On September 20th, 2004, Californian punk trio Green Day released their seventh studio album ‘American Idiot’. It’s the record that almost never was as Green Day were originally recording ‘Cigarettes and Valentines’, before the theft of their master tapes inspired a change of direction. And we aren’t ones to condone theft but we’re glad it happened.
The year of recording, 2003 was marked by global protests against the war in Iraq, with 36 million people rallying against the invasion of American, British, Australian and Polish forces. Lead by President George Bush and the British Prime Minister Tony Blair, the battle against Saddam Hussain was claimed to be a necessary act to prevent the country from using its ‘weapons of mass destruction’.
Green Day may have been inspired by the politicised punk bands of the 70s – The Clash and Bad Religion to name a few – but ‘American Idiot’ was their first real attempt at voicing the serious concerns of their generation. The record follows the story of the fictional ‘Jesus of Suburbia’, a dispassionate young man who travels to the city in search of meaning, finding ‘St Jimmy’ and ‘Whatshername’, two renegades from society. The anti-hero inevitably loses both: ‘St Jimmy’ to his metaphorical suicide and ‘Whatshername’ to his over-use of narcotics, leaving him unable to even remember her name.
The record served as a rallying call to Green Day’s audience; suburban youths feeling ignored and exploited by their Government, sinking into political apathy. With lyrics that attacked television’s coverage of the war on terrorism, “one nation controlled by the media, information age of hysteria” and urged listeners to break free from their apathy, the story resonated with the thoughts of America’s left-wing population.
Ten years later, and the feeling of the record still holds true. The teenagers of ten years ago are in their 20s now, facing the bleak prospects of widespread unemployment and poverty: a very different future to the one they were promised based on the generation before them.
The well-publicised conflict in Iraq has become the fighting between Israel and Palestine and the invasion of the Ukraine. Whilst not specifically involving US troops, the ongoing wars overseas and the threat of terrorism at home recalls the same need for political action that ‘American Idiot’ so deliberately called for.
More than simply an album of its time, Green Day’s ‘American Idiot’ is a record that captures the experience of an entire generation, caught in a world of economic and political turbulence. It’s very message to find something to believe in, and to stand strong to defend it is as relevant today as it was ten years ago.