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Armstrong channeled his opinions into Jesus of Suburbia, the central character in American Idiot, who confronts various personal and social issues as he comes of age from the album's first song to its last. "There's definitely a resolution for the character, but I don't want to give it away because that's something I sort of want to leave to the listeners," he says.

The singer drew from his own coming of age but set the character in the current political and cultural climate.

  "American Idiot"
American Idiot
(Warner Brothers)
American Idiot opens with the ferocious title track and first single, which introduces the character as an alienated and confused American, who declares, "I'm not part of a redneck agenda." Next the album ventures into the ambitious "Jesus of Suburbia," which is not only the protagonist's moniker, but is also the name of a set of five very different tunes displaying the wide range of the character's emotions. (Another five-song set, "Homecoming," appears later in the record and focuses more on Jesus' relationships.)

"City of the Damned," the second part of "Jesus of Suburbia," is a tirade against his unsaid hometown. "I read the graffiti in the bathroom stall/ Like the Holy Scriptures in a shopping mall," Armstrong sings. "And so it seemed to confess/ It didn't say much/ But it only confirmed that/ The center of the earth is the end of the world."

"It's kind of like, 'Where does someone get their education from? Where does someone find their soul?' " Armstrong explains. "It's just sort of using powerful imagery to convey that."

"Jesus of Suburbia" is a set of five very different tunes displaying the wide range of the character's emotions.
  "Jesus of Suburbia"
  "City Of The Damned"
  "I Don't Care"
  "Dearly Beloved"
  "Tales Of Another Broken Home"
"I Don't Care," the climax of "Jesus of Suburbia," is the most intense of the five parts and features the singer repeating, "I don't care if you don't" a dozen times before asserting, "Everyone's so full of sh--."

"I've definitely reached different points of my life where I've been so apathetic about things and so disenfranchised that it sort of made me the person that I am," Armstrong says. "I think you need to experience those kinds of lows to find some sort of positive part in your life."

"The irony within that song is it carries the energy that we tap into sometimes, which is having an absolutely great time with a miserable message," adds Dirnt.

Green Day took the same approach on "Are We the Waiting," which sounds like it could be the entrance music for a pro wrestler, but has the same cynicism as "I Don't Care," even going so far as to include the line "Jesus of Suburbia is lie."

  "It's short-attention-span theatre, but we brought it up to a new level for us." — Billie Joe Armstrong
"He's just trying to figure out why he's become this underachieving glorified version himself," Armstrong says. "He's trying to figure out whether he's getting fat and drinking in a bar or saying, 'Do you want fries with that?' or playing in a rock and roll band, just what his identity is, his individuality. That song is just so bittersweet 'cause it just captures a guy in the city who really doesn't know where he's going."

He pauses to collect his thoughts. "You know how sometimes you feel like you're stuck in a waiting room, waiting for something to happen, just sort of being uncomfortable in your own silence," he muses. "That's sort of the moment where you can make a choice of following down a path of complete rage or you can try to find something positive. Or both."

American Idiot is at its most political on "Holiday," and not because of the aforementioned protest lyrics, but because of a dream sequence in which Jesus of Suburbia is a "Representative of California" and takes the floor of Congress to state, "Zieg heil to the president gasman."

"Politicians are so concerned with what they're saying, and this was just a 'What if a politician actually said this?' " Armstrong explains. "I hope people read through it and understand what I'm saying, but it's definitely challenging."

At one point, American Idiot strays entirely from politics and captures what is probably Armstrong's most personal moment on any Green Day album. "When September Ends" is so poignant it might even replace "Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)" as the band's signature ballad.

"It's the first time I've written about my father dying when I was 10 years old," Armstrong reveals. "But so there is continuity, I wrote it so it seems like the character is sort of crushed about something, a part where you're looking on your past and you're coming of age at the same time."

In the end, most of the songs on American Idiot can stand on their own, the way "Pinball Wizard" and "I'm Free," two of the Who's biggest singles, did on Tommy.

"We still wanted to make this record sound like a Green Day record, instead of writing these huge pieces that sort of go nowhere," Armstrong says. "It still has the quality of a record like Dookie or Nimrod, where it's short-attention-span theatre, but we brought it up to a new level for us."

Although it took four years, the longest Green Day have ever gone between albums, recording American Idiot ended up being the most enjoyable experience of the band's 16-year career.

"The gloves were off and we were just like, 'Let's just go for it, let's push ourselves to be maximum Green Day,' " Armstrong says. "With the stuff that ended up getting stolen, looking back, I don't really think we were being maximum Green Day, whereas now I feel like it's all there and even more. The hard thing for us is: What the hell are we gonna come up with next?"

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Photo: Warner Bros.

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 "American Idiot"
American Idiot
(Warner Bros.)