By: Kyle Grubb
Of all of the categories of Stuffs to pick my first representative for, this was the hardest. Definitely. In the end, I decided that I had to pick the album that really got me into finding my own form of music. This was that album.
For the majority of my young life, I listened to the kinda music my parents listened to. I think that’s fairly normal for kids. In middle school, though, one of my friends, Andy, really got into Green Day. He listened to Dookie and Nimrod all of the time, and eventually we all got roped in. When 2004 came around and American Idiot launched, every single member of my friend-group picked it up. And we loved it.
American Idiot was, as is obvious to anyone who listened to it, unlike anything Green Day had done before. It blew our minds. Most of us, in our musical infancy, had never experienced a rock opera. We didn’t understand the concept of an album having a story. The variety of music and the tale it weaved opened our eyes to a whole new understanding of what bands could do with an album. Through this album, we began to expand our horizons. American Idiot was the album that truly got me interested in music, convinced me to look for my own kind of music that I enjoyed. Even discrediting everything else about this album, it changed the way I approached music. For that, it’ll always be special to me.
In 2004, Green Day released American Idiot to an unsuspecting public. Green Day, known for their punk rock, took things in a grander direction with their new album. Their new sound was bigger, louder, and made for the largest concert venues in the world. Instead of sharing their personal stories or pain, they played to the largest arenas with the story of a young man who moves to the big city and gets wrapped up in a group of social revolutionaries. The album was loud, bombastic, and sweeping, with certain tracks running over 9 minutes long. Between these grand declarations, though, were the more personal moments pouring with emotion. In the end, the album took you on a journey, and many of the younger listeners had never experienced anything quite like it.
American Idiot is very much a sign of its time. In 2004, people were still reeling from 9/11 and its lasting ramifications. Tensions were high, and people were truly beginning to question the path the country and our government were taking. Green Day, a punk band that had a decent hold on the ear of the youth at the time, found themselves at one of those harmonious unions of growing ambition and grand opportunity. Taking much in the vein of The Who’s groundbreaking Tommy, Green Day set out to make a rock opera for the modern day. While viewers would have to analyze some of the finer details of the lyrics to get a grasp on the full story, the emotion behind every song and the album’s great aspirations were enough to catch the heartbeats of countless people.
From the hard rock inspirations of the opening track American Idiot all the way to the powerful emotional moments of Boulevard of Broken Dreams, Green Day found a way to put their heart into their music in a way they never had before: instead of sharing personal stories and raging against the oppressors in their daily lives, they stepped out and openly spoke against many of the problems people were beginning to realize. Discomfort towards the many of the current government’s decisions was beginning to spread, and American Idiot was there to be the anthem of those who hadn’t yet figured out how to put those doubts to words.
The music itself is loud and soulful. You can hear the emotion behind every word in Billie Joe Armstrong’s voice, most notably in songs Are We the Waiting and the widely acclaimed Wake Me Up When September Ends. That isn’t to say that the broad and eclectic numbers such as Jesus of Suburbia and Letterbomb are any less powerful or meaningful. The showstopping number, Homecoming, has always been a personal favorite of mine. It truly feels like the culmination of everything that had come before in the album, that each song had fed into this very moment. Clocking in at over 9 minutes long and actually containing many smaller songs within it, it seems to be a microcosm of the album as a whole: varied, loud, emotional, and poignant. American Idiot demanded to be heard, put voice to some of the people’s doubts, and told them a story along the way. It was the perfect album for the time it was released.
American Idiot wasn’t just a great album, it was a small movement. Green Day managed to be just ahead of the average listener, and put words to the discomforts of most of a generation in the form of a rock opera about a fairly normal guy trying to find his way in a twisted, confusing world. While the story could be labyrinthine and needed closer inspection to follow closely, the emotion behind that story did not. Even if you didn’t recognize the story being told between the lyrics, the songs were big and ambitious. I would be hard pressed to find somebody who wouldn’t unconsciously rock their heads to the faster moments and feel something growing in them during the softer, more impassioned numbers.
There seems to be almost an infectious quality to American Idiot. It is unashamedly punk, unashamedly rock, and yet it has broader appeal than its genre’s would suggest. While not a perfect album, and occasionally submitting itself to spectacle over coherency, it’s hard not to get wrapped up in the journey Green Day is trying to take you on.