American idiots: Green Day.

Here at blfr we frequently lament the scarcity of bright, bold, creative, iconoclastic young bands who can cut new ground in rock while keeping it real.

But there is Green Day—the power-pop, retro-punk trio from Oakland, California. They're not kids anymore, but they've reinvented themselves in recent years (with two experimental but mega-successful punk rock operas) and, in the process, scooped up a new generation of young fans.

This band is now the standard bearer for Generation X and the Millennials. If that wasn't enough, Green Day's music has spawned a Broadway musical this year, American Idiot, which should win over a few more generations.

One reason for Green Day's success, methinks, is their total commitment to their ideals, which are abundantly expressed in their records. True to the punk tradition (especially by way of the '80s Berkeley scene) they consistently rail against racism, misogyny, and homophobia. (They once confronted a guy waiting in line for their concert wearing a 'White Power' T-shirt and told him they'd throw his dumb-ass out if he created any trouble.)

With Green Day you don't have to figure out what they stand for. File this under good branding.

And it's my fervent hope that in this US election season their many fans in the States will heed their message (pointedly expressed in the song below) and not support the new/old wave of American cultural narcissists, jingoists, and xenophobes (you know, the ones who speak of 'real Americans') who come out of the cracks during election seasons and to the rest of the world make Americans look like… well… idiots.

If you think the disruptive urgency of rock & roll is dead you need to watch the live segment of this clip. In the interview afterward, singer Billie Joe Armstrong defends Green Day's experimental approach and underscores the importance of innovation (in any business) by musing, 'Anything that's successful is a series of mistakes.'

Come to think of it, if idiots (American or otherwise) make mistakes, idiocy may have its redemptive qualities.

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  1. Green Day is ok but there are a dozen punk bands who leave them in the dust. Rancid for one. And what's with Billy Joe's eyeshadow?

  2. There's no shortage of competent punk bands, Ali, but how many of them are this versatile and innovative, whose style runs the gamut from acoustic folk ("Good Riddance") to power pop ("21 Guns") to frenzied punk ("She") to blistering hard rock ("Do You Know the Enemy"). A band has to be inventive to stand out these days, and GD passes the test. Billie Joe Armstrong, with or without make-up, is one of the most creative songwriters alive today and he keeps getting better. He invites comparisons to Ray Davies and Pete Townshend.

  3. I agree with you John, it isn't about their artistic value as much as their values reflect their artistic intergrity. I am not a fan of their music but I can't help but admire how they have emerged to be much more than a small punk band confection to ascend to a height no one could have foretolled. All the while, managing to consinstent put out music that represented them and the view that their fans have of them and their belief.

    How many artisit can say that for the length of their creative careers, that they grew without leaving anyone behind?

  4. Thanks, Mark. I didn't pay attention to Green Day until I listened to the lyrics to their American Idiot album a couple of years ago. THAT won me over — along with the fact that they were willing to take a risk with a controversial "concept album" that was certain to tweak jingoistic sensibilities. Instead of being tarred and feathered (like the Dixie Chicks were, for similar sentiments) Green Day gets a Broadway musical for it. Only in America.

  5. Am I hallucinating or do you rewrite some of your post once it's up? Maybe I'm losing my mind but I don't remember seeing some of this last night.

  6. Ali, I suspect you hallucinate regularly. (There's no shame in it, especially if you're a Boomer, given the experiences so many of us have shared.) And you may well be losing your mind. But this is not evidentiary of that. I DO edit — and re-edit — my posts. (You should see my shopping lists.) For instance, I just changed the title of this from American Idiot or American Idiots. The way I see it, my commitment to Continuous Improvement keeps my thousands of readers coming back for more.

  7. John: Great going again on comparing rock and roll to business by noting the way for a business to expand is to FOCUS FOCUS FOCUS on one ideal!

    Hope you get the slur on words?

    A bit obscure?


  8. John -- This is fabulous music. Thanks a million for turning me on to Green Day. I'm 58 years old and I can't believe I never heard of them and it's time to get back into punk music. That was some great energy and great politics.

  9. Anon: Buy their last two albums right away, American Idiot and 21st Century Breakdowns. Both of these are narratives, not just collections of disparate songs, in the spirit of Sgt Pepper's & Tommy. Also check out my early post on them: /notes/2008/08/taking-care-of-business

  10. there r 30 punk bands as good as gd that u dont mention.

    billy joe is one of 'most creative songwriters alive today'?

    r u on their payroll?

    'new/old wave of american cultural narcissists.' say what?


  11. Great post, John. I like the music and their thoughtfulness. They're bold. I would that other bands, politicians, and businesses were more thoughtful and true. I first heard Armstrong on Real Time and was impressed with him.

  12. Rusk, it depends on what you mean by "as good as." There's no dearth of punkers who play (and sing) well and with intensity. But, at the moment anyway, I can’t think of any besides Green Day that have—in addition to the raw simplicity that punk is famous for—a commitment to experimentation and innovation, combined with a complete command of song craft, arrangement, and production. There's a saying I use (adapted from a political campaign): "It's the songs, stupid." Armstrong is one of the few rockers who has a rich melodic, harmonic, and lyrical palette to work from as a songwriter. (I'm happy to expand on that if you're interested.) Hell, he uses chord changes now that I haven't heard since John Lennon.

    By "new/old wave of American cultural exceptionalists" I'm referring to the increasing number of politicians who campaign for office based primarily on how many times they can say "America" and "family values" in a sentence — and how many flag lapels they can wear to bed — while cheating on their spouses. The latter activity may soon become a precondition for running for national office.

  13. Well, I just read the comments made by Brandon Flowers of The Killers, saying that American Idiot is Anti-American. I am so confused. He said "I'm sure they meant it in the same way that Bruce Springsteen meant 'Born In The USA' and it was taken wrongly, but I was really offended when I saw them do that". Am I being very dim, or did he just compare Born in the USA to -- oh, say -- Yankee Doodle Dandy? I have never taken Born that way - I think it is far more complex than that.

    When my oldest son (35 now - yikes!) was 12, Reagan was president. Not a fan. One of my son's friends said to me "Why do you hate our country?" Whaaaat? "Do you love our president? No? Well, why do you hate our country?". My answer was "You are 12 years old, don't talk to me". Pulled a little rank there.

    I have thought of that incident often, especially in today's climate. Loud and clear talk of Real Americans,
    real American Values, Real Christians and, of course, Muslims faking it - sometimes I feel like I am still in that conversation with the 12 year old boy.

    Time to pay more attention to Green Day, I guess!

  14. Dorothy, your confusion is warranted. I have no idea what Flowers meant by that. And he apparently blamed Green Day for performing "American Idiot" overseas. Of course they played it all across America on the same tour, and I don't think they needed to drop the song from their repertoire — the title song of their hit album at the time — because they were "offshore."

    Of course there's nothing wrong and everything right about criticizing our leaders when they are ill-equipped — intellectually, emotionally, or morally — to lead. In the US we have the leader of one political party (and apparently a candidate for President in 2012) who would have to be briefed by campaign staffers to pass an 8th grade American history test. We have religious clerics who harbor sexual predators — and evangelic leaders who encourage bigotry and homophobia. And then there are the business leaders who play roulette with — and subsequently destroy — their customers' and employees' pensions and savings.

    (Thank God for rock & roll protest.)

  15. Re: Brandon Flowers. The author of that seminal and insightful lyric, "I got soul but I'm not a soldier" often leaves me perplexed, too. I heard him interviewed on an evening radio show here in the UK a couple of weeks ago and... well... let's be fair and acknowledge that he could have had a long day answering the same questions. But he stonewalled everything with curt answers and when pushed, launched into a lengthy answer that was clearly taking the mickey. He came across as a truculent twerp - but maybe it was a bad day. On the other hand, it's your JOB Brandon, so do at least appear to care.

    Creative / versatile / articulate: how about UK's Manic Street Preachers. They don't seem to have cracked America but try Journal for Plague Lovers and the recent Postcards From A Young Man.

  16. Postcards From A Young Man ... What a great title. Somewhat Dylan Thomas-y. I like it. Journal for Plague Lovers is good, too. Might have to check these guys out. Manic Street Preachers -- also good. Better check this out!

    Thanks Mark.

  17. Mark - I just realized the Preachers have been around awhile but I never heard them until now. I liked the first songs I just heard - including It's Not War.

  18. John
    Thanks for the notice of John's 70th.
    When I saw the video "Imagine" I became speechless....and writeless too! It took a couple of days to recover!!! We need these reminders! thanks
    david snieckus

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