Diving into the meaning behind concept albums

Concept album like “American Idiot” experiments with allegorical storytelling

Diving into the meaning behind concept albums

Taylor Schutt, Staff Writer

On Sept. 24, 2004, Green Day released their seventh studio album titled “American Idiot”. The “punk rock opera” placed No. 1 on the U.S. Billboard 200 and 225th on Rolling Stone’s “500 Greatest Albums of All Time” in 2012. Little do people know, the entire project is actually a musical, and “American Idiot” is considered a concept album. A concept album has deeper meanings behind each song in which combine to form a story or message.

“American Idiot” was created as a protest against certain aspects of the political climate at the time, such as 9/11, the Iraq War and the Bush administration. Frontman Billie Joe Armstrong wrote the songs to portray an anti-hero named Jesus of Suburbia who is extremely pissed off with the current state of affairs in the United States. Other characters — such as St. Jimmy and Whatsername — also play a role in Jesus of Suburbia’s intense adventure to leave his small hometown. Common themes of anger, protest, individuality, freedom and anarchy are highlighted throughout.

“American Idiot” begins with its fiery explosive title song which sets the tone for the remainder of the project. The lyrics and music are angry, gritty and filled with loud drums, shredding guitars and a lot of cussing. The song outlines the overall message of the album: the current political system is tainted and it’s okay to be aggravated and raise a bit of hell.

In “Holiday/Boulevard of Broken Dreams,” Green Day begins their experiment with transitional songs, which combine two into one. In part one, Armstrong yells anti-war lyrics directed at the Republican President and party, who, ironically hold Christian values. Armstrong sings, “The shame, the ones who died without a name,” to explain the morbidity of unknown soldiers dying in Iraq. The song continues into part two, which features a more somber sound and lyrics that describe Jesus of Suburbia’s loneliness and struggle with his inner demons as he travels to the city.

Green Day continues the somber sounds with “Are We the Waiting/St. Jimmy”. The first part of this transitional song portrays Jesus of Suburbia on the brink of losing hope and feeling extremely vulnerable. Rumor has it that St. Jimmy is Jesus of Suburbia’s alter ego, and harbors even more rage.

In “Give Me Novacaine/She’s a Rebel”, the first part describes Jesus of Suburbia fighting inner demons and suicidal thoughts by taking drugs to numb the pain. This feeling doesn’t last long as the song turns to describe Whatsername, the girl who is the remedy to Jesus of Suburbia’s problems. This song influenced the album cover with the lyrics, “and she’s holding on my heart like a hand grenade.”

Many people know the track “When September Ends” with its heart-wrenching lyrics and depressing music. This song seems to be a bit different than the theme of “American Idiot” because it describes the death of Armstrong’s father. After his father’s funeral, Armstrong ran home crying and locked himself in his room. When his mother knocked, he said, “wake me up when September ends,” hence the title.

Green Day ends their punk rock opera with the crescendo-like tune, “Whatsername”, in which Jesus of Suburbia is back home and struggling with the effects of his breakup with Whatsername. All he has are the memories of being with her and his experiences living on the streets. He doesn’t want to forget his lessons, but does want to forget Whatsername and the pain she caused him.

“American Idiot” not only became a controversial album, but it also demonstrated experimental and out-of-the-box compositions from Green Day. The album was louder, more political, and even angrier than Green Day’s previous albums. Make sure you don’t become a total St. Jimmy when listening.