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Green Day Craft Punk Opera

Punks dream of taking "American Idiot" to Broadway

May 26, 2004 12:00 AM ET

"It's our most ambitious album to date," says Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day's forthcoming American Idiot, a concept record the trio has dubbed a "punk rock opera." The sprawling thirteen-song album, due in September, tells the tales of such characters as "Saint Jimmy" and an unnamed female protagonist "Whatzhername" living in a heated political climate.

"I wanted to try to find some human relationship throughout it," Armstrong says. "A lot of it is coming from trying to have a relationship between different people and yourself, but being surrounded by total chaos . . . I didn't want to make people feel like I'm telling them what to do or come across as a shitty politician."

The opening title track is a blistering commentary on today's media propelled by a trademark Green Day infectious hook. The album then breaks into chapters, starting with "Jesus of Suburbia," an epic nine-minute song broken up into five parts, each getting its own title, like "City of the Damned" and "Dearly Beloved." After wrapping its way through a series of styles -- from up-tempo punk to Sixties-flavored pop -- the tracks wrap up in "Tales of Another Broken Home," which explodes into the big finale.

"A band that's known for the perfect two-minute song is now writing nine-minute epics," Armstrong says. "It's scary to think about."

Though the band members admit they had doubts about the album's direction during the sessions, they were reassured by longtime producer Rob Cavallo and ended up having a blast.

"It's ridiculous how fun it is to be able to do a nine-minute song with all these changes and different time signatures," drummer Tre Cool says. "It's almost like putting on different clothes for a day."

"As a musician, it's really enjoyable," bassist Mike Dirnt agrees.

Green Day have equally ambitious plans for their live shows in support of American Idiot. "We want to be able to play the whole thing front to back," Armstrong says, "and get some theater gigs where we do the whole thing in one piece."

The plans don't end there though. Given the narrative nature of the album, Armstrong says he'd love to see American Idiot brought to life through another medium, be it in films or on Broadway. "There's a little bit of talk," he says. "If it happens, if it happens. The whole thing was written from that point of view. I think this record has more in common with Rocky Horror than it does with London Calling."

 

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Song Stories

“Try a Little Tenderness”

Otis Redding | 1966

This pop standard had been previously recorded by dozens of artists, including by Bing Crosby 33 years before Otis Redding, who usually wrote his own songs, cut it. It was actually Sam Cooke’s 1964 take, which Redding’s manager played for Otis, that inspired the initially reluctant singer to take on the song. Isaac Hayes, then working as Stax Records’ in-house producer, handled the arrangement, and Booker T. and the MG’s were the backing band. Redding’s soulful version begins quite slowly and tenderly itself before mounting into a rousing, almost religious “You’ve gotta hold her, squeeze her …” climax. “I did that damn song you told me to do,” Redding told his manager. “It’s a brand new song now.”

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