Green Day and the Palace of Wisdom

How the brats grew up, bashed Bush and conquered the world

By MATT HENDRICKSONPosted Feb 24, 2005 12:00 AM

"Let every redneck in America hear you," yells Green Day guitarist Billie Joe Armstrong, and 5,000 British fans respond with a chant of "Idiot America!" It is January, and Green Day are playing London's Brixton Academy, two weeks into a European tour that sold 175,000 tickets in less than an hour. In April, the band begins a one-month U.S. arena tour behind American Idiot, the album that debuted at Number One in September and has barely been out of the Top Ten since. The album that took on George Bush and the war in Iraq ("We did everything we could to piss people off," says Armstrong, who performed the title track in a Bush mask in the weeks leading up to the presidential election). The album that earned the band seven Grammy nominations, including Album of the Year (Winning that one, says bassist Mike Dirnt, "would restore my faith in rock & roll," to which Armstrong adds, "I feel like we deserve it" ). The album that made Green Day superstars again.

Onstage at Brixton, Armstrong is like a windup doll gone crazy, constantly moving. Drummer Tre Cool keeps getting up to circle his drum kit while banging on his cymbals. About the only person in the place who's stationary is Dirnt, though even from the back of the crowd you can see the veins pop out of his neck. "This song is a big fuck-you to the American government," Armstrong says before the band plays "Holiday." "This song is not anti-American, it's anti-war." The giant video screens behind him light up with images of helicopters dropping bombs.

Almost an hour later, Green Day encore with an utterly sincere cover of Queen's "We Are the Champions." The entire crowd sings along. It feels like Green Day are not just celebrating their return to the top of the charts; they're leading a rock & roll resistance movement.

When Green Day first hit it big with Dookie in 1994, they were three kids from a grimy punk-rock collective in Berkeley, California. They sang about teen boredom, masturbation and being couch potatoes. Dookie sold 10 million copies but drew the scorn of the punks they grew up with. By twenty-three, they were all millionaires and all married. They kept making records but stopped talking to one another. Before long, between them they had five kids and three divorces.


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Green Day Photo

Cover photograph by James Dimmock

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