We risked a snowy drive home from the city last night to attend a black box, low-rent performance of American Idiot at the theater equivalent of a dive bar in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood. It was as far from Broadway as you could get and still be called theater. Which isn’t to say it was bad. Some of the singers did a fairly good job with Billie Joe Armstrong’s vocals, and the band, tucked in the corner beneath an ironic “No Stagediving” sign (there is no stage) did an admirable job. Unfortunately, the garage-band (or was it garage sale?) sound system wasn’t on par and the audience had to endure plenty of feedback.
American Idiot is one of my favorite full-length albums, not just by Green Day, but by any band. I can think of few other albums that beg to to be listened to entirely, in order, as a story. And certainly none since it’s 2004 release, at the dawn of the mp3 and streaming era. I’m thrilled to hear HBO has picked up the movie rights and can’t wait to see it. Hopefully it comes to Amazon Prime.
The rock opera, for those like me, who hadn’t ever caught it before, plays through the album in its entirety while following the stories of three disaffected suburban youths. The performance we saw was chock full of subtext as nearly a dozen performers were on stage cavorting, doing drugs, having sex, moping, dancing, licking their war wounds, and going to the bathroom at any one time. It was equal parts feast for the eyes and chaos. Maybe it was the season, maybe the weather, but I couldn’t help but feel the performance was just a Snoopy-on-the-piano shy of devolving into a full-blown Peanuts Christmas pageant rehearsal.
Good grief, indeed.
Of all the influential 90s bands (many of which I still listen to), I’d argue that Green Day has managed to continue as the most relevant of those not named Pearl Jam, at least on a mainstream level. That alone is pretty remarkable. And I thought about that a lot last night while watching American Idiot. Specifically, I thought about it in terms of the cast which all appeared to be in their early 20s, and the lyrics of all those songs I once screamed along with.
The 90s gave us grunge, alternative rock, and the post-N.W.A spinoffs of hardcore rap. Throw in a vibrant punk rock scene and you got wall-to-wall music devoted to calling out society’s bullshit. Gen X’ers had plenty to gripe about as we were first in line to feel the repercussions of the prior generation’s addiction to consumerism, greed, and divorce.
But all signs point to today’s Millennials having it even harder. Their student loans are higher, non-tech jobs are scarcer, and rent is through the roof. In fact, just yesterday the Seattle Times had on its front page an article about a 130-square foot “studio apartment” complex with a door-less toilet in your room and communal bathing and kitchen space, fetching $750 a month. Some compared them to parking spaces. Others called them what they really are, prison cells. Drug abuse and homelessness are up, the state of politics is a mess and getting worse (and more embarrassing) with every election, and the cost of food and drink continues to climb.
This is the current world we live in, yet I’m not seeing it reflected in today’s music. Where’s today’s Rage Against the Machine? Where’s today’s answer to the political commentary and social outcry of bands like Bad Religion? This isn’t to say that there isn’t good music being made by new artists today. There is. But it’s all so soft and cuddly. Music, like all good art, needs to hold a mirror up to society. For every Sir Mix-a-Lot we had to endure in the 90s, we had a Nine-Inch-Nails and Ice Cube to counter it. Today’s got plenty of Bieber, where’s the salt chaser? It can’t all be snarky Tweets and Crying Jordans.
If you’ve got some good angst-y modern music recommendations, let me hear about it in the comments.
- Bill Gates: My Favorite Books of 2016 – If you’ve ever read one of those articles about the habits of successful people, you’ll no doubt be familiar with the ways they spend their downtime. Hint: It’s not watching America’s Dumbest Home Videos. Bonus points for including DFW in the list. No, not the airport.
- The Coldest Winter I Ever Spent Was a Summer in San Francisco – Mark Twain never said this. In fact, he never said half the things people attribute to him. This is a wonderful little essay about Twain, the origins of the title phrase, and the detective work necessary to figure out who actually came up with that quote. And what makes this so special, is that it’s a blog post on the webpage of Anchor Brewing. Go figure.
- How to Get Self-Published Books into Stores and Libraries – This one’s for those of you with self-published books in print form. It’s not easy — and the article doesn’t sugarcoat that fact — but there are some good tips for accomplishing the goal of having your physical book in physical locations.
- Things I Wish I Knew About Writing a Cookbook – This article by Allison Day has five great tips on things she learned writing her cookbook Whole Bowls. Many of her tips can likely be applied to any writing project.
- Janet Fitch’s 10 Rules for Writers – Quick-hitting tips that cover most of the things I try to keep in mind every time I sit down to write.
If You Are What You Eat, America is Allrecipes – Interesting and depressing all at once about the gulf between the food we talk about and the food we as a nation actually eat. “In the era of the ornate food description, Allrecipes favors a house style shorn of ostentation. The site uses “stir” or “cook” instead of “sauté” (“because that’s a French word,” explains Esmee Williams, Allrecipes’ vice president of consumer and brand strategy).” For those of you think we were running out of things to dumb down, this article will show you how much room there still is to fall.
Post Image by Iggyshoot, used under Creative Commons.