Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Idiot American

This is more like it: Plenty of information about the designer, Chris Bilheimer,
who has made his mark in a wide array of rock visuals in the last couple of
decades. Usually the part about graphic design is hidden away, as if the
musicians either don't want listeners to know, or want to imply that maybe
the musicians created the art too. This design not only evokes Saul Bass, but
feels like two iterations before the final art, shapes just a tad too awkward
and close together. I would have fussed with it more. But what do I know?
My apologies for submitting the tardiest music review ever.

I like "American Idiot" by Green Day.
(Wait, wasn't that, like, last century?)
OK, you know what? Let's call it a music appreciation instead. I think that's what it's called when no one really wants your opinion of the arts, or when every story has already been written about a recently deceased celebrity, but you write something anyway.

Because I'm not writing this to say you should like it too.

A hater of music reviews, I'm not about to do unto you what I wouldn't want done to me.

Music has to be the most subjective subject there is, rendering music reviews useless to me. No muscle of a writer's description is going to make me buy music, because the writer can't quite qualify why the music appeals.

It could be, and usually is, nothing to do with beat or structure or the front man's voice. It could have everything to do, and usually does, with my geographical and psychological place when I encounter the music.

Music love is an accidental thing. It is snuck upon you while you're doing other things. So it was when I first heard Copland's "Fanfare for the Common Man" in the days when if you wanted to watch TV, you had to watch what your parents wanted to watch. They wanted to watch something that showcased Copland, and after that I wanted to hear everything else he wrote.

Tom Waits sang my angst over long frustrating winter nights researching a project when I was a newspaper reporter. He always brings me back to those nights.

Caught up in The Colbert Report's final goodbye, I got caught up in "Holland 1945" by Neutral Milk Hotel (album cover art also by Chris Bilheimer), and the possible reason Stephen Colbert chose it as the last sounds we heard.

"Sweet Disposition" by The Temper Trap is a song I never would have come by, except for its use as the soundtrack for the video of a swim in which I got to take part, and the music is ingrained in me.

No music review imploring me to listen to those pieces would have succeeded.

I also understand the irony in linking these songs here, because your music tastes are scattershot, defy reason, and may even be embarrassing, like mine, and you prefer not to be spoon-fed but have the music find you accidentally. But what the heck; the link function is easy and available, so why not use it, am I right?

Our son bought American Idiot when he was in high school. He bought it electronically as a good olf-fashioned CD 11 years ago, from iTunes™® I'm sure. I bought mine 11 years later as I always have, browsing the bins at a used-records store.

I didn't know much about Green Day at the time, but trusted his exploration. I teased that Green Day was part of UBT (Unified Band Theory), my idea that all the music he was listening to came from one band, relabeled and packaged for a different audience, the only tell being the lead singer with the odd Valley-Boy-slightly-Australian pronunciation of certain words.

I'm not Green Day's audience, nowhere close. Even when I fit the demographic long ago, I wasn't into sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll. I didn't, and wouldn't, go to concerts.

And yet …

I appreciate what Green Day is saying and playing here. Call it punk-pop (here is where I betray my weakness as a music reviewer, because I don't know what I'm talking about), powerful guitar and explosive drums but with simple, infectious melody.

I appreciate the rage displayed in American Idiot, the anger and pain of suburban kids trying to get through their screwed-up world. The video made for the suite "Jesus of Suburbia,"  (NSFW I guess) doesn't feel like actors playing confused and untethered teenagers, but like real kids opening the dented door to their messed up lives.

I feel their pain, and attach the sound to my own frustrations, however different.

I appreciate the energy with which Green Day delivers its message. YouTube®™ has put me close to the concert stage I wouldn't get near in person, and I get to see the manic drive as Green Day performs, all rockstar poses, windmill arms and ridiculously wide stances and twisted faces. I couldn't tell you whether lead guitarist Billie Joe Armstrong, bassist Mike Dirnt and drummer Tre´ Cool are personas or their real selves, or some of both, but they don't hold anything back. You paid your ticket, they're going to give you a show.

American Idiot is written like a rock opera, its songs tracing a story thread of young people in the time of George W. Bush and Iraq War II and the toppling economy, all of its dislocation and anger and hopelessness and redemption and resignation.

Which may be why it's still being performed as an actual rock opera, Green Day having turned its collection into a Broadway musical (where the actors do feel like actors, play-acting as disaffected young people).

The song-story suits me at the moment. The CD rests in my car stereo, ready to blare when National Public Radio recycles a story for the third time, or sports talk radio waxes eloquent about the 3-4 defense. Or when I just want to swing the windmill arms of my mind.

It'll be there until something new accidentally comes along.

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