Saturday, January 31, 2015

Ain't That America? (Concepts of American Idiot and American Beauty/American Psycho)


   A favorite concept of mine is the American dream because what is it really? Grilling burgers at your suburban block party? A heterosexual couple with two children? Baseball? There's a constant undertone of this dream and completely destroying the idea through either satire or comparing it to our era right now in about everything from John Mellancamp's "Pink Houses" to my friend, Adison's, song "Bad Things" or one of my favorites, "Little Boxes" by Malvina Reynolds. There are endless ways to take at the American dream from a picket fence house to milk and honey because it seems as though every movie or song or music video wants to be perceived as shocking. We want reaction and slight horror (basically anything you wouldn't want grandma seeing) every naked woman swinging on a wrecking ball or man singing about date rape is made for that shock factor. The idea of "edgy" that goes up against the entire idea of the American dream.
   Going off of this, two concept albums have highlighted the theme in similar yet different ways. Green Day's American Idiot and Fall Out Boy's most recent album, American Beauty/American Psycho both perceive the ultimate American dream of baseball and cute suburban towns but while Green Day's story follows rebels against this, Fall Out Boy has a mix between aggressiveness yet has this indifferent feel in other songs- they describe it as, "the odd place where light and dark meet. there is a threshold". 
   American Idiot is a pretty straight to the point with their story line: opening with the song "American Idiot" 
"don't wanna be an American idiot"
"subliminal mind fuck America"
and goes into the character, Jesus Of Suburbia, who then meets Whatsername and St. Jimmy who go up against these ideas and venture to "Boulevard of Broken Dreams", and as we learn more about our band of characters there's a realization that St. Jimmy and Jesus of Suburbia are the same person (JOS is Jimmy's alter ego in a sense) and that him and Whatsername lose connection. In her self titled song through the point of view of Jesus of Suburbia/St. Jimmy, you get the sense she has given up on the cause and almost fell into classic America 
"did she ever marry old whats his face?" 
"she went away and then I took a different path." 
Billy Joe Armstrong's inspiration for his female character came from the famous Bikini Kill song, "Rebel Girl" who is most likely a teenager. The song "Whatsername" shows a grown up Rebel Girl and how as she grew older, no longer had the fight in her and instead married and settled down with a husband. 
   On the other side, there is American Beauty/American Psycho and though it's arguable, I would label this under being a concept album because the theme of classic America is ongoing. Though tracks such as ones named after American actress, "Uma Thurman", do have sense of dreaming America, the song that best depicts the fucked up American dream is no doubt "The Kids Aren't Alright". Mentioning trophy cases, crooked smiles, and old photographs of those who are now dead, it highlights the model family yet has a dark edge to it. Both verses have a sarcastic tone to them and cut into that while we can cover up issues with crooked smiles and distract ourselves with filling up the trophy case, the kids (people of America) aren't alright. 
   In the end, the American dream continues to be debatable because there are so many ways to take it on. My dad and I were in the car today discussing it this morning and he was telling me that there was a point in time where this dream was seen as something other countries looked up to because while we were grilling burgers in our backyards, there was (and continues to be) such a large amount of shit going on around us. Both concept albums have that spark of teenage angst mixed with real feelings against this almost impossible way of seeing the world today. 

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