Monday, August 31, 2009

Live in Concert: Green Day 8/15/09

It's rare I see a big name band at the top of their powers. I tend to gravitate to the nostalgia circuit in an effort to either catch one last glimpse of a former favorite (John Mellencamp, Steely Dan), or play catch up on someone I ignored back in the day, only to finally come around to their brilliance later (Def Leppard, Camper Van Beethoven). So, I was on the fence whether to bother with Green Day since, I'm sure, they'll be around long enough to see them in some package deal with the Offspring, Sugar Ray and Live in about 10 years (that's usually how it works).

But, I went against tradition and decided to see the real deal in all it's present glory. I'm glad I did. It was an especially welcome example of fan payback compared to the distant stiffarm from Trashcan Sinatras a couple nights earlier. If you want to see it done right, see Green Day. Surprisingly, I'm not even the world's biggest GD fan. I self-identify as a product of the 80s, while GD are totally and completely aligned with the 90s (no matter how crucial their more recent work is), so they never belonged to me. There isn't a moment in my life that's capped by a GD song (they were completely ubiquitous during my first days and months and year after my mission, but by then my innocence had been lost and songs didn't carry the weight they did during adolescence).

However, it occurred to my while watching the show that no band in the last 15 years have more effectively and exactly held a mirror to their generation than Green Day have. Let's explore the parallels.

First, they were birthed out of the early 90s grunge scene. While not being grunge themselves (I heard a lot of Social Distortion at first, which no one ever mentions), they were harder edged rock and that was in style (finally). Also, their attitude was that of a slacker who sat around their parent's house aimlessly daydreaming about what to do next, both in the macro sense (for a job) and the micro (what's on TV). Songs like "Longview" (a song about masturbating while stoned) and "Basket Case" (name says it all) perfectly summarized in clear and direct words how the youth of America were feeling at that time. The message was powerful, millions listened and followed. They had yet to lose their innocence.

As the indulgent 90s wore on, messages like that became less and less immediate (even the Clinton administration became mired in sex scandals, probably out of a lack of anything better to do). After a couple years of living the slacker dream, it was time to grow up and growing up can be hard, especially if you are ill-equipped. Green Day's next few albums, while trying to expand on the snotty punk that had painted them into a corner, made less impact and the band found themselves as irrelevant as a guy in his late 20s still getting high in the basement.

Then, suddenly in September of 2001, the country woke up. Woke WAY up. Shaken from their juvenile stupor, Green Day got wise. Feelings began to boil inside, like anger and skepticism and frustration, that weren't there before not pointed in this direction anyway. Matters became more important. But, this is the generation that gets their facts from the Daily Show. They aren't reading the New York Times, rather they're obeying their media heroes. Information funneled this way may not be complete, but it's potent and it sparked one of the most miraculous turnarounds rock has ever seen. And, once again Green Day were talking in a language their generation, as well as just about everyone else, could understand when they released American Idiot, the album that changed everything.

American Idiot managed to take the bits of facts and soundbites of the media and regurgitate them in a way that incited action. It gave words to the feelings of the less informed that the New York Times couldn't touch. It didn't have to. All this generation needed to hear was our President called an Idiot. That alone made us feel better and, God knows, no one else was doing it. It managed to direct that anger at the singular person who embodied the trainwreck our country was racing headlong into. Who is this idiot and why are we listening to him and what can we do about it? It was also a huge smash.

Fast forward five years and Bush is no longer in office and Obama has assuaged some of that anger, but now what are we left with? Christian fundamentalism. A new great depression. A whole ton of residual frustration. If American Idiot said "I'm pissed!", 21st Century Breakdown says "I'm still pissed because I still don't see any reason not to be!" If Green Day's career isn't the trajectory of, what Pepsi called Generation Y, I don't know what is. They go from uninformed slacker, to Daily Show educated, to media ingestion 24/7, just like everyone else.

The best part about the show was how they got the crowd involved, inviting people up to the stage to sing backup, play guitar, stage dive, you name it. The highlight was when a 12 year old boy came up to play "Jesus of Suburbia" with the band. Green Day made these people's lives better. That 12 year old gets to go to school and tell his friends (not to mention the bullies who may beat him up) that he got to jam with Green Day in front of a few thousand people. That is what being a true rock band is all about, knowing enough to give back to the people who got you there. Green Day know this. They live by it. And it helps to ease the anger.


AnnieB said...

good stuff.

Marilyn said...

This is great, Jon.

RR said...

again, i don't know why you're not writing more often, and letting the people in your life who make money pitching clients, finally pitch you and your work. let's get you published already.

Brooke & Jake said...

Very interesting. I’ve never been able to figure out why Green Day is such a hit with the music critics when I’ve only ever thought of them as mainstream teen music.

Alan said...

I finally found your blog. Loving it. I'll be back often.