When the Heart like a Hand Grenade Blew Up
Happy Green Day! Our National Ave writers celebrate the 10th anniversary of Green Day’s American Idiot by looking back on what the album meant in 2004.
When American Idiot came out, I had just started fourth grade. The election was right around the corner and I was staunchly pro-Kerry for no reason other than the media I consumed told me that Republicans are evil (which, I suppose, I still think is true). The election, the Philadelphia Eagles, and music were the things I was most interested in at this time.
I hadn’t reached my cynical music snob phase of my life yet, but I also found it extremely difficult to reach any common ground with kids my age about music. Musically, U2 and The Killers were the most popular bands I could get behind and those bands were the only answers to “what music do you like” that would not draw blank stares from my fellow fourth graders.1 Since I was unable to make friends until my junior year of high school, fourth grade me eventually decided to “fuck this.”2 That is, I figured I was just going to be a loner and let my classmates enjoy the music that they wanted to while I observed them in my kid’s medium American Apparel t-shirts.
Shortly after this decision was reached, American Idiot became the biggest thing in the world.
There is no tight or happy ending to this anecdote. I didn’t give up my lonerism to become a Green Day fan.3 I didn’t even pretend to like Green Day to try to fit in. I just simply observed the consumers of my grade school unite over an album. To this day, I have never listened to a Green Day album in full. My knowledge of this record extends only to its five singles, all of which I enjoyed (especially “Boulevard of Broken Dreams”).4 Becoming a full fledged fan of Green Day evaded me, but most of America was under the band’s spell.
American Idiot’s success makes complete sense now in my old age. The mid-2000s were marked by the angst of the general public. America was dissatisfied with its culture and how it was being viewed. An unjust war, reality shows, and nu-metal gave the argument that Europe is better than us credence. American Idiot seemed like a response to all this. Or, at least, listeners (young and old) could project their own feelings about the state of the country onto Green Day’s music. This aspect, confounded with the album’s story about a “Jesus of Suburbia” who hated his small town, made sure that their album would be a smash with the student body of Mark Sheridan Elementary.
Green Day’s army of pre-pubescent through post-pubescent fans followed the band to their 2009 release 21st Century Breakdown but most of them fell off once they released three albums in 2012.5 Now Green Day stands in a similar position it was in before American Idiot was release. There is very little heat on them but they are remembered for releasing a classic record. The same kids who made American Idiot their theme music have graduated to punk or vaporwave but they’ll never forget their roots planted deeply in the fields of Billy Joe Armstrong’s black shirt and necktie look.6
It’s safe to say that American Idiot was a “right place, right time” release. Yet, you have to applaud the way Green Day took advantage of the moment more than any hard rock band at the time could have or did. American Idiot didn’t have the staying power that young loner Joshua Razo thought it would, but man oh man, was its explosion was something to watch.