The Tripwire: Rethinking Green Day’s Musical American Idiot


Last night I was accidentally seeing MTV's European Music Awards on cable TV and U2 played at the site of the famous Berlin Wall and I was thinking hey, this is really really rock music. Also, doing music at this huge rock 'n roll party were the bands Foo Fighters & Tokio Hotel and everything was super Les Miserables and before too long I was itching to see clips from the band Green Day's Broadway musical, American Idiot, on YouTube. A friend's boss had recently unironically called it "our generation's Hair."

When I was 14 I went to high school and saw my first green-haired teenager, which was Josh Shindell in hot pink corduroy pants, asleep on the Biology table to the horror of his lab partner, who was maybe Chad Zazem, who, from what I had heard, was best friends with his older sister. That must have been nice. If it wasn't him it was this other kid, this meek kid I saw in court one time after my brother and I broke some eggs on a Russian girl who fought our sister, and this meek kid from Bio, he was ahead of us apologizing to the judge for shoplifting tools from Sears. We were in Sunday School together also.

Anyway, Josh Shindell slept on the desk with green hair and his pants pink and he was the perfect human embodiment of what Green Day meant (to me) for that very short moment in time, which was danger born from total indifference. They had played a show in town not too long before and got shut down for all the bottles being thrown around and a hot girl from gym broke her head open moshing. She didn't come to school for a few weeks or maybe even a month or two. Who can remember. That weekend was famous.

After it happened I spent a whole hour of Bio drawing out the Green Day logo, painstakingly true to the cover of Dookie, on the re-purposed brown paper bag that covered my 18-pound textbook. By lunch I was self-conscious and added a heart-shaped Smashing Pumpkins logo, along with Pearl Jam, Nirvana (Unplugged had just been put in circulation as a cassette bootleg, allegedly from Europe, by Mike Harris), Weezer and I'm pretty sure Screaming Trees. Holy shit was I proud of that book. In my heart I was sure that nobody had ever copied logos so exactly, ever before, making me the world's (or at least the school's) most authentic grassroots marketer of MTV-brand not-give-a-fuck-ness.


Of course I was the only one who noticed. And of course of course none of us had any inkling of the glaring fact that these bands that were making our throbbing teeny genitals drip were actually the ultimate in manicured give-a-fuckness. With the exception of maybe Nirvana (and maaaaybe Screaming Trees), these heshed out vampire goons hanging off of scaffoldings, falling messiah-style into mosh pits, singing with chin-down-eyes-up devil faces… It was all musical theater, always. Still is. I saw Fall Out Boy play one time and not only were the kids singing along to every word (and moshing like they sincerely didn't care if they died), they were speaking along with the between-song banter. No exaggeration. I swear to god I saw it happen. Les Miserables! American Idiot! All these kids getting off on Fall Out Boy, memorizing the words, raging along with their routine, it was the musical equivalent of geeking out about discovering a delicious new food called Cheerios. It was amazing. I had a long thought the other day about how all this teenage extremism was linked very closely to mating. Another time...

Anyway, because of all that run-on above, not only can I not bash the Green Day musical (no matter how hard it begs), but I also can't for the life of me think of what it is you talk about when you talk about "rock." After last night's run-in with the European music awards, it's tough to imagine rock as more than the soundtrack to 40-year-old-guys-with-bad-long-hair. Hanging on to a teenage fantasy that was never really real to begin with. That irresistibly delicious illusion of not giving a sweet flying fuck about anything in the whole idiot world. Danger born from total indifference. Because your own mini-universe is so tight and self-sustaining that you don't need shit from the real one. Man, that is some powerful ass magic. Maybe that is the whole honeypot of being a teenager. Maybe rock 'n roll is. All that beautiful, blinding, self-serving ignorance where, for a hot zitty crotch-juicing minute, the world is completely yours. Naw. Come on. It's way more than that mile of "Wonder Years" bullshit. Here, listen to Slow Animal. They're from Jersey. They rip it pretty good.

P.S. Family Band is my favorite band.

The Tripwire: Rethinking Green Day’s Musical American Idiot