The Audacity of "Jesus of Suburbia"

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When we are audacious, we take surprisingly bold risks.

Elvis Presley was audacious when sped up the rhythm on Arthur Crudup’s blues classic “That’s All Right, Mama” and arguably invented rock and roll in the tiny Sun Records recording studio in Memphis, TN.

The Beatles were audacious when, at the very end of a marathon 11 hour recording session, John Lennon tore off his shirt and sang lead on “Money, That’s What I Want,” and nailed it in one take.

Elton John was audacious every time he got on stage wearing crazy sun glasses and garish outfits to perform quiet piano ballads.

Green Day was audacious when, in 2004, they released a rock opera called American Idiot, and on that album, included an opus, five movement opera within an opera called “Jesus of Suburbia.”

American Idiot is a concept album that “expresses the disillusionment and dissent of a generation that come of age in a period shaped by many tumultuous events like the Iraq war.” The album may tell a cohesive story about a central character named Saint Jimmy, but to me, “Jesus of Suburbia” is about boredom. Why we are bored, the bad things that can happen when we are bored, and what we can do to break out of the boredom.

“I’m the son of rage and love
The Jesus of Suburbia
The bible of none of the above
On a steady diet of
Soda Pop and Ritalin”

Every line is separated by a massive drum strike. Guitar chords slash between the syllables. After the introduction movement we find ourselves at the only place a suburban kid can sometimes go.

“At the center of the earth
in the parking lot
of the 7-11 where I was taught
the motto was just a lie.
It ways home is where your heart is
But what a shame
Cause everyone heart
Doesn’t beat the same
It’s beating out of time.”

There’s nothing going on at home. Escape brings only cold fluorescent lights, other lost souls to orbit around, and an empty promise shared by a chain of convenience stores. Saint Jimmy realizes where he is.

“City of the dead
at the end of another lost highway
Signs misleading to nowhere
City of the damned
Lost children with dirty faces today
No one really seems to care.

I don’t care if you don’t
I don’t care if you don’t
I don’t care if you don’t care
I don’t care.”

From movement to movement, the music changes. Space is given for drum solos that actually drive the song forward musically and thematically. A bass solo thunders through. Green Day is a power trio, and there is no place for any instrument to hide, so they are all highlighted.

Five movements. Heavy electric guitar followed by a gentle acoustic. Lovely harmonies right before a crash of heavy metal. The song evokes the frustration and anger that boredom brings, and it is anything but boring. The song reminds us how the warm comfort of suburbia to one person can be a cold prison to another.

“The center of the earth
is the end of the world
And I could really care less.”

This is where great rock and roll comes from. Breaking out of the boredom that keeps us prisoner. Wanting something more, something exciting. Watching Green Day perform “Jesus of Suburbia” live, they masterfully fulfill almost every great rock and roll trope we know. Billie Joe Armstrong jumping up high in the air as he jackknifes his legs playing the guitar, or inviting the audience to finish a lyric in massive unison. The great drum solo by Tre Cool as he holds court from the back of the stage. Thousands of arms waving back and forth. Bassist Mike Dirnt thumping out a bass solo as he strikes a pose of defiance and control.

At the beginning of the performance, Billie Joe Armstrong specially welcomes everyone “who took the train to get here tonight. OK?” He knows where they came from. They came from the suburbs.


“Jesus of Suburbia”
Written by Billie Joe Armstrong, Mike Dirnt, Tre Cool
Recorded by Green Day

Released October 25, 2005

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