Review #248: American Idiot, Green Day

Karla Clifton
3 min readMar 11, 2022

#248: American Idiot, Green Day

Probably the coolest thing my mom ever did for me was buy me this album when I was 10. She got me the EXPLICIT version, too. (Maybe even cooler is the fact that she also got me Dookie (#375), but this was the one that captivated me. Just look at that album cover. That was my color palette in middle AND high school.)

Marathoning other albums on this list has been about discovering something new, putting myself in the shoes of someone who loves Massive Attack or Madonna or Marvin Gaye for six or seven hours and trying to learn something. Marathoning THIS album put me firmly in my own ten-year-old shoes. I am sitting by my childhood bed, staring at the little lyric book it came with so I can memorize the words and figure out why “Give Me Novocaine” freaks me out so much.

“American Idiot” has a rubbery guitar riff that anyone from ages 10 to 60 can love. Despite the copious bleeping that was needed to make it radio-friendly, this was the lead single and its biggest hit. The runner up is probably “Boulevard of Broken Dreams,” which is Green Day’s vision of a drug-addled early-twenties Dante’s Inferno. Remember how big this music video was? Remember how it ends with just this swirling, hellish guitar part? And if you saw the stage version (like a certain lucky 16-year-old), remember how beautiful Whatsername’s harmonies were?

You’ve also probably heard “Holiday,” a political juggernaut that acts as AI’s thesis statement, notable because Tre Cool does a great politician impression. “Wake Me Up When September Ends” was one of the more radio-friendly ones, so you might have heard it, or even seen it during a 9/11 tribute slideshow.

Why does this album made by forty-year-olds for teenagers make the list? Maybe you should watch the “Jesus of Suburbia” music video if you’re asking yourself that question. It’s everything, in its dirty, fluorescent-lit, bloody glory. But more importantly, it tells a clear story: Boy strikes out on his own to make it through malaise. Like that, but it’s a stage musical, and everyone is wearing tons of eyeliner, spiky hair gel, and Converse sneakers. The center of the Earth is the end of the world.

The plot of American Idiot was what drew me to this freaky, dark, proto-emo album. There’s the Hero’s Call with “Are We The Waiting” (imagine being 10 and singing that very quietly to yourself in your bedroom in the middle of the night and believing that you are the most disillusioned person in the world). Then we’re introduced to the character of “St. Jimmy,” who strolls in with jokes about your mama and Edgar Allen Poe and also, oops, introduces you to heroin.

Then there are the songs that are dedicated to the punk rock girlfriend, like “Extraordinary Girl” and “She’s a Rebel.” Man, I wanted to be this girl so bad, a symbol of resistance and all. (And fast fast fast!)

“Letterbomb” is sung by the women in the stage musical, has a singsong intro from Kathleen Hanna of Bikini Kill, and has always been meant to be from a female perspective, according to BJA. Maybe that’s why it’s always been my favorite.

American Idiot concludes with our protagonist, Jesus of Suburbia, returning to his childhood home. “Homecoming” is every bit as epic as “Jesus” and even more musically diverse, full of heartbreaking imagery that fills up the world completely. Jesus filling out paperwork/At the facility on East 12th St.; I fell asleep while watching Spike TV. Doesn’t this just put a whole personality in your head?

Finally comes “Whatsername,” a beautiful rock nostalgia closer. When I was very young and had no sense of how big life was, this song made me horribly sad.

I would say this is the album that made me care about music. Everyone, go find the album you loved the most when you were 10 years old, and fall in love with it all over again.

(One final note: Robert Christgau, a critic who wrote some rude things about Sade, also wrote something snarky and cynical about this album that made me very sad.)

Review #247: Love Deluxe, Sade

Review #249: Whitney Houston, Whitney Houston