In case the title of this post is not clear, or if it put you in some sort of pop culture shock, I’ll reiterate: Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day is going to appear in the American Idiot musical adaptation of the album of the same name. To comment on this, I feel that I should explain my feelings on Green Day, musicals, and the Green Day musical.
Let’s travel way back to the early nineties: the song was “Basket Case,” and I heard it on MTV, because kids, believe it or not, they used to actually play music on MTV. I know that’s a crazy revelation and your head is already spinning, but stay with me now, because here’s another one: Green Day used to be punk. Now I want to be clear that I’m not referring to “Dookie,” the Green Day album that blasted them into the consciousness of American teens everywhere, because by definition, one cannot be punk with an album on a major record label – it fact, it goes against everything the counter-culture punk movement stands for, and Green Day’s original fan base largely abandoned them for leaving Lookout Records – not that it mattered, because teens like myself and millions more were there to pick up “Dookie” (damn Green Day for making me write ‘pick up dookie’), because it’s a fantastic album. I don’t think folks will study it until the end of time, but it’s a great little pop album filled with tons of power-cord fueled three minute energize-you-before-the-big-game songs that I would still listen to today if I was not totally burned out on every single one of them. But yes, before this, Green Day was a fairly legitimate punk band, although Armstrong was often criticized for singing with a fake British accent. (Does he? Growing up a Beatles fan and having a very specific standard for a British accent, I’ve never been able to detect this, but whatever.) Their first two albums, “1039 Smoothed Out Slappy Hours” and “Kerplunk” are solid punk albums – I particularly like “Christie Road” and the gritty guitar sounds found throughout “Kerplunk.”
This, however, does not make me a punk by any extent, not then, not now. I grew up in the Jersey suburbs of Manhattan, went to the movies or the mall with friends and was nearly always driven to these places by a parent. I skateboarded, but I also played hockey on roller blades – during which, I removed my chain-wallet. (My dad used to insist someone was going to use the chain as means to steal my wallet; I should have reminded him I was 13 – what was someone going to steal, my student ID?) I bring all this up because I want to illustrate that I know what punk is, even if I never was one – this is how I know I wasn’t punk in the first place. Besides, I’ve always been a Pearl Jam kind of guy.
So I heard “Dookie,” loved it, got their first two albums, loved those, and eagerly waited for their fourth installment… and what we got was “Insomniac,” which I think event he most hardcore Green Day fan hast to admit is a pretty lame album. There was just nowhere left to go – punk, like the blues, has only so many rooms, and you really have to know what you’re doing to keep redecorating year after year, and frankly, Green Day didn’t know how to do that, and never really figured it out.
Then there was that whole “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)
,” debacle. I know so many of you out there love this song, but this song is the very antithesis of punk. I’m sure it was your theme at senior prom; but if it was, you’re probably not old enough to even be aware of the ‘Is Green Day punk?’ debate in the first place. What really bugs me about “Time of Your Life” is I can so clearly here a traditional power-cord Green Day song in there. You don’t even have to change the tempo, just add some drums, replace acoustic with electric guitar and ditch the fiddle. I always imagined they recorded the song as per usual and someone from the record label reminded them that they hadn’t had a hit in a while and it was time to try something else, even if it wasn’t punk. In my estimation, “Time of Your Life” ended the debate and resolved in my mind whether or not I would ever like Green Day again; how could I respect a group that so pathetically pandered to the middle with a bunch of cliched lyrics and “Name
” inspired production?
Then I heard the “American Idiot
“ album, and I have to admit I was surprised; there were some decent songs on there, songs I could get behind. OK, one song I could get behind: “Jesus of Suburbia
” was interesting, and I was particularly shocked that it was getting radio play, given it’s long duration. I remember thinking that the use of the piano during the bridge of “Jesus
“ was the least possible punk use of a piano that they could have achieved, but I hadn’t consider them a punk band for years anyway.
Before “21st Century Breakdown
” came out, I saw a ton of press for this album. Mr. Armstrong and Green Day were out there, letting it be known: it’s an opera. It’s a rock opera! I couldn’t help but think, “Wow; that’s bold. They’re not a punk band anymore anyway, so why not go the full effing 10 yards and just blow it out of the water with a rock opera? Nice move. I can’t wait to hear this!” I found myself, against all odds, getting excited about a forthcoming Green Day album.
After I heard “21st Century Breakdown,” I realized what a fool I’d been.
I listened to “21st Century Breakdown,” and then I listened to it again. This was not an opera. It wasn’t even a concept album. I read the Rolling Stone
reviews… they’d come up with all these characters, complete with names, histories, wants and needs. What the hell where they talking about? Was all this information in the press packet? (I didn’t get one of those. ) They were talking about the story… what the hell album were they listening to, anyway? There is no story! The songs are awful! “21 guns
” is not a good song, and it’s probably the best song on the album – what does that tell you? And I still don’t understand why “Song of the Century” sounds like it was produced at the end of the 19th century when the friggin album is called “21st Century Breakdown!”
Award Winning Sets & Lights!
Finally, I learned of the abomination that’s currently polluting Broadway. Now I know it’s not fair of me to criticize a show I’ve never seen, but let’s be real: do I really need to see 30 people on stage, head banging and singing in unison (OK, they don’t always sing in unison, but they do always scare me!) to know it’s a pile of flaming crap? I think not. Besides, I’ve listened to the the albums the show is based on; what else do I need to know? And speaking of not fair, I’d say it’s unfair to refer to “American Idiot” as “the Tony Award winning show that everyone is talking about” when the show only won awards for sets and lighting – of which I saw pictures, and yes, they are awesome – especially the lighting. I know that’s what I’m looking for when I go to the theater – excellent sets and lighting, and I go home happy, all be $150 lighter.
From the New York TImes
With “American Idiot” selling unevenly at the box office after six months of performances, and still a ways off from possibly turning a profit, Mr. Armstrong is making his Broadway debut on Tuesday night in the supporting role of St. Jimmy, a punk rocker with an evil streak that Green Day first created in lyrics from its 2004 album, “American Idiot.” Mr. Armstrong will appear for eight performances ending Sunday evening, suddenly turning the show into a hot ticket.
The show isn’t doing well financially, so one possible solution is to bring in Armstrong for 8 performances and generate some buzz. I had to let my girlfriend know, so I sent her the above paragraph. Here is our conversation:
who is mr. armstrong?
Jamie: as in billie joe armstrong
(then the ramifications of this clarification hit her.)
nothing more punk than appearing in your own broadway musical …
From the NY Times:
Rock musicians have crossed over to Broadway for years to create or promote shows featuring their music, like Pete Townshend with “The Who’s Tommy” and U2’s Bono and the Edge with the upcoming “Spider-Man” musical. Kevin Cronin, the front man of REO Speedwagon, planned to perform the band’s hit “Can’t Fight This Feeling” on Monday night at the Broadway production of “Rock of Ages.”
PATRICK HEALY thought it was OK to mention “Tommy” in the company of “Spider-Man” and “Rock of Ages.” I haven’t seen “Rock of Ages” and no one has seen “Spider-Man” yet, but what the hell… But you know what? Unless Bono or The Edge (ugh, I still can’t believe that guy calls himself The Edge – what is it with people from Europe? “From now on, everyone should call me Sting.” Right on, Gordon.) plays Spider-Man themselves, I don’t want to hear another thing about it – unless The Green Goblin kills Gwen Stacey in the second act (oh wait, it’s a musical – so the end of the first act before intermission) and Spider-Man sings about how sad he is and how he’s going to kill the Green Goblin; then I’m going.
So Mr. Armstrong isn’t doing anything unprecedented by appearing in his own show, but again, wow. He’s already done everything else he could to get attention for the show: members of the cast performed with Green Day at the Grammy Awards in January and on Monday Night Football’s opening night (when the Jets lost to the Ravens) and the band played with the cast at the Tony Awards in June. What else is left besides Mr. Armstrong joining the cast?
It’s actually a perfect analogy for how lame Green Day has become. You’ve beaten the low of “Time of Your Life,” gentlemen. Congratulations, and Good Riddance.