“A Quick One While He’s Away” – Green Day

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The punks meet the godfathers. Green Day mastered the mini-rock opera on “American Idiot” with two 10-minute rock operas: “Jesus of Suburbia” and “Homecoming.” Here Green Day pay homage with a damn terrific cover of the original mini-rock opera, the Who’s “A Quick One (While He’s Away),” recorded as a bonus track for “21st Century Breakdown.” This is my favorite Who track of all-time and Green Day delivers magnificently.

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“Longview” – Green Day

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A lot of people … especially a lot of creative and/or famous types … characterize their teen years as the most painful, horrific time in their lives. I understand this to a certain extent, because it gives their life story a cinematic “Rocky”-esque sense of triumph for whatever success they’ve eked out.  But this wasn’t my experience. My teen years weren’t a bed of roses, but they weren’t terrible either. I wasn’t “popular” per se, but I wasn’t unpopular. I wasn’t an object of lust, but I remember a few not unattractive girls giving me hints that they may have liked me-liked me (the fact that I didn’t figure this out until years later is the tragic part of that story). Some people were d–ks to me on occasion, but overall, I wasn’t picked on or harassed. I had friends in different cliques and while I wasn’t a part of any of them, I didn’t feel like I was crashing any party by associating with them. My high school experience was about as average (and as healthy) as one could expect.

My early 20s were a different story. They didn’t completely suck, but my early 20s were, for the most part, a really f–king painful and horrible time. I think one’s 20s are arguably different than one’s teen years. Because when you’re a teenager, as much as things suck, you have a great sense of hope. You haven’t made any mistakes yet. You have the safety net of your parents, friends, hometown, etc. There’s a lot of potential that hasn’t been tapped or realized. In your teens, nothing is expected of you, other than to make decent grades, not get into too much trouble, and to be on a path to eventually become a productive member of society.

On the other hand, your early 20s (especially your post-college years) are when you actually have to deliver on that stuff. You’re either on your own … struggling to make rent / car / student loan payments and having “relationships” with people who are just as confused and conflicted as you are … or you’re back living at home, trying to do the same thing. Neither scenario is conducive to any sense of self-esteem, though the latter scenario is arguably, worse.

If you’re a guy, unless you’ve got some cool job, you have a cool post-graduate field of study (medicine, law, MBA), or you’re still attached to a college sweetheart, your dating life will suck. Most of the unattached single gals your age are typically dating older guys who have established themselves in some respect (For the young guys who want to feel some misguided, but vaguely misogynistic “revenge” for this scenario, the pyramid does invert when you get older … provided you’ve … well .. established yourself in some capacity.  If you’re still living with Mom at age 33, let’s just say that you’re going to have to work a bit harder to be considered a “chick magnet”). To be entirely honest and fair about my post-collegiate drought, I can’t say that I was much of a catch in those days.  Now that I’m in my more world-weary early 40s, I can say with confidence that most guys in their early 20s are more than a little douchey.

Anyway, the entire reason I bring this up is that this song by Green Day, released during the time of my greatest angst circa 1994, just about epitomizes the malaise of the first half of my early 20s. I’m also curious if other people feel the same way as I do about their 20s … or if they felt their teenage years sucked more. I don’t think I’m an authority by any means, but I do wonder, especially since so many people feel their teen years are the worst years of their lives.

P.S. The latter half of my 20s went considerably better.  But that’s another story.

“Homecoming” – Green Day

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The second 9-minute plus mini-rock opera featured on Green Day’s 2004 rock opera “American Idiot.” Arguably, given the sound and thematics of this song, this should have been the last song on the album. But perversely, it was the next-to-the-last song on the album. This isn’t as mindblowingly terrific as the other mini-rock opera “Jesus of Suburbia,” but what’s here is still damn impressive. I especially like Tre Cool’s “Rocky Horror Picture Show”-style riff about 5:23 into the song, sung from the perspective of a jaded rock star… with saxophones even … For better or worse, this is a band that truly studied its rock history before composing and recording this album. I’d say it’s for the better. I love the nods to the past while raging on into the future. I love the “American Idiot” album more and more each year.

“Mother of Pearl” – Roxy Music

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For those that only know Roxy Music by the smooth crooning of 1982’s “Avalon” album need to understand that the band was not always so slick. The material that Roxy recorded during the period between 1972 and 1975 was a wonderful mix of the sleazy and the sublime. “Mother of Pearl” is arguably the greatest song of that period, and arguably the greatest thing they ever recorded.

The first 1:23 of this song is pure metallic freakout by guitarist Phil Manzanera while lead singer Bryan Ferry sings about all of the meaningless sex he’s getting, albeit with a very frenetic, panicked tone. Then, the song slows down considerably and Ferry finally confesses that he’s found what he was looking for all along … true love … and that he will give up everything to spend the rest of his life with his “mother of pearl.” Critics cite the Who’s “A Quick One” as the greatest mini-rock opera of all time. I totally love “A Quick One,” but I would also add “Mother of Pearl” to that very short list. It’s an absolutely thrilling and emotional epic. The song was used in a very pivotal early episode of the hit TV show “How I Met Your Mother” and also in the film “SLC Punk.”

(On a side note, I would also add Green Day’s “Jesus of Suburbia” to that very short list of greatest mini-rock operas of all time. But I’ve already discussed that in an earlier post).

“Wake Me Up When September Ends” – Green Day

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One of the finest ballads of the last decade and a song that took on special meaning post-Katrina. The accompanying video, starring Evan Rachel Wood and Jamie Bell as a young couple dealing with a difficult choice one of them makes, may not present the most original story. But it doesn’t mean it doesn’t ring true.

“St. Jimmy” – Green Day

One of my favorite songs from “American Idiot.”  I love the way this starts out as straight-ahead punk, then slows down to harmony-laden Beach Boys inspired pop.  The opening lyrics are terrific: “St. Jimmy’s comin’ down across the alleyway … Upon the
boulevard like a zip gun on parade …  Light of a silhouette … He’s insubordinate …
Comin’ at you on the count of 1,2-(1,2,3,4!)”  and then a hardcore breakdown that will nail your d–k to a tree.

“Jesus of Suburbia” – Green Day

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I resisted Green Day’s “American Idiot” for years because the idea of a punk band trying to do a rock opera didn’t seem like an appetizing proposition. However, you couldn’t escape several of the album’s songs for years (“Boulevard of Broken Dreams,” “Wake Me Up When September Ends,” and “American Idiot”) and while I liked all of these songs to varying degrees, I still didn’t give the album a chance until recently. Well, I’m sorry it took me so long to listen in because this is a great, great album.

And arguably, the centerpiece of the album is this 9+-minute mini-rock opera called “Jesus of Suburbia”. Yes, a rock opera within a rock opera seems doubly pretentious, but this song cycle is magnificent. It encompasses so many styles, from hard rock to hardcore punk to pop to ballad to Broadway and beyond. The accompanying video is ambitious as well, but while it’s decent, doesn’t quite live up to the song in my opinion.

A word of warning. The video has some R-rated material, due to strong language, nudity, sex, violence, massive substance abuse, anti-social activity, and self-mutilation. Definitely not safe for work or little ones.  The actress playing the irresponsible Mom is Deborah Kara Unger, one of my favorite actresses from edgy 1990s cinema (David Cronenberg’s Crash,” David Fincher’s “The Game”).