The 100 Best Covers: Billy Joe Armstrong, the 'Idiot' King

'Rolling Stone' celebrates our 1000th issue by examining 100 iconic covers

Billie Joe Armstrong on the cover in November, 2005.
Photograph by Albert Watson
Billie Joe Armstrong on the cover in November, 2005.
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When I look at that face, I see some form of wisdom," says Green Day's Billie Joe Armstrong about his first solo Rolling Stone cover, in November 2005. "It's not necessarily a young face –  it's a person that has a lot of stories to tell. I had done some miles, and that kinda comes out." Armstrong had indeed been through a few things by this time. Green Day had reached megastardom in 1994 with their 8 million-selling breakthrough, Dookie. But in the decade that followed, they never returned to those heights. Then came American Idiot, released six weeks before the presidential election in 2004. The album was a shockingly adult statement from a band best known for songs about smoking pot and beating off. "I was debating with myself in those songs," Armstrong told writer John Colapinto, adding that the September 11th attacks were the catalyst for his writing. "It's impossible not to be affected by that and everything that it spawned: this war, more paranoia, the terror alerts with the different colors."

Colapinto joined the band at a tour stop in Nashville and then traveled on Armstrong's bus to the next show, in Ohio. "We stayed up all night and got trashed on some chardonnay that Billie Joe pulled out of the lavishly outfitted minifridge," Colapinto says. "We talked about our kids, and he was like any other dad, waxing proud about his son's performance in a soccer game."

Armstrong says that Colapinto "just caught me in a damn good mood – all these dreams were coming true for us." The band had already been on the cover earlier in the year, so, he says, it was "a big surprise" to be on the cover again so soon. "It had been, like, ten years since our last Rolling Stone cover, then to get on two times in one album cycle, we were so stoked," he says. "I'm such a rock & roll geek, I love looking at the path of a career like that."

Albert Watson photographed the band in Oakland, California. "We actually knew one of the women who worked on the shoot," says Armstrong. "She was a dominatrix, and on our album Warning, we had her come in and whip the shit out of our second engineer. Then there she was at the shoot, running the catering company – caterer by day; by night, Mistress Simone the dominatrix!"

This story appeared in the May 18, 2006 issue of Rolling Stone.

From The Archives Issue 1000: May 18, 2006
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