American Idiot: A Nostalgic Review


Band Logo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Carson Homsley, Reporter

On September 21st, 2004, the American punk rock band Green Day released their 7th studio album, American Idiot. The album was recorded in Oakland, California and in Ocean Way Recording in Hollywood, California. The album was made in a time of political frustration with George Bush being re-elected as president and hearing songs about “being proud to be a redneck”, as Billie Joe Armstrong put it. Armstrong (the vocalist and guitarist) talked to his band about his frustration with the political climate in 2004, Tre Cool (the drummer), and Mike Dirnt (the bassist) all agreed with Armstrong, so they started making a concept album called American Idiot. The album follows the main character called “The Jesus of Suburbia”.

The first song from the album is “American Idiot”. This song is in the key of A♭major and is one of their most recognizable songs aside from “Basket Case”. “American Idiot” doesn’t necessarily follow the story, but is more of a contextual song telling the audience Green Day’s political messages that are mixed with the story. “American Idiot” has a very blunt message clearly stating that the media is heavily biased towards American Nationalism and manufactured consent for going to war, specifically in the Middle East. The drums give a thundering feeling that you know it’s some sort of anthem for this album. Armstrong, Dirnt, and Cool all pulled off a simple yet amazing song with a deep and heavy bass, heavily distorted guitars, and thundering drums. The chorus is amazing as the lyrics hint towards the upbringings and personality of the characters.


“Welcome to a new kind of tension all across the alien nation where everything isn’t meant to be okay. Television dreams of tomorrow, we’re not the ones who are meant to follow for that’s enough to argue “ – Billie Joe Armstrong “American Idiot”


“Jesus of Suburbia” is the second track from American Idiot, it is 9:08 minutes long, and it introduces the protagonist, The Jesus of Suburbia. This song does something cool that’ll definitely pop up in the majority of the tracks of the album and that would be the addition of an acoustic guitar mixed in the track to give the song more depth. The name of the character could be a reference to the feeling some people get in suburbias where they feel trapped and how the country doesn’t care about them. Part of this song talks about toxic consumerism, how people somehow find meaning in products and stores. Not only that, it even tackles how homeless people feel about homes saying how their hearts beat out of time and how “everyone’s heart doesn’t beat the same”. Later on, Jesus of Suburbia questions if he’s a bad person or just “insane and insecure” wondering if therapy will fill the emptiness he feels. Jesus of Suburbia feels trapped in his town and plans on leaving, the end of the song is his declaration of leaving his home. This song is a great representation of the album as it not only gives a more concrete vibe than “American Idiot”, it gives more subjects that the album will portray later on.


“I don’t feel any shame, I won’t apologize. When there ain’t nowhere you can go. Running away from pain when you’ve been victimized, tales from another broken…home!” – Billie Joe Armstrong “Jesus of Suburbia”.


The third track of this album is one of the most popular ones and is a prelude to the fourth track. This track is called “Holiday”. The intro and verse have a very recognizable guitar riff and drum beat. The first verse talks about how we forget about the soldiers who died in wars and how their names are completely forgotten. The chorus takes a heavier approach with the guitar having the bass module turned up to give a heavy vibe. The chorus is about a more libertarian belief where people just want to dream and be successful without being lied to. The best part of this song is the entire bridge, the bass is heavily prominent and the end of the solo feels “in-complete” leaving you on edge and waiting for something greater. The bridge talks about how the far-right loved Bush and they don’t like it when a different country criticizes America. The ending is much like the intro, very catchy and the final chord is the same chord that starts the next song which is connected to “Holiday”.


“I beg to dream and differ from the hollow lies. This is the dawning of the rest of our lives, this is our lives on holiday” – Billie Joe Armstrong “Holiday”


“Boulevard of Broken Dreams” is the song that is directly connected with “Holiday” detailing the depression and loneliness Jesus of Suburbia  is feeling after having his small holliday. The guitar starts with little distortion and a tremolo effect starting on an F chord setting the lonely and hopeless vibe for the song. Jesus of Suburbia is extremely lonely once he achieves his dream, he realizes that this wasn’t necessarily what he wanted as he calls it the “Boulevard of Broken Dreams”. Lyrics detail him wishing he was dead yet wishes that someone will find him. The solo and bridge give a very desperate feeling of him wanting to live, but knows he can’t “live” without someone by his side. The song ends with heavy guitars, heavy bass, and a drum beat that feels “unsteady” giving you the feeling of doubt Jesus of Suburbia could make it. Lyrically speaking, it’s one of the saddest Green Day songs especially since before American Idiot (aside from Good Riddance), Green Day has been known to be this faster paced pop-punk band and experimenting with different tones through the years without having a “sad” song.


“My shadow’s the only one that walks beside me, my shallow heart’s the only thing that’s beating. Sometimes I wish someone out there will find me, ‘til then I walk alone” – Billie Joe Armstong “Boulevard of Broken Dreams”


The fifth and next track isn’t necessarily known, the track is called “Are We the Waiting”. There’s not a whole to say about this song, the song talks about how lonely Jesus of Suburbia is feeling and how his persona is a lie. The drums play a heavy role in giving the feeling of the song since the drums give you a feeling of loneliness in a big city during the night. The guitars with slight distortion gives a feeling of fogginess and clearness while the tone of the vocals are meant to make you think that the Jesus of Suburbia is sad and uncertain of where his life will lead to.


“Starry night, city lights coming down over me. Skyscrapers are stargazers in my head” – Billie Joe Armstrong “Are We the Waiting”.


Track six, “Saint Jimmy”, takes a more punk sound, the guitars are heavily distorted and really fast, the drums play into the feeling of rush when Jesus of Suburbia meets Saint Jimmy. Saint Jimmy is supposed to be the song about a stereotypical burnout’s life eating nothing but cheap food like ramen you’d find at Safeway and smoking pot. The song’s vibe changes halfway through giving it the usual pop-punk vibe, this could be a subtle way of Jesus of Suburbia warming up to Saint Jimmy or vice versa. Saint Jimmy is clearly a bad influence on Jesus of Suburbia forcing him to join his “cult of the life of crime”. This song is a great introduction to Jesus of Suburbia’s downfall of drugs and anger.


“Raised in the city in the halo of lights, product of war and fear that we’ve been victimized” – Billie Joe Armstrong “Saint Jimmy”.


The seventh track, “Give Me Novacaine”, is the introduction to Jesus of Suburbia’s downfall. “Give Me Novacaine” starts off with a very bright feeling, a song that you might vibe with on a cool summer day, you hear this through the verses and the ending. The chorus takes that away though with it taking a much heavier approach. The sounding of the song could be an auditory representation of Jesus of Suburbia experiencing the high during the verses and ending while the choruses and bridge  is a representation of his withdrawals. The chorus even goes further with the lyrics saying how the withdrawals give Jesus of Suburbia headaches and that it’s a “throbbing toothache of the mind” referring to Novacaine that dentists give you when you’re in pain. Saint Jimmy clearly being a bad influence got Jesus of Suburbia addicted to drugs, this could also be a metaphor for pharmacies prescribing patients with high doses of opioids causing the opioid pandemic and addiction to opioids.


“Drain the pressure from the swelling, this sensation’s overwhelming. Give me a long kiss goodnight and everything’ll be alright, tell me that I won’t feel a thing. So give me Novacaine” – Billie Joe Armstrong “Give Me Novacaine”.


“She’s a Rebel” introduces a character known as “Whatsername” who’ll become a love interest for Jesus of Suburbia. In the verse, Jesus of Suburbia explains how Whatsername is a rebel and a “symbol of resistance”. Jesus of Suburbia doesn’t actually “love” Whatsername and is only infatuated and feels like he’s forcing himself to date her, “she’s holding on my heart like a hand grenade” referring to the album cover with a hand holding a heart shaped grenade. This song is heavily focussed on how Jesus of Suburbia doesn’t really care about the relationship since whenever Whatsername starts talking about whatever she likes, such as a revolution and liberation, however, Jesus of Suburbia can’t think of anything as he’s not interested in Whatsername’s topics. The song itself is very catchy, the guitars specifically with the same tone, but works particularly well in this song, the drums during the verse is good as it carries the flow of the verse when the guitars and bass aren’t playing.


“She sings the revolution, the dawning of our lives. She brings this liberation, that I just can’t define, well nothing comes to mind (hey!)” – Billie Joe Armstrong “She’s a Rebel”.


“Extraordinary Girl” starts with a long and tedious drum beat of some sort that lasts for 35 seconds straight. The guitars during the verses and ending have a cleaner sound than “Are We the Waiting”, however the drums after the 35 second intro are a lot more catchy, but not the greatest when compared to “She’s a Rebel”. This song talks about the personalities of Jesus of Suburbia and Whatsername during the relationship, Jesus of Suburbia doesn’t feel confident around Whatsername and how he feels lost without her around comparing this feeling to that of a “pet left in the rain”. The chorus also is a bit contradictory for Jesus of Suburbia as it talks about the dysfunctional relationship where Jesus of Suburbia leaves Whatsername often and how he “feels like dying”. Whatsername is sick of this treatment as well since she’s alone a lot and is tired of having to shed tears. During the ending part of the last chorus, Jesus of Suburbia that the relationship isn’t worth trying to hold together anymore with his final words declaring that Whatsername is an extraordinary girl.


“She’s all alone again wiping the tears from her eyes. Some days she feels like dying, some days it’s not worth trying, now that they’re both up on it, she gets so sick of crying” – Billie Joe Armstrong “Extraordinary Girl”. 


Track ten, “Letterbomb”, automatically starts with a girl talking to Jesus of Suburbia saying how nobody likes him and how everyone is having fun without him, this could be Whatsername. After the girl is done saying that part, the guitar starts off with a clean-ish tone playing octaves along with the bass that is a lot more prevalent in this song compared to the others. “Letterbomb” is about Whatsername’s final words and thoughts towards Jesus of Suburbia when the two of them break up. Jesus of Suburbia is perceived as a “flunkie” who doesn’t contribute to society as he collects unemployment checks. Like most of the songs on here, there is a political message alongside the story itself, Billie Joe Armstrong is questioning why there aren’t that many riots as the “city’s motto gets pulverized” meaning that America isn’t the land of the free anymore in his eyes. Since Whatsername has had enough with Jesus of Suburbia, she goes on to tell him that he’s a nobody and that the town’s bishop, despite being a scammer who extorts money, doesn’t know who he is. During the bridge of the song, Whatsername says that Saint Jimmy is a “figment of your father’s rage and mother’s love” hinting that Saint Jimmy isn’t a real person and was more of a split personality, this means that Saint Jimmy was the more risky side of Jesus of Suburbia while Jesus of Suburbia is his normal side. Whatsername by the end of the song breaks up with Jesus of Suburbia and leaves the town and that she wants to start over. The song is one of the most chaotic and loud songs, with fast guitars playing both power chords and barre chords. “Letterbomb” is one of Green Day’s best songs lyrically and instrumentally with great drums and a heavy bass that makes the song feel heavier compared to the other songs from this album.


“It’s not over til you’re underground, it’s not over before it’s too late. This city’s burnin’, it’s not my burden, it’s not over before it’s too late. There’s nothing left to analyze” – Billie Joe Armstrong “Letterbomb”.


“Wake Me Up When September Ends” isn’t part of the story with Jesus of Suburbia, in fact it’s more of an intermission and a palate cleanser before getting into another nine minute long song. “Wake Me Up When September Ends” is a song about losing a loved one and moving on from the death despite the pain you feel and the amount of time it takes. This song starts off with an acoustic guitar and later drums and a xylophone of some sort. The xylophone-like instrumentation gives this song a very sad and nostalgic vibe you wouldn’t necessarily feel with just the regular instruments. September is a difficult time for Armstrong as his father passed away during September and how that was the loss of innocence for him. There are lyrics that describe Depression and how it changes you while you are trying to accept and move on from the loss of a loved one quite well. The chorus is quite gut punching as it switches from a clean tone during the verse to a heavy and distorted tone for the chorus making you feel the darkness that Armstrong must’ve felt when his dad died. In the ending, it repeats the phrase “Wake Me Up When September Ends” and after that, there is a very clean electric guitar with a ton of reverb playing a few notes that really tug at the heartstrings. Overall, this song is a nice refreshing track for the album as the songs usually had a lot more distortion and less sadness with one exception, “Boulevard of Broken Dreams”.


“Here comes the rain again falling from the stars. Drenched in my pain again becoming who we are” – Billie Joe Armstrong “Wake Me Up When September Ends”.


“Homecoming” is the second to last official track on American Idiot and much like the second track, “Jesus of Suburbia”, it is over nine minutes long, 9:18 minutes long to be exact. “Homecoming” starts with an electric guitar with a lot of treble and some compression giving it a twangy vibe, later on it has a lot more bass and less treble with no compression giving it a more full feeling while returning to the classic Green Day sound. In the first verse, Jesus of Suburbia’s mother is calling him to let him know that he shouldn’t call her unless he’s coming home, this hints that Jesus of Suburbia’s mother doesn’t care about him that much. In the next 3 lines in that verse, Jesus of Suburbia has felt abandoned and is feeling that he is wasting life since he hasn’t had contact with either Whatsername or Saint Jimmy as they both taught him how to survive in harsh conditions. Verse two details past events in the story such as “Holiday”, “Boulevard of Broken Dreams”, “Give Me Novacaine”, and “Saint Jimmy”. On the 2:08 minute mark, Saint Jimmy commits suicide and how this is a start for Jesus of Suburbia to become in a state with no rage or love, numb. 2:25 starts the “Nobody Cares” section which is significantly faster and for the story, it is the start of Jesus of Suburbia having a breakdown. 2:48 is about how Jesus of Suburbia has a job that makes him feel dead inside to the point where he starts daydreaming of the stuff he used to do. He then realizes that isn’t the best lifestyle since Whatsername had enough of him even though Jesus of Suburbia felt fulfilled to an extent. 3:17 is when Jesus of Suburbia starts having a mental breakdown where he feels trapped and wants to be freed from the job. The word “dream” is used towards the end of that section, this could be referring to the “American Dream” where in order to be successful and happy, you need a job, but Jesus of Suburbia clearly doesn’t feel elated and is daydreaming about his past. 4:03 has Jesus of Suburbia in his worst state where Jesus of Suburbia has had ten cups of coffee and feels lonely. He wants to share his passions, but he has no one to share that with. At the end of this section, he repeats the lines that Whatsername said in the beginning of “Letterbomb” trying to justify his loneliness, Mike Dirnt, the bassist sings this section.. 5:21 has a friend of Jesus of Suburbia responding to a letter he sent him, the friend seems to be doing well, he has 2 kids, an ex wife, a girlfriend, a band, and is on the road to becoming sober. Tre Cool, the drummer, sings this part which is cool since he rarely has any vocal parts in songs previous to American Idiot and after. 6:07 becomes the turning point for Jesus of Suburbia as he returns home, the vocals seem really hopeful implying that Jesus of Suburbia has been waiting for this moment ever since the events with Whatsername. 8:26 has the drums play a marching band kind of beat making his return grand, but in the end, Jesus of Suburbia still feels hurt and lonely as the final. “Homecoming” is a great second to last song that easily could’ve been the final song as it has the main character returning home making his return important while the character has inner issues he needs to solve making him a flawed character.


“I fell asleep watching Spike TV after ten cups of coffee and you’re still not here. Dreaming of a song, but something went wrong. And you can’t tell anyone, ‘cause no one’s here. Left me here alone and I should’ve stayed home. After ten cups of coffee, I’m thinking” – Mike Dirnt “Homecoming”.


“Whatsername” is the canonical final ending of this album, the song starts with a drum’s cymbal signalling the guitar and bass to come in. Jesus of Suburbia in the first verse has had a dream of Whatsername, the second verse has Jesus of Suburbia wanting to meet up with Whatsername again as he’s wondering how she has been, the issue is that he can’t remember her name which is why she is called “Whatsername” throughout the story. The song has great guitars, both the guitars in this song are in Drop D tuning giving it that deep and heavy sound, the lead guitar plays some solid licks when in between verses and chorus. The solo and bridge are absolutely amazing, the vocals are higher pitched with backing vocals to portray the feeling of time that has been lost. In general, this song is such an amazing ending to a great album, it’s sad, it’s a solid ending for the story, and the vocals give a lot more feeling. “Whatsername” portrays Jesus of Suburbia as a person who has grown up emotionally and wants to meet up with old friends that he had burnt bridges with.


“The regrets are useless in my mind, she’s in my head, I must confess. The regrets are useless in my mind, she’s in my head, so long ago… And in the darkest nights, if my memory serves me right. I’ll never turn back time. Forgetting you, but not the time” – Billie Joe Armstrong “Whatsername”.


“Too Much Too Soon” is the first bonus song that is considered canon, but never made it to the final product of American Idiot. “Too Much Too Soon” is a much needed up-beat song after “Whatsername”, this song gives off the mid-spring/early summer vibe that you’d usually hear from bands like Sum-41 during their All Killer No Filler era. This song takes place between “Extraordinary Girl” and “Letterbomb” detailing the start of their break up using terms like “unglued” to signify the ending of Jesu of Suburbia and Whatsername’s relationship. Whatsername just doesn’t feel satisfied with the relationship and has resorted to consumerism. Jesus of Suburbia doesn’t feel the same way, he wants to keep the relationship, but knows it’ll end soon. He talks about how good the past was and is trying his best to keep the relationship. There isn’t much lore for the story to this song, but it should’ve been in the album as it portrays the beginning of the end for Jesus of Suburbia.


“Too much too soon, too little and now you’re coming unglued. Too much too soon, too late and now it sucks to be you too” – Billie Joe Armstrong “Too Much Too Soon”.


“Shoplifter” is the last track that is considered canon, but came out as a bonus track. This song has an odd mixture of two genres, those being country and punk as the guitars have a slightly distorted sound with a galloping kind of strumming pattern with some alternating palm mutes for the verses.. “Shoplifter” is about the petty crime that Jesus of Suburbia and Saint Jimmy commit, that being stealing. They both get caught and have to do community service, but Saint Jimmy tries to justify it by saying that it’s not stealing if you don’t get caught. Nothing much to this song, it’s a bit underwhelming, so, this track goes in between “Saint Jimmy” and “Give Me Novacaine”.


“It’s a one two three on the felony, well, not everything is free. Now that you served the community, it’s the life of a petty thief” – Billie Joe Armstrong “Shoplifter”.


“Governator” is the final bonus track that isn’t canon to the main story; it’s a lot like the first track, “American Idiot”, where it’s more of a political song that doesn’t have anything to do with the story. The track mocks Arnold Schwarzeneggar as being the governor of California as the song combines the word “governor” and the name of Arnold Schwarzeneggar’s most known movie, “Terminator”. The song also takes digs at Schwarzenegger not doing anything aside from watching TV while the world is “ending”. There isn’t a whole lot going for this song, at first it sucked, but after listening to this album over and over again and somehow finding more enjoyment with each listen, this song definitely is a great closing song. 


“But I’ll be back, I’ll be back, I’ll be back. And it makes great television watching the world end” – Mike Dirnt “Governator”.


Each of the songs take place within the story aside from one, that being “Governator”.  “Too Much Too Soon” takes place between “Extraordinary Girl” and “Letterbomb” due to it being the beginning of the end to Jesus of Suburbia and Whatsername’s relationship. “Shoplifter” takes place between “Saint Jimmy” and “Give Me Novacaine” as it is a story about the petty crime that Saint Jimmy and Jesus of Suburbia committed, which was shoplifting. “Governator” is a good song, however, it doesn’t fit anywhere in the story as it only talks about Arnold Schwarzenegger during his time as governor of California.

Most songs had a great tone and the production of this album was honestly some of the best when it comes to the pop-punk scene during the mid 90s to late 2000s. The producer, Rob Cavallo has produced some of Green Day’s best and well known albums such as Dookie, Insomniac, Nimrod, and of course, American Idiot. The story was also great and even though it was linear, some parts didn’t make sense. The album should have kept “Shoplifter” and “Too Much Too Soon” as there would’ve been more time with Saint Jimmy as a character and the context of Whatsername’s relationship with Jesus of Suburbia was much needed. In general, this album was a staple of the mid to late 2000s and boosting the popularity of Green Day in the midst of political division by creating American Idiot.