmy" - a Punk-rock artist, rebellious freedom fighter" and "Whatsername" - rival of "St. Jimmy”, which focuses on the fulfillment of her beliefs and ethics.
The plot story begins with the theme song "American Idiot" - a nervous and furious punk-rock track, a distinct protest song designed to put us in the place and time where the plot takes place. Reflect on the atmosphere that prevailed in the United States after the events of September 11 and the Iraq war. The sobriety and understanding, the decline of patriotism and public protest that was also expressed in the media, such as the critical film "Fahrenheit 911" by Michael Moore. The "American Idiot" are perhaps a combination of George W. Bush and the American media, which Billie Joe Armstrong believes sowed paranoia and idiocy among the American public. The song was written by Billie Joe Armstrong after watching news coverage of the Iraq war, with journalists in tanks escorting soldiers to the battlefield. He felt the American news had crossed the line from journalism to a reality series, showing violent footage combined with commercials. Billy also mentioned another event that influenced the writing of the song, in which he listened in his car to the song "That's How I Like It" by "Lynyrd Skynyrd" and thought to himself who is this idiot who prides himself on being a "Redneck"?
The story continues with the presentation of the protagonist of the plot "Jesus of Suburbia". A five-part epic piece, spanning more than 9 minutes, that is completely uncharacteristic of a Punk-Rock band. The track introduces us to the world of the lower-middle-class American suburban boy "Jesus," who grew up on a "soda pop and Ritalin" diet. "Jesus" hates his town ("City of the Damned") and those close to him, so he leaves for the big city and thus begins his journey. Billie Joe Armstrong noted that it took him a long time to write the song and that he wanted to write the "Bohemian Rhapsody" of the future. Interestingly, despite its length (it is a bit shortened on the radio version), this song was released as the fifth and final single from the album.
The story continues with "Holiday" one of the album's hits released as the third single from it. It's another protest song aimed at the Bush administration, urging potential protesters to go out to the streets and demonstrate. He goes against the indifference of the average American who does not do enough to change the reality in which he lives.
This powerful song is an introduction to one of the album's beautiful moments, when at 3:50 min its final chord becomes the opening chord of "Boulevard of Broken Dreams", the biggest hit from the album. The song was written during one of the breaks the band took. Hoping to clear his head and develop new ideas for songs, Billie Joe Armstrong travels alone to New York, rents a small loft in East Village and for a few weeks focuses on writing. Much of this time was spent by Billy on long walks through the streets of New York. He wrote the song about "feeling alone" about "the dream" and the disappointment. He felt that the song fit well with the plot line of the album, which is about escaping from your hometown and embarking on a journey during which you fight your inner demons.
The music changes as the plot progresses, with the melancholy atmosphere of "Are We the Waiting" being replaced by angry Punk-Rock in the 2:45 minute of the song with "St. Jimmy". "Jesus" arrives in the big city ("Are We the Waiting") but he finds it much colder and more alienated than he expected. In his loneliness he meets "St. Jimmy" - the rebellious master of freedom who turns out as an alter ego of "Jesus" himself, which was created as a result of his loneliness. "Jesus" creates the image of "St. Jimmy" in his mind to make himself less vulnerable to the world. When "Jimmy" is actually the "angry" equivalent of "Jesus".
The drumming that reminded us of U2's "Bullet The Blue Sky" opens up the track "Give Me Novacaine". A song about the character of "St. Jimmy" created by "Jesus". He talks about all the pain Jimmy felt. He wants his life problems to go away, the demons to go away from his dreams and he needs something strong to ease the pain, so he turns to "Novacaine". When Jimmy is already on the verge of suicide, at 3:28 to the song, "Whatsername" enters the picture with the bouncy "She's a Rebel". She is the relief that "Jimmy" ("Jesus") seeks. A fun and free girl who helps him forget his problems. She is a rebel, she is an angel, she is the salt of the earth and she holds the heart of "Jesus" like a grenade just like on the album cover.
The bongo drums accompany us to the "Extraordinary Girl" section which of course talks about "Whatsername" and her relationship with "Jesus"/"Jimmy", when during the song we discover that "Whatsername" is not really perfect and she has her own issues. The song connects in 3:30 min with "Letterbomb". A rhythmic song that describes how "Jimmy"/ "Jesus" is dumped out by "Whatsername" because she does not like the person he has become.
The breakup from of "Whatsername" leaves "Jesus" hurt. His depression is like a long sleep from which he does not want to wake up. "Wake Me Up When September Ends" was written by Billie Joe Armstrong about his father, who died of cancer on September 1, 1982. Billy cried at his father's funeral, he ran home and locked himself in a room. When his mother knocked on the door Billy replied, "Wake me up when September ends," hence the title of this wonderful song.
We are approaching the climax of the plot with "Homecoming" the longest track the band has ever written. A five-part, 9:18-minute song in which the departure of "Whatsername" causes "Jesus" to kill his alter ego, "St. Jimmy," and return to the way life was before he left home and got into drugs.
In the first part - "The Death of St. Jimmy", "Jesus" leaves the streets, he leaves Jimmy behind and returns home. He realizes that running away from home was not the answer and he did not gain anything from it. He expected a lot but got nothing in return. "St. Jimmy" commits suicide, it was "Jesus" who just drove him out of his mind.
In the second part - "East 12th St" "Jesus" succumbs to conformity, he finds a job and a routine life, this again leads him to a bad place. He feels trapped. He prefers to be outside and vulnerable and he must escape...
In the third part - "Nobody Likes You", "Jesus" is still depressed about the loss of "Whatsername", he is waiting for her to come back, but it does not happen. All his dreams are shattered when in his mind he hears the words "No one loves you, everyone has left you ..."
In the fourth part - "Rock and Roll Girlfriend", "Jesus" receives a postcard from a guy named "Tunny" probably another guy that he met while wandering the streets of the big city. "Tunny" tells him about the rock and roll star life he lives, and it further intensifies the depression of "Jesus “Who feels stuck in a miserable life and boring job. The song was written and sung by drummer Tré Cool.
In the fifth and final part - "We're Coming Home Again", "Jesus" comes to an understanding. He comes to terms with the situation and just accepts it. He's coming home. He's not sure if he's happy or sad, but he's at least at home, alive ...
The ending track of the rock opera "Whatsername" takes place after "Jesus" returned home, he lived a normal routine life but still regrets losing "Whatsername". It's been so long that he doesn't even remember her name ("Whatsername"). He wonders what happened to her. All he has is his memories of her. The album ends with him trying to forget her. He does not regret his life on the streets, he uses them as a learning experience, but still tries to forget the pain that "Whatsername" caused him, and vice versa.
"American Idiot" became one of the biggest albums of 2004. It marked the comeback of "Green Day", which flew straight to number one on the Billboard 200 and 18 other countries. It has sold over 16 million copies worldwide, making it the band's second best-selling album and one of the best-selling albums of the decade. "American Idiot" received rave reviews. It was nominated for Album of the Year and won Best Rock Album at the 2005 Grammy Awards. It was also nominated for Best Album at European Music Awards and Billboard Music Awards, and won first place. Its success has inspired Broadway musicals, documentaries and feature film adaptations. The "Rolling Stone" magazine ranked it 225th on the list of "500 Greatest Albums of All Time" (248th on the updated list from 2020).