Our favorite songs don’t always align with the ones we’d admit (perhaps begrudgingly) to being more technically superior. Billy Joel’s “Uptown Girl” is by no means a masterpiece but it ranks amongst my most played because of it’s significance in a scene in one movie that had me grinning from ear to ear. Similarly, “In My Life” might not be the most musically progressive song in The Beatles’s wide ranging discography and might not take the risks of anything on Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band but it holds a special place in my heart for it’s simplicity. Green Day fits this bill.
Are there numerous bands that in the last 25 years have just as much furthered the punk scene? Absolutely and many have done it by varying their sound and refusing to compromise for commercial success, willing to take greater risks for the sake of their musicality. What they lack and what in turn makes Green Day so beloved is the band’s ability to elicit an emotional response. Fans don’t just love the songs but their entire existence. Think back to when music meant the absolute world to you; most would say it was when they were a teenager-when our emotions are already heightened and not as beholden to adult expectations.
This is when Green Day sinks its claws in and leaves its mark, forever earning the affection of fans who age alongside the band. What does Green Day mean to our generation? Exactly what the band has meant for every beginning youthful music enthusiast that has found themselves listening to “Christie Road”, “Longview”, “Good Riddance” or “Jesus of Suburbia” and finding something that clicks. Green Day is a gateway band-to music and the politically charged punk scene in general and while it doesn’t offer up more than the three power cord standard at times it’s a welcoming, rallying cry for any 14-year-old (such as myself) that’s desperately yearning for somewhere to project emotions to.
I’ve been feeling some trepidation in writing this article because to do so is to write for any entire generation when, frankly, I only know what the band meant to me which was a great deal.
There seems to be a bit of shame these days in admitting that you’re a Green Day fan (at least is snobbier music circles), especially considering their latest few albums and the by the numbers, monotonous tonality they’ve adopted, leaving behind the youthful energy and So-Cal punk feel of Dookie and, more recently (or over ten years ago, so I’m old), the operatic passion of American Idiot. Even worse, and this is something I’m guilty of, we add a disclaimer before saying we like them, making sure to point out that they were our high-school band or they helped introduce us to the world of music.
Beauty and meaning is, crucially, in the eye of the beholder. We do not all enjoy the same music and while there is a layer of objectivity when it comes to music criticism – as there should be a definitive line between what makes an inherently bad piece of art and a good one – the subjectivity of the matter at hand is significant to how we consume artists and their work. Our own personal understanding and journey in the world inform how we view music,movies and literature and what type we gravitate towards.
Green Day was a band made for those who were youthful, those who were angry and they were a band that held a familiarity within them. We listen to Green Day and we are able to in their history of albums find a song that connects, be it regarding anxiety and depression, love or a discontent with the current political party. This is best represented in Green Day’s newest album Revolutionary Radio which, albeit pretty standard, offers up great tunes for old and new listeners alike to grasp onto such as their deeply personal “Still Breathing”.
Far from the band’s best in terms of musicality but diving deep into the emotional well, “Still Breathing” is a raw depiction of overcoming an addiction. Green Day, for good or bad, has always been an emotionally resonant band, one that appeals to listeners in more emotionally fraught moments of their life and “Still Breathing” speaks to that feeling and atmosphere. It’s catchy, memorable and while the verses sound more All Time Low pop than punk the choruses soar above what is expected with full and layered vocals and subtext about overcoming personal demons to lead us into the ending bars. Perhaps nothing memorable in terms of overall music history but a high point for a Green Day fan looking to their favorite band to guide them out of a rough time in their life with an easy tune, a relatable beat and a message that surpasses them.
This all but encapsulates the significance behind the band who surely would rather be recognized for their forays into modern, popular punk music. Yet their real impact has been felt at the beginning stages of listening to them and they prove to be even more popular with my generation (us dear ol’ screwed over millennials) because they were our gateway drug into both music with that aforementioned game changing American Idiot but also because they gave us the option of a voice in politics. What they were saying in “Holiday” and “American Idiot” wasn’t anything people hadn’t said before about the Bush administration and there were places to find more deeply analytical and eloquently stated opinions on the matter, but Green Day simplified it meaning that scared 14 year olds (i.e me) were able listen and identify with the confused fear and anger that they were singing about. They didn’t single handedly give all listeners a voice, but they helped give me mine and set me on a path of discovering my own politics, my own belief systems and, yes, my own taste in music as I further fell down the music rabbit hole.
Very easily I could have spent the last 800 words talking simply about what Green Day means to me and, honestly, as I near 25 in the next month I can look back at my 14/15 year-old self and realize it was quite a lot. I was a relatively happy teen in the grand scheme of things (considering middle school is hell for all involved) but I was anxious (I’m still anxious) and Green Day and my utter adoration for the band proved a reprieve from insomnia and insecurities.
Art has always paved a path to my championing of causes-film led me to feminism, television to LGBTQIA issues, writing to caring about the world at large and all who inhabit it and to learn about my own shortcomings and to change it. Green Day lead me to caring in the first place and to look beyond myself, my friends and family, my town and outwards to the world around me. It didn’t prove life changing, but enlightening.
I won’t go on to say that Green Day is the best band that has ever lived, I won’t even say they’re my favorite band (and they haven’t been for years) but they’re a band that is important for young people because it gives those listening something to hold onto tightly and declare theirs because the band has transformed so greatly over the past 25 years that each generation who has listened has been able to identify with something different. When “American Idiot” came out millennials were nearing the end of middle school/entering high school and only years away from entering a world vastly different than the one of our parents-for better and worse. The album vocalized our frustration.
What’s great about Green Day, and any band ever that has a voice and something worth saying and what they meant for our generation is that they meant anything we needed them to be. Our voice, our lifeline, our soundtrack to our teen angst. A good band, a good musician provides an outlet for when the listener simply needs to plug in and lose herself and Green Day, for all their missteps and bumps along the road, were ready for that charge.
Revolution Radio is available now.