Sunday, January 22, 2012

American Idiot

There have really only been a few albums that I can honestly say I was obsessed with. I’ve liked and continue to like plenty, but when it comes to ones that I legitimately did not stop listening to for months, the number drops off significantly.

The one album that stands out among these select few is Green Day’s American Idiot. I was actually worried that I wouldn’t be able to listen to it when it first came out, as it had the dreaded “Parental Advisory: Explicit Content” sticker on its cover, something that my parents took very seriously at the time. At least, I thought they took it very seriously until I came home from school one day in October and saw American Idiot waiting for me on the couch because my dad didn’t notice the sticker when he went out to buy it (I was comically horrible at getting away with anything in high school, so I pointed this out to him almost immediately. He shrugged and grinned sheepishly. It was a nice moment for the two of us). Then it went into my CD player, and it remained there until sometime around Christmas, by which point I had memorized the lyrics to every track.

I still enjoy listening to the album, but I don’t do so nearly as often—or with nearly as much fervor—as I did back in the halcyon days of 2004. This is partly because I just don’t get as excited about things at age 23 as I did at age 16, a phenomenon I am going to blame blindly on biology. But I think it’s more so because it’s not 2004 anymore, and American Idiot was very much an album meant for 2004. More specifically, it was an album meant for burgeoning teenage rock fans who knew they were upset about the Iraq war and wanted the Bush administration out of office in 2004 but weren’t very good at articulating why.

Part of me remains slightly upset about having missed out on the 1960s, although this part did begin drastically shrinking once I went to college and needed to start doing actual research on the decade for history papers. This quickly revealed that, while it had certainly been an exciting and interesting decade, it had not been the nonstop parade of America’s Most Important Historic Events the way Forrest Gump had made it seem.

But this didn't matter when I was 16. When I was 16, the only thing that really mattered about the 60s was the music, and the music was incredible. And not just incredible but important. Great bands were writing great songs about war and social change back then, a topic that seemed a lot more worthwhile than the topics music was exploring in 2004. So I largely retreated into classic rock that year. Seeing if Sgt. Pepper’s was really as good as everyone said it was seemed like a better use of my time than paying attention to any bands that had gotten together after 1988.

And then American Idiot came out, and all of a sudden I realized that new rock music could be about important things, too. This was an album about a war, and the war that it was about hadn't ended 13 years before I was born. It was pretty messy and occasionally pretentious, but so were my reasons for not supporting the Iraq war in 2004, so this worked out pretty well for me. Besides, the mess and pretention didn’t matter nearly as much as did the mere fact that this was an antiwar album that came out in my lifetime. I didn’t have to pretend that I had been protesting alongside Creedence Clearwater Revival in 1969 anymore because there was an actual war going on and actual protest music being written about it now. It finally felt both like there were important events going on around me and like there was music being written to reflect this. 23-year-old Eddie recognizes that this is a pretty reductive and egotistical way to look at current events. 16-year-old Eddie didn't give a shit.

Oh, and the songs were good, too (and pretty innovative, at least for Green Day. Who would've thought the guys behind "Longview" could pull off two nine-minute tracks in one album?). So I decided to listen to them for three months straight.

And then Bush was reelected, and I went up to Minnesota for the holidays and got really into Oasis, and Green Day released the still good but relatively inconsequential 21st Century Breakdown, and the war in Iraq went on for another seven years. So realistically speaking, American Idiot’s lasting impact—on me, on the band, on the country—wasn’t especially significant. But it’s hard for anything not to seem especially significant when you’re 16, especially a political rock album that happens to come out right when you’re starting to get very interested in politics and rock music. Being too young to find it condescending when celebrities tell you what to think about anything except themselves didn’t hurt either.

So thanks, Green Day. Having said that, I have to admit that I’m not particularly interested in how you feel about Afghanistan.

1 comment:

Sharon said...

that "nice moment" between you and dad illustrates everything that is unfair about being the oldest sibling.
love, your obedient older sister