Always Going to be Our American Idiots: A History of Green Day

From the bratty punks performing on Gilman Street to the elder punk rock statesmen selling out arenas worldwide, Green Day has surely made a name for themselves over the years. There’s no denying the influence Green Day has had on the punk rock/ pop punk scene, as bands like Blink 182, Paramore, 5 Seconds of Summer, All Time Low, and Simple Plan have all acknowledged that the trio has had an impact on their music. With 12 albums, 4 Grammys under their belt and a place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Green Day has become one of the first rock bands to matter- matter to the world of punk rock and matter to me.

Starting out at the ages of 14, both Billie Joe Armstrong and Mike Dirnt formed Sweet Children that would later become Green Day. The name Green Day? Yeah, it came from the band’s fondness of marijuana. Green Day put out their first album 39/Smooth in 1990 which was followed by the 1991 album, Kerplunk, that also introduced Tre Cool as Green Day’s permanent drummer. Kerplunk was a breakthrough album for the trio, gaining attention from several major record labels including Reprise Records, who would eventually sign the band and produce their remaining albums till present day.

Green Day performing at 924 Gilman Street in 1990

Once signing to a major record label, there was no going back, as word spread amongst the punks that first embraced the band during their early years performing at 924 Gilman Street. The scene kids had accused Green Day of selling out and made their feelings known when hardly anybody showed up to Green Day’s final appearance at Gilman Street. Their own stomping ground was now a place where the band was no longer welcomed. Supporters turned their backs on them and Gilman Street banned Gren Day. The riff that Green Day’s relationship with Reprise caused in the punk scene was inevitable, but what was to come took the Berkeley natives for the ride of their lives- a ride they’d be on for the next 23 years and counting.

Dookie. If you’ve never heard of the album you’re probably living under a rock, plain and simple. Green Day’s first album produced under Reprise Records reached No. 2 on the U.S. Billboard 200 and charted in seven countries. The band had gone from local punk outcasts to having their singles played on MTV airplay. Later that year Green Day won their first Grammy for Best Alternative Music Performance, proclaiming the next generation of punk.

Years went on and Green Day’s success continued to grow, for so long that is. By 2001 the band was nearing the option of parting ways after failing to communicate back and forth. Before calling it quits the three members decided to work on their issues in hopes that it would salvage the passion that once drove the band. From there on Green Day began to track their next album titled Cigarettes and Valentines when suddenly the tracks went missing. But some things happen for a reason. What does a band do when they have to start all over from scratch? They jot down whatever comes to mind and connect the dots from there- which is exactly what Green Day did, but with a twist. What was that twist? Add an inspiration of the political events circling the United States and with that came Green Day’s rock opera, American Idiot.

Don’t wanna be an American idiot/ Don’t want a nation under the new media /And can you hear the sound of hysteria? /The subliminal mind-fuck America

-American Idiot, Green Day.

The opening verse of the title track was played constantly commanding the ears of listeners of the radio and dominating airplay on video channels. This shift in sound and attitude allowed for a punk mentality told through a rock album more openly accessible to the public, a public who happened to be living in a post 9/11 era looking for a scapegoat. People wanted to let loose from the stress of the day to day pressures presented in a time of mass paranoia and overwrought propaganda. Green Day’s rock opera was just what the public needed. The album would eventually sell over 16 million copies and result into a Broadway musical from 2010- 2011, where Billie Joe Armstrong would perform the role of St. Jimmy on occasion.

Billie Joe Armstrong in the role of St. Jimmy on the Broadway show American Idiot

How do you follow up the success of a rock opera? You make a second rock opera. And that’s exactly what Green Day did.

21st Century Breakdown is the band’s best chart performance to date as copies of the album sold reached over 4 million worldwide. The album led to a seven leg tour around the globe as fans by the thousands came to see the band perform their new and old hits. (Sidenote: Green Day does put on an amazing show, I know from experience, so if you have the opportunity one day you should see them).

After 21st Century Breakdown, Green Day took a hiatus to focus on their personal lives before announcing that they were working on a trilogy titled Uno, Dos, Tre. Sometimes the third time isn’t always the best. Uno, Dos, Tre were released in a span of 72 days after Arstrong announced he was going into treatment for substance abuse following an outburst at the 2012 iHeartRadio Music Festival. The albums were a bust compared to Green Day’s previous records and honestly, it’s best just to ignore that those albums were released.

Thankfully we had Revolution Radio to save the day. Green Day’s current album released in 2016. The album debuted at No. 1 on Billboard 200 and proved that the Berkley trio still has what it takes.

Whether you consider them punk, rock, or sellouts you can’t ignore Green Day’s presences in the music scene. Twenty years into their career and their music is capable of pulling in new fans, people to listen to their songs for the first time and ignite a passion for music in their hearts. That’s exactly what Green Day did for me.

It all started with a concert ticket. My mom was sitting at the computer browsing through Ticketmaster for who knows what when she had out of the blue asked my two brothers and I if we wanted to see Green Day.

Green Day? The band that played the American Idiot song? The singer wears eyeliner.

That was the gist of my knowledge about the band before that day. After that day- let’s just say I became a full out Green Day expert. It might’ve been the fact that I wanted to know the songs I’d be hearing live that summer at the Wachovia Spectrum in Philadelphia that stemmed my- well obsession- but nonetheless, it resulted in Green Day playing a large role in my life and shaping who I am today.

Some of the memorabilia I’ve collected over the years

Throughout my entire middle school and the first half of my high school career, my life revolved around anything and everything Green Day. Yeah, I was one of those mega fangirls and I’m not ashamed of it. If I wasn’t waiting outside concert venues hours before doors open just to listen to Green Day’s soundtrack or begging my mom to take me back to see American Idiot on Broadway for the fourth time, I was usually taping more posters to my bedroom walls or discussing the latest Green Day news, like Tre Cool’s most recent hair color, with other fans on message boards. How long can this phase go on? I’m sure that’s what my parents were asking themselves throughout the years.

Soon or later the thrill dies down.

There was no way I could continue to be an ultimate fangirl for the rest of my days, I had to one day find a common ground with my love for this band. After the trilogy of Uno, Dos, and Tre, I was left confused and disappointed. It was at that point where I began to notice myself slowly moving away from my crazy Green Day fangirl phase- sad yet much needed. Despite not being a mega fan anymore, I can never deny the impact Green Day has had on my life. Listening to their music opened my eyes up to a genre of music that would impact my life in ways I never thought possible. I went from the girl who looked forward to the next Phillies’ game she’d go to to the girl who waiting outside a concert venue 10 hours before doors opened just to maybe catch a glimpse of a band member. When I was younger I pictured myself becoming a teacher until I realized I was more passionate about music than anything else, so a career in music management it was.

Music is one powerful thing. Whether the tracks were released decades ago or last week, that musician’s work is going to relate to somebody somehow and inspire them in ways they’d never expect. Thirty-one years as a band and Green Day is still releasing music and inspiring those young and old in various ways. Sure, sometimes the material isn’t as great as previous work and some fans might feel let down, but what matters is that they’re releasing material they want, it may not relate or speak to you but to someone else, it might. On a personal note, I owe a lot of who I am and aspire to be to this band and their music. They were my first of many things- first concert, first album I bought with my own money, Billie Joe was my first celebrity crush (Who doesn’t love a tatted up guy with eyeliner, right?), and first band who made me realize life doesn’t always suck.

The three punks from Berkeley, California that were rejected by their own local scene are now playing their music for people all around the world and I doubt they’ll be stopping anytime soon.

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