This is the first entry in a series in which I talk about what albums have had the biggest impacts on my life. First up is Green Day’s American Idiot.
In 2004, my grandparents had just gotten Fuse– a television channel dedicated to playing rock music and shows about rock music. Around this time, MTV and VH1 also created channels that would play only music videos 24/7, and would play My Chemical Romance’s “Helena” at least twice an hour.
My mom kept Living History by Hillary Clinton on her nightstand, and my dad still refers to George W. Bush as “Dick Cheney’s Puppet.” We’re from a suburb just east of Downtown LA. My high school was pretty liberal, with 97 percent minority students, and I knew zero white kids until I went to college. I could tell that people around me felt disillusioned about the country and the war around this time, and I had no idea what was going on.
Then “American Idiot” was released in September.
The music video for the titular song took place in a warehouse with a green american flag hanging as the backdrop as the trio played through the angsty pop-punk song. Halfway through, the flag started bleeding and a rush of bright green liquid flooded the warehouse, soaking the band in, what I assume was, Nickelodeon slime. Chaos. Plus in the first 30 seconds, they said the word “fuck.” This shit was cool, and I could watch it every 10 minutes if I switched between the music video channels with enough finesse and luck.
The lead singer, hunky Billie Joe Armstrong, sang about things like political tension, poor leadership, media, propaganda– all words that I’d been hearing, but Green Day made it all make sense. People around me, and around the country, were angry and frustrated and felt disillusioned and I finally got it. All it took was a punk rock opera about a suburban kid who runs away and finds drugs and a girl and eventually ends up back home where he started.
American Idiot is the first CD I remember buying with my own money at the old Tower Records near East LA College. My dad took me (like he did on Friday nights), and to my surprise, he didn’t say anything about the “explicit content warning” on the front. I gave him my money to pay for it as I hid, thinking it was illegal to purchase a CD with bad words if you were under 18. As soon as I got home, I put it in my pink Hello Kitty portable, anti-skip CD player and let it consume me. The words, the story, the political commentary. I didn’t take it out until I’d memorized the words to all 9 minutes and 8 seconds of “Jesus of Suburbia.”
The album made me rename my Myspace username to Billie_Joe_Obsessed, and to use good ol’ HTML change my profile colors to black, red, and green with a heart grenade as my custom cursor. I took the CD booklet out of the plastic cover and stuck it in the front of my binder, so everyone could see how fucking punk rock I was. I wore a studded belt and bucked it to the left side to be more like BJA. I hated myself for not having anxiety and panic attacks because that meant I couldn’t write badass songs about my experiences (In hindsight, I probably did this to myself). I gave the radio two middle fingers for playing “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” when “Letterbomb” was clearly sooooo much better.
This album changed who I was, how I dressed, and solidified my thoughts on politics, and life as a girl from a lower-middle class neighborhood with dreams of sticking it to the higher-ups. Don’t worry– I’ve mellowed since, and not just because you can’t alter the HTML on Facebook or Instagram.
American Idiot is anti-establishment, but in a badass Bernie Sanders way. It called for change. It got me thinking. It got me involved. It made me want to make cool shit that could change minds. And I still feel that way to this day, when I listen and sing along the whole time, from the start of “American Idiot” all the way to the end of “Whatsername” (or “Governator” on the deluxe release).