Green Day pens a punk-rock opera
Jesus of Suburbia, St. Jimmy, and Whatsername. They are all the characters in a new punk opera by Green Day that may never rival the Who's "Tommy" but is a potent work supercharged with songs about alienation amid the "redneck agenda" in Washington, according to the band.
The album, "American Idiot," comes out Tuesday. The title track is already in hot rotation on rock radio, though as Green Day singer/composer Billie Joe Armstrong says, "We did hear from one station that won't play it because they admitted they have a redneck agenda."
The galvanizing work, which is packed with high-energy guitar rock and even two nine-minute epics, follows the Jesus of Suburbia character, who "is ultimately the American Idiot in the whole thing," Armstrong says. "He becomes disenfranchised with his hometown and with the people he grew up with. He tries to follow some ethics and beliefs and not to fall into self-destruction at the same time."
The protagonist was raised "on a steady diet of soda pop and Ritalin," the lyric goes, and in "a land of make believe." Tracks such as "I Don't Care," "Tales of Another Broken Home," and "Wake Me Up When September Ends" help paint the picture.
As for St. Jimmy, he is "sort of a cross between Darby Crash and John the Baptist -- he could be your kid next door or the local drug dealer who is seductive and a liar and symbolizes the rotten kid that everybody wanted to be," says Armstrong.
The young girl Whatsername is the most heroic of the bunch. The songs "She's a Rebel" and "Extraordinary Girl" apply to her. "She truly follows what rebellion means and is a symbol of resistance," says Armstrong, whose band will debut some of these tunes at the Worcester Centrum Centre on Oct. 28 (with New Found Glory and Sugarcult opening up).
Green Day did not at first plan to write a punk opera. The band members wrote the first song, "American Idiot," then started joking around and challenging one another to write 30-second snippets.
Bassist Mike Dirnt started it and Armstrong says he thought it "sounded like Broadway or a rock opera. Then I connected a 30-second one and [drummer] Tre Cool did one, and it just kept going and going. We were laughing but also blowing each other away. We thought, `If we take this more seriously, this could be great.' "
Green Day also listened to other rock operas to set a mood. "Anything from `Tommy' to `Ziggy Stardust,' `The Rocky Horror Picture Show,' `West Side Story,' and `Jesus Christ Superstar,' " says Armstrong. "It was hard work but it was always coming from a place where we were feeling inspired and having a good time and still acting like that 15-year-old kid rocking out in front of the mirror playing air guitar."
Fogerty returns with some bite: When he was with Creedence Clearwater Revival, John Fogerty wrote "Fortunate Son," one of the all-time-best rock protest songs. Now he's back with "Deja Vu (All Over Again)," a new album (due Tuesday) whose title track cites an eerie parallel between the Vietnam War and the current Iraqi conflict. "Did that voice inside you say I've heard it all before? . . . Day by day we count the dead and dying/ Ship the bodies while the networks all keep score," sings Fogerty.
"I lived through the Vietnam era and I had strong emotions about it," he says by phone. "And I said years ago, `Let's just promise ourselves we never do this again.' But here we are."
The new song seemed almost destined to come out. "I rented a little house I called my writing shed," says Fogerty, who lives in Los Angeles. "I wanted to make a fun, swamp-rock song, but I walked in the door and put my keys on the table and literally a voice came inside my head about `Deja Vu.' I ran over and picked up an acoustic guitar, stood in the middle of the room, and very quickly the chorus and first verse came right out."
The rest of the album, which is a better effort than his previous one (the Grammy-winning "Blue Moon Swamp"), is not political. It includes the swampy "Wicked Old Witch" and ragtime-y "Rhubarb Pie," plus the high-stepping country-folk of "I Will Walk With You" and the Dire Straits-like "Nobody's Here Anymore," featuring Straits guitarist Mark Knopfler. "Everyone told me it sounded like Dire Straits, so I called Mark to put some guitar on it, and he did," says Fogerty. "That's me on the left side and Mark on the right side of your speakers."
Fogerty says the new disc is "my best record." That may be a stretch, given some of his CCR excellence, but it is the best of his solo records. And given the title track, it's a good prelude to this fall's Vote for Change tour, which he'll be joining with Bruce Springsteen. "I got a call from Bruce, and I said yes immediately," Fogerty adds. That tour won't come to Boston, but look for a Fogerty date here in November.
Blues son returns: Dick Waterman is a legendary name in Boston blues circles. Raised in Plymouth, he attended Boston University and later ran the Boston Blues Society with Peter Guralnick (who went on to become Elvis Presley's biographer) and formed the blues booking agency Avalon Productions in the '60s. It handled Bonnie Raitt and booked B.B. King into Fenway Park as part of a Eugene McCarthy rally in 1968. Waterman ended up moving to Los Angeles in 1978, then to Oxford, Miss., in 1986, but he's returning for the Boston Blues Festival at the Hatch Shell on Sept. 25 and Sept. 26. He'll have a booth from which he'll sell copies of his inspiring new book, "Between Midnight and Day: The Last Unpublished Blues Archive." It contains many previously unreleased photos he took of blues acts at the Newport Folk Festival and at such local sites as Club 47 and Cafe Yana.
"You'd see people like Jose Feliciano and Sonny Terry playing together. And I remember the Chambers Brothers were like the house act for a while at the Unicorn on Boylston Street," says Waterman. You can relive the memories (or discover them) in his book and through his website, www.dickwaterman.com.
Bits and pieces: Wonder where all the summer concert money went? Madonna is counting it. She grossed $5.6 million per venue (overall gross from multiple shows in each market), according to Pollstar. . . . Collegefest is at the Hynes Convention Center Sept. 25-26. Performers include Lil' Flip, Pitbull, Cassidy, and Apollo Sunshine. More at collegefest.com. . . . Dennis Brennan has resumed his Wednesday residency (this time free) at the Lizard Lounge. . . . Tonight: Taste of Boston concert at City Plaza 4-8 p.m. with Dropkick Murphys, Farrenheit, Puddle of Mudd, and at least three members (including Gary Cherone) of former Boston band Extreme; Gloria Estefan at the FleetCenter; Bruce Katz Band and David Maxwell at the Regent Theatre; the Dents at the Abbey Lounge; Lydia Warren at the Sea Note; and a party tonight at the Kirkland Cafe to celebrate Noise magazine's 23d year and Mikey Dee's birthday. Acts include Mick Mondo and Streaker, the Emily Grogan Band, Mickey Bliss, and more. . . . Tomorrow: They Might Be Giants at Avalon, Lucky 57 at Toad, and the Cantab Underground in Central Square opens.
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