It’s actually pretty hard to describe how much I dislike Green Day. I’m serious – this is the fourth draft of this post that I’ve started because it’s also really hard to decide where to start discussing all the things I don’t like about them. Do I start with all the better bands they’re ripping off? Do I start with the black-dominated wardrobes and guyliner? Do I start with some of the laziest, most cringe-inducing songwriting I’ve ever heard? Do I start with the fact that they’re considered by some people who may or may not have cognitive disabilities (including themselves) to be a punk band?
Maybe I’ll start there, because that bugs the living shit out of me (and because I have a lot of love for good punk music. A lot of love). When I think of punk bands, I think of (who doesn’t?) the Clash, the Stooges, the Ramones, the Sex Pistols, the Dead Kennedys, the Jim Carroll Band, early Bad Religion, and – for some current reference – the Thermals, the Old Haunts, Titus Andronicus, and the Future of the Left. Green Day is, at best – at best – a dull, lifeless distillation of the style of music those awesome (and vastly superior) bands play(ed). The Clash gave us, “Let fury have the hour/ anger can be power”; Green Day’s “Know Your Enemy” (one of the most repetitive, godawful songs I’ve heard all year. Billy Joe Armstrong knows one word that rhymes with enemy: “enemy.” Oh wait. That’s the same word. I hate this band) literally waters that down to “Violence is an energy” and “Bringing on the fury” and maybe I’m paranoid, but that seems a little close to be coincidence. Am I accusing Green Day of callously ripping of their betters? You bet your ass I am. And even their peers – one of 21st Century Breakdown‘s many awful tracks is “East Jesus Nowhere” which features a guitar riff eerily similar to (and by “eerily similar to”, I mean “shamelessly ripped off from”) Marilyn Manson’s “Disposable Teens.” Have you left no sense of decency, Green Day? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?
When American Idiot came along back in 2004, lots of people loved it because they hated the President and all the bullshit he was up to. But what did that album really say about…well, anything? The answer is (drum roll please) fuckall. Sure, they got their best line ever on the title track (“I’m not a part of a redneck agenda”) but the rest of that album was generic suburban alienation bullshit. They spent 13 tracks saying nothing the Clash didn’t say better in “Lost in the Supermarket”. The best moment of that album is “American Idiot” and it’s eclipsed in every way by (take your pick) “White Riot” by the Clash, “California Uber Alles” by the Dead Kennedys, “Anarchy in the U.K.” by the Sex Pistols, and even “Time for Heroes” by the Libertines*. And Green Day’s utter lack of ability to handle anything approaching substance led them to squander a great song title in “Wake Me Up When September Ends.” Any punk band worth a damn (hell, any kind of band with any kind of sense) doing a song with that title in 2004 could’ve made an awesome song about how frustrating it is, only a few years after 9/11, to be constantly reminded to “never forget.” But what does Green Day give us? “The innocent can never last.” Really? That’s all you got? And this was their Big Meaningful album, folks. Not only does that fail to scratch the surface, it fails to come anywhere near the surface. It floats around in space, consulting maps and charts in a futile attempt to determine the location of the surface. And it’s fucking banal, musically and lyrically. Especially lyrically. In the span of one song, we get that prize-winner about the innocent and “here comes the rain again/ falling from the stars/ drenched in my pain again/ becoming who we are.” That might be fine for any given 8th grader’s Live Journal entry, but it doesn’t cut it for discerning listeners of rock music (much less bands that claim to make rock music). It’s like Armstrong just pulled words from his copy of Poetic Imagery for Dummies Pretentious Assholes. And don’t even get me started on “Boulevard of Broken Dreams.” By itself, that song puts Green Day at the top of the list of bands that need a serious cock-punching.
But people are buying their shit at an ungodly rate. Rolling Stone, a magazine whose irrelevance actually increases exponentially with every review, raved about 21st Century Breakdown‘s “rage filled punk anthems.” The Los Angeles Times called the album a “dazzling musical journey.” If “Know Your Enemy” and “21 Guns” are rage-filled punk anthems and/or dazzling musical journeys, we’re in trouble. You can like whatever you want, but I’m warning you: if you let bands like Green Day (or My Chemical Romance or any other band that is just dying to write the anthems of your prepubescent/adolescent/adult angst) climb to the top of the punk and/or rock heap, you’re running the risk of creating a nation of black-clad, whiny dullards who are capable of expressing their feelings/desires/politics only in the most vague and offensively bromidic terms. That’s a nation where Green Day dominates the radio, every television show and movie is about emo vampires, and people think Dane Cook is funny. Believe me, America: we can do better than that. We must do better.
*This song features the line, “Did you see the stylish kids in the riot,” which I mention only because it occurs to me that Green Day are the stylish kids in the riot (the kids who show up to say they were there, but don’t expect them to hurl any bricks, thank you very much). For the sake of contrast, Joe Strummer, who wrote “White Riot” actually participated in a riot. He and Paul Simonon attempted to set a police car on fire while the British cops beat up some black kids. I’m not advocating destroying cop cars in hilarious ways, but it’s certainly nice to know that Strummer and the Clash weren’t afraid to put their money where their mouths were.