Billie Joe Armstrong’s 21st-century breakdown

BY ERIN MOYER ’16
Contributing Writer

Make no mistake, railing against The Man is nothing new for the ‘hardcore,” “edgy,” pop-punk band Green Day. But in recent years, it would appear the band as a whole has outgrown the rebellious, subversive streak that once inclined it to, say, challenge audience members to fights during concerts. It would seem, though, that Green Day frontman Billie Joe Armstrong has not outgrown much of anything and not just because he is the size of an early-blooming fourth grader. This guy got kicked off a Southwest flight last year for refusing to pull up his pants. He is not playing games, ladies and gentlemen.

Even so, Armstrong has recently gone slowly toward the light at the end of the tunnel that is mainstream America  —  from adapting the album American Idiot into a blockbuster and Broadway musical, to taking a guest role on Nurse Jackie, and then teaming up with Christina Aguilera to mentor the karaoke stars of tomorrow on The Voice, at a time which conveniently lines up with the release of Green Day’s new trio of albums  —  but that path of redemption took a stunning left turn at the iHeart Radio Music Festival when Green Day’s set was cut abruptly short, and Armstrong received word — via, in his words, “that fucking sign right there” —  that he had only one minute to wrap up his band’s set.

What followed was perhaps one of the most indignant, explosive, and well-articulated —  considering what he must have been on — rants mine ears have doth heard. He said “fuck” twenty-one times, insulted Justin Bieber, and shamed apparent sponsor of the event Clear Choice for trying to muscle his integrity-packed band away to make room for the gaudy glitz of Usher. It was a punk rock barn-burner, and cheers filled the air as Billie and Green Day bassist Mike Drint capped off the evening by axe-smashing in living color. It was spectacular.

Until you thought about it. Until you found out, as reported on MetalSucks, that Green Day was cut short not out of any malicious sort of commercialism but rather because they took the stage half an hour behind schedule. Until you found out that Billie Joe Armstrong was now “seeking treatment for substance abuse.” Until you paused, and reflected on the fact that Green Day, for all of the eye make-up they still regularly apply, hasn’t exactly been a shining role model of any sort of indie, integrity, punk-rock credo in quite some time.

It all used to mean something, man. Except, it actually did. Maybe friends shouldn’t let friends do whatever Billie Joe was and/or is on, but friends definitely don’t let friends do Broadway adaptations. Friends don’t let friends do Nurse Jackie. Friends don’t let friends do The Voice. Because no, you aren’t fucking Justin Bieber, Billie Joe. That’s always sort of been the point.

And so, was the man who would at once seem to be another casualty in the rage against the commercial, cannibalistic machine actually just a tipsy, foul-mouthed cog already whirring within it, one who just forgot what he had signed himself up for? Is there poetic justice here? Are the gods of punk rock someplace up there, nestled in thick puffs of some illicit substance and smiting the mortal Joe in his hubris for committing the crime of all crimes: selling out? Or should I just read less Homeric poetry?

No one, not even Homer, could tie up this moment quite so well as the Noire Bard himself, master of pain, pen, and hypodermic needle. As one final middle finger takes a brief tour of duty about the stadium, he glares blearily through bloodshot, eyeliner-clotted eyes at the land he used to rule. “God fucking love you all,” he shouts. “We’ll be back!”

With that, he whips his microphone across the stage and storms off, leaving the scene in 2012 in a state of coherency probably similar to the one he first arrived back in “fucking-19-80-fucking-8.”

Whether he means Green Day will perform again, back in black, or back in the folds of punk rock is yet to be determined. But for all those would-be Noire Bards picking up a guitar or a pen for the first time, the return of Green Day and their front man could mean at least a little more inspiration to be found, a few more questions to be asked, and a little more healthy rage in their lives.

Questions? Email Erin at emoyer1@fandm.edu.

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