As I lay here dying in my hospital bed from terminal cancer, I am flooded by memories I had back in the year 2004. It was the time I was asked to document Green Day in the studio for a proposed documentary on the making of their album American Idiot. Of course the record is now regarded as one of the greatest albums of all time, an artistic leap, musically ambitious, always neck and neck with Sgt. Pepper as the greatest album of all time, etc. But no one realizes the risk it was to overtake this project. Things were different back then and today when I am on talk shows, all they ask me are the same general questions. "What was it like to be there?" "Did everyone get along?" "What did you eat?" And "Would you please stop trying to fondle me?" And I respond with the same answers. "It was an amazing experience being with three genius'," "Yes, everyone got along and there was a lot of laughter and farting," "Lunch and dinner consisted of the now controversial Zone/Atkins diet" and "Sorry, I thought that was my pocket."
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The memories gush out of me as does my bedpan, so I am going to write this quick before the nurse comes by and scolds me for eating corn (I am on a strict no starch diet). Times were different then. A cruel and harsh King ruled us and the artistic community was scared to voice any opinion that would oppose the mighty King. Green Day, as I recall, loved the challenge and set out to make the greatest record of their career without the slightest bit of hesitation or compromise. The King of course, would be upset, but we would send him a promo copy regardless. American Idiot, as you now know, is more than a concept record, more than a rock opera and it’s more than 60 minutes long. The band that made the perfect 3-minute song was now writing the perfect 9-minute song. I am, of course, talking about the song “Jesus Of Suburbia,” the first opera on the album and the most perfectly structured song ever recorded. As they carry my dead body out of the church, this is the song I requested to be played (that is, if I have enough money to pay Warner’s Bros. for performance rights). But I am getting ahead of myself here; my body will just have to wait until it can curl up in a coffin. This story has to be told!
The recording of the album started on President’s Day and as soon as the band started to record the first song a fire broke out. Was God himself so jealous of these mere mortals making the greatest music ever recorded that he had to smite them? Or was it just a short in the amp? We will never know! But one thing we do know, the boys continued their artistic journey and composed an album that will live throughout the ages.
I vaguely recall that Rob Cavallo was there, longtime producer and part time mime. Always quick to do his ”I AM TRAPPED IN A BOX AND I AM NOW SUFFOCATING” routine that always broke us up, especially after we realized that it was in fact a real box that he was using and he was indeed suffocating! It seemed that Rob was better equipped for producing than the art of mime, which worked out better in the long run. Now where was I? Oh yes, after fires, floods and Billie Joe’s cat bout with diabetes, the boys recorded song after song that are now classic hits and staples on the airwaves. Do I really need to remind you what you were doing when you first heard “On Holiday?” Or whom you were smooching when “What’s Her Name” came on the radio? These are more than songs, these are beautiful memories and my memories of watching them construct this album are as vivid and fresh as the day I was there (of course watching the documentary also helps). Okay! Okay! Stop groveling, I will continue the story but I will not answer the questions of who St. Jimmy is or who Jesus of Suburbia is, or any of that. The answers to the story are on the record and are you that lazy that you cannot figure it out yourself?
This was the album that brought back the days when you could read the lyrics and sit in your room and sing and follow along. The album that started a whole cult of people clutching their hand grenade hearts and the generation that identified with the characters in the album (you don’t believe me that the impact of this album is still strong today? As a matter of fact, when I was rushed into this hospital or the Death House as us patients so lovingly dubbed it, I saw on the sidewalk the spray painted album cover the vigilante fans painted years ago!). Because the album was written from the heart and is deeply personal and moving, we could all identify with it. “September Song” has a deep meaning for me, as I am sure it did when Billie Joe wrote it. But as a skilled writer, he made the interpretation open so everyone could identify with the song. Every song on the album has its place and belongs there. It is indeed an album. Not a bunch of songs that are haphazardly thrown together, but songs that are sewn perfectly together, making an album that is truly brilliant from start to finish. And if you must refer to this record as a concept album, then it is a concept that was missing and much needed. This was an album that took people by surprise and took Green Day's contemporaries by surprise. There were many more Green Day records to come-all great, all different, but American Idiot truly expresses the moment of the band at that time. It was a time that will always be in time. Not even bass player, Mike Dirnt’s ill-fated business venture of self-service massage parlors could tarnish the reputation of this great band and its work. I am honored that I was asked to enter the band's inner sanctums for just that little bit of time. It was an amazing process to witness and document and I feel truly honored. I cannot express in words how I felt watching the band write, construct, record and then polish these gems. Amazing to see the birth of true art. Seeing “Letter Bomb” come from nothing and then hatch into this godhead masterpiece still makes the grey hair on my arms stand up (and unfortunately, my varicose veins also). I am glad I was there and I would do anything if I could go back. But I will always have this album to keep me and my bedpan happy. Is it ironic that when I listen to the song “Novocain” my body is being filled intravenously with pamadhyde? No it isn’t ironic just a fact. But looking back, the album made me inspired again, as it did for millions of others and if I am just remembered as the person with the camera that got in the way during the recording process, so be it (but also don’t forget, in my prime I once sported 6 pack abs! Which now unfortunately resemble cottage cheese). But I am getting off the subject, my memories are now overflowing. How could I forget watching the great Tre Cool drum his drum or when I was rushed to the hospital when a drumstick was hurled in the air knocking me unconscious? Or my beloved Mike Dirnt, bass player extraordinaire, playing that funny looking guitar with only four strings. And that girlish figure of his, always bragging how he could squeeze into ladies Dickies. And Mister Billie Joe Armstrong, what comes out of that boy’s brain still mystifies me. When I look back at those times, I sometimes felt like they were my kids but glad they weren’t because I would be in jail for child molestation. After all these years I still worship those boys and not even the most powerful restraining order can stop that (got that Pat!)! American Idiot makes you proud of who you are and where you are from. Sure, I know when the album came out that people from around the world were jealous they couldn’t be American Idiots but they can be their own special idiots. Great Britain Idiot...Japanese Idiots etc. We don’t discriminate; there are no borders in art (note to self–delete that line before my passing). Nothing rocks or moves as well as this record does. Disagree? Then step outside buddy.
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