Why Idiot Was The Smart Move For Green Day

Band did exactly what it wanted to do, and ended up with its first #1 album.

HOLLYWOOD — That American Idiot is both Green Day's most ambitious album and the band's first to debut at #1 demonstrates something to Billie Joe Armstrong.

"If there's any advice I've taken or would give, it's if you just do exactly what you want to do and don't look back, then things work out and people genuinely get excited because of that," the singer said.

A less seasoned band might be afraid to attempt a rock opera, not to mention one that attacks their current government. Green Day never thought twice about it.

"I'm surprised that more quote-unquote 'hard rock bands' haven't gotten more outspoken [against Bush]," said Armstrong, who sings "Sieg heil to the president gasman" on "Holiday." "I mean, I learn so much through music, a lot more than I have through school. You know, bands from the '60s, and the punk-rock bands in the '70s and '80s.

"I think the problem with a lot of rock bands or pop groups or whatever is that they're so afraid of damaging their precious careers," he continued. "For me, I think it is something that can enrich mine: 'Yeah, I supported this. This meant a lot to me.' "

As elaborate as American Idiot is, the album is not without singles, as the title track, currently #1 on Billboard's Modern Rock chart, proves. For the follow-up, Green Day are going with the somber "Boulevard of Broken Dreams."

"It comes right after the song 'Holiday' and it sort of deals with more of that alienation and disenfranchised feelings, but sort of singles it out to something more melancholy," Armstrong explained. "I think that's the link between a song like 'Boulevard of Broken Dreams' to even a song like 'American Idiot.' "

Green Day have yet to select a video treatment, but bassist Mike Dirnt joked he wanted "something with bling in it." "Motorcycles and jet skis and stuff," drummer Tre Cool added.

Truthfully, the band would probably rather save their video budget to make a companion film to the nine-minute operetta, "Jesus of Suburbia."

"It's a good roller-coaster ride and it shifts gears with lots of highs and lows, and if we could make something visually as colorful as the song itself — or not necessarily colorful, but that's a good ride — I think it would be really interesting," Dirnt said. "We should just play that song over the 'Thriller' video."

In reviews of American Idiot, "Jesus of Suburbia" is often singled out as the album's musical and emotional highlight. Some DJs are even spinning the epic track.

"I think the DJs like 'Jesus of Suburbia' because they can put it on and go have a cigarette and a crap," Tre Cool deadpanned. "It's really important to have that go-to, like 'In A Gadda Da Vida,' a real long song. It's also good if you're a stripper, 'cause then you can be on the pole for nine minutes and make big bucks."

Along with singing praises for "Jesus of Suburbia," critics are calling the album a turning point for Green Day, who are now considered the forefathers of one of the most popular genres on radio (see "How Green Day's Dookie Fertilized A Punk-Rock Revival").

"We set up shop in a really creative way with this record," Dirnt said. "You know, if people want to call it 'reinvention' or 'redefining' or whatever, I think it worked. I'm happy with it and hopefully all our fans like it. That's the key."

"We just wanted to have fun, [to] push ourselves and be ambitious and make the biggest record that we've ever made as far as satisfying ourselves," Cool added. "And doing it outside of the standard Green Day formula that is so popular these days."

Before a note was even recorded, the band decided to take the no-looking-back approach.

"Billie was definitely at the helm driving things, but it was an open forum, where if any one of us had anything to express we'd put it out there," Dirnt said. "And we really chose from the best of what we had."

For more on American Idiot, check out the feature "Anatomy of a Punk Opera" and the live report "Total Idiot : Green Day Perform Their Punk Opera In Hollywood."