I could use this post as a review of the musical American Idiot at the Peabody Operahouse in St. Louis, but I would feel overly biased as part of the demographic targeted by the show: the 20 to 40-year-old crowd that listens to Dookie, Warning and Kerplunk as our versions of as-close-as-you-can-get-to-the-Beatles-in-this-day-and-age albums.
If Michael Mayer and Billy Joe Armstrong’s broadway rendering of American Idiot does anything, it reminds past listeners of how good Green Day is and tell new listeners to go out and buy the 11-disc anthology for $99.99 on iTunes.
My generation got lucky. We had our high school experience landmarked by several albums, like All-American Rejects’ Move Along and Coldplay’s Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends. Most importantly, we had American Idiot to kick it all off and 21st Century Breakdown to take us through graduation four years later.
I won’t pretend to have listened to Green Day since 1995 because I’d be lying through the keyboard. I joined the party 10 years late when the rest of mainstream America took notice, with the 2005 release of American Idiot. Released at the end of eighth grade, I wasn’t in tuned to Green Day until Evan Watkins (now a quarterback for Northwestern University) and his band played one of their songs at our spring talent show. Middle school wasn’t a great era of music for me — I mostly listened to Smashmouth and the Freaky Friday soundtrack — but as soon as I got a taste of the chord progressions and drumbeats of “Holiday,” my musicscape was drastically altered.
So I got my hands on a copy through my friend Amanda Lambert. The first sound that came to my ears was frontman Billy Joe Armstrong’s guitar and radioed-in vocals: “Don’t wanna be an American idiot, don’t wanna nation under the new media.”*
*I prefer to think they’re talking about Fox and MSNBC rather than Rolling Stone or Vanity Fair.
Suddenly, that first year of high school was bearable for all of us Green Day-blasting misfits. Someone else out there to walk that “boulevard of broken dreams” with us, and wake up when September ended. Like us, they were lost, confused, angry at everything. Billy Joe Armstrong says the album is an ode to the post 9-11 American teen. Although I suppose I’m part of that demographic, I saw it as an ode to teenagers all over, facing everything from the new and panic-stricken world to simply adjusting to high school.
Almost ten years later, I’m still enchanted by the original work as well as its sort-of-sequel-but-not-really 21st Century Breakdown, which carried me through leaving home and going to college. No matter what the situation, Green Day’s music has been there. Saturday’s Broadway musical version of American Idiot did absolutely nothing to hinder that love; instead, it brought to life on stage the themes of that album that got us all through the first year of true puberty.
The show itself has the characters we recognize from the lyrics we’ve sung along with for eight years now. Jesus of Suburbia (Johnny) is jaded and tired of mainstream life, manifesting St. Jimmy as the hardcore, heroin-dealing side of his personality. Tunny and Will, though new characters, take on the stories presented through songs like “Give Me Novocain” and the Abbey Road-inspired “Homecoming” suite. Tunny goes off to Afghanistan in very Across the Universe-styled choreography to “Are We the Waiting.” Whatsername and Extraordinary Girl both strengthen and tear down the men they inspire in songs like “Extraordinary Girl” and “Letterbomb.”
In the end, the themes that run through American Idiot both on stage and over the speakers continue running through my musical veins. Green Day is one of those bands that has been around a long time and will be around as I pass into my 30s and 40s, still holding that power over me as a band I truly admire for their storytelling and how far they’ve come from their humble (but still great) beginnings in the mid-90s. Maybe it’s because of fans like me. Maybe it’s simply because Billy Joe, Tre and Mike are too stubborn to shut up and leave us alone.
And thank St. Jimmy they are.