February 17, 1972 – Billie Joe Armstrong:
“There’s a lot more to punk rock than just a catchy song, it”s a deeper thing about community and connection – and I think we’re still part of that.”
I might not have been a fan of Green Day for as long as everyone else. I first got onboard in the 21st century. Their sound and ideas really resonate with me, and I rank American Idiot (2004) among the very best Rock albums of the Bush era. Plus, Billie Joe Armstrong is hot.
Green Day was formed in 1986 in East Bay area of California. The band consists of Armstrong (vocals, lead guitar), Mike Dirnt (bass guitar), and Tré Cool (percussion).The band has released twelve studio albums besides American Idiot: 39/Smooth (1990), Kerplunk (1991), Dookie (1994), Insomniac (1995), Nimrod (1997), Warning (2000), 21st Century Breakdown (2009), the three volume ¡Uno!, ¡Dos!, ¡Tré! (2012), and Revolution Radio (2016).
Green Day has received five Grammy Awards out of 20 nominations. The band was nominated for nine Billboard Music Awards, winning seven of them in 2005, including “Rock Artist of the Year” and “Rock Song of the Year”.
Armstrong is the lead vocalist, primary songwriter for Green Day. He is also a guitarist and vocalist for the punk rock band Pinhead Gunpowder and provides lead vocals for Green Day’s side projects Foxboro Hot Tubs, The Network, and The Longshot.
Raised in Rodeo, California, Armstrong was interested in music starting at a young age. He recorded his first song at 5 years old. He met Dirnt in elementary school, and the two boys bonded over their mutual interest in music, forming a band when they were 14 years old.
Armstrong identifies as bisexual. In a 1995 interview with The Advocate, Armstrong said:
“I think I’ve always been bisexual. I mean, it’s something that I’ve always been interested in. I think people are born bisexual, and it’s just that our parents and society kind of veer us off into this feeling of ‘Oh, I can’t.’ They say it’s taboo. It’s ingrained in our heads that it’s bad, when it’s not bad at all. It’s a very beautiful thing.”
I love that quote. He also goes on to say stuff like:
“The fact that it’s an issue is kind of phobic within itself. At some point, you gotta think, this should be something that’s just accepted. I don’t really classify myself as anything. And when it comes to sex, there are parts of me that are very shy and conservative.”
Which I think a lot of people can relate to that feeling of not really wanting to put yourself into a strict category, with all the people who are bisexual and biromantic, bisexual but not biromantic, biromantic but not bisexual, somewhere in between.
Armstrong’s father was a wanna-be Jazz musician, and also a truck driver for Safeway. It was his dad’s profession that gave Armstrong his first taste of blue-collar politics. In the song Too Dumb To Die, from Revolution Radio, he recalls:
“My daddy was always on strike… the picket line screamed / Don’t cross the line / Because you’ll be a scab not a martyr.”
He came to regret the lines ”My mother said to get a job, but she don’t like the one she got”, from Longview. His mother was a waitress who did like her job and she continued to serve diners long after her son became rich. It was his mother who helped secure her son’s band their first gig. Then named Sweet Children, the first incarnation of Green Day performed at Rod’s Hickory Pit in front of an audience of 30 people in 1988.
Armstrong’s interest in Punk was sudden:
”I became a punk at the same time that we became a band.”
The conversion happened while watching MTV and reacting as The Primitives‘ pop-punk classic Crash came in second place in a video face-off. Armstrong said he thought:
”This is going to be great! This is a great song! Finally, we’re going to get something good! Fuck this channel and fuck the radio – I just can’t take it anymore. I don’t care if I become popular or famous. This is the kind of music that I love. This is the style I love, and this is what I want to play.”
Of the songs written for Green Day’s bestselling third album, Dookie, one didn’t make the cut. It was an acoustic number that Armstrong played alone. Its was Good Riddance (Time Of Your Life). The song emerged three years later as the biggest hit single from the band’s fifth album, Nimrod, and it would be used as the closing music for both the last episode of the brilliant sitcom Seinfeld, and for England’s exit from the 1998 World Cup finals.
One of the most remarkable things of the huge success of Dookie was just how little press the band did to promote it. The only interview the band did in the USA was for Spin magazine in autumn 1994. Less than pleased with the results, at a concert in Chicago Billie Joe held up the magazine and set it on fire, telling the crowd:
”…this is a crock of shit, and if you believe it you are too.”
Armstrong made his acting debut in 1997 on the Fox animated series King Of The Hill, providing the voice of the character ”Face”, a musician who was in a band with two friends, voiced by Dirnt and Tré Cool. He made his onscreen acting debut in an episode of the supernatural drama Haunted, but the show was cancelled two episodes later.
In 2003, Armstrong left the Bay Area and rented a small apartment in Manhattan’s East Village to be inspired for new material for Green Day’s as-yet-unannounced seventh album. Walking the New York streets late at night, he ended up participating in jam sessions in the basement of Hi-Fi, a bar in Manhattan, with local musicians. The songs Boulevard Of Broken Dreams and Are We The Waiting on American Idiot, emerged from this time.
The Green Day masterpiece is American Idiot, their seventh studio album. A concept album dubbed a “punk rock opera”, American Idiot follows the story of Jesus of Suburbia, a lower-middle-class American adolescent anti-hero. The album expresses the disillusionment and dissent of a generation that came of age in a period shaped by tumultuous events including the Iraq War.
It charted in 27 countries, going to Number One in 19, and sold 17 million copies. The album spawned five successful singles: American Idiot, Boulevard Of Broken Dreams, Holiday, Wake Me Up When September Ends and Jesus Of Suburbia. American Idiot was well received critically and won the Grammy Award for Best Rock Album in 2005.
It inspired a Broadway musical. Armstrong appeared in the Broadway production many times. With his return in 2011, the show grossed over $1 million. American Idiot won two Tony Awards, and received a nomination for Best Musical. The Broadway production closed in April 2011, after 454 performances. A first national tour started in 2011. A documentary about the musical, titled Broadway Idiot, was released in 2013
In 2014, Armstrong again discussed his bisexuality. In a Rolling Stone article about Dookie, an album which Armstrong described as “touching on bisexuality a lot”, Armstrong discussed the song Coming Clean:
“It was a song about questioning myself. There are these other feelings you may have about the same sex, the opposite sex, especially being in Berkeley and San Francisco then. People are acting out what they’re feeling: gay, bisexual, transgender, whatever. And that opens up something in society that becomes more acceptable. Now we have gay marriage becoming recognized… I think it’s a process of discovery. I was willing to try anything.”
The work of Green Day was always political. Armstrong supported Barack Obama during the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections. In the 2016 presidential election, Armstrong supported Bernie Sanders and later declared his support for Hillary Clinton. Armstrong has been critical of the current rotting mango president, calling him a “fascist” and a “puppet of the Illuminati”. In 2017, Armstrong stated that he does not align himself with any established political party, describing himself as an Independent. Last year, Armstrong came under criticism after it was announced that he would be featuring on an album by controversial musician Morrissey.
Armstrong probably won’t see this #BornThisDay. He doesn’t read his own press, saying:
”I think it’s corrupting; it compromises the music.”
Last week, Green Day released Father Of All Motherfuckers, their 13th studio album. The band is set to begin the Hella Mega Tour in March with Fall Out Boy and Weezer.