A Forgotten, But Important Lesson from Billie Joe Armstrong’s iHeartRadio Festival Freakout

I’m not a Green Day fan.

I’ve seen them once in concert, a byproduct of being invited along to a friend’s birthday but I’ve never cherished their songs, never bought a Green Day CD, never lauded American Idiot as anything more than bringing angst with complacency and the United States to a larger audience (One that was largely squandered, if the Broadway adaptation is any indication).

I couldn’t avoid hearing about them leading up to their performance at the iHeartRadio Festival Saturday; they were coming out with a new album ¡Uno!, that was to be (gulp) part of a trilogy of albums about love and the reviews were generally positive, though I was left baffled by their lead music video, which sounds like a castrated boy band trying to cover The Clash.  If anything, Green Day of now is a far cry from the nu-wave/garage/punk that channeled teenage frustrations for a new generation. Then the meltdown happened.

At the concert, Green Day looked like a shell of its former self, albeit modified with whatever the latest in plastic surgery had to offer, the sheen of their skin betrayed by the age that wore through their eyes as the once proud band played at a largely unheralded music festival for iHeartRadio, which in turn is run by Clear Channel, a massive conglomerate of radio stations that control airplay for music in the United States.

It was sad, truly, pathetically sad, watching Green Day lead singer Billie Joe Armstrong get more and more vicious with the crowd, dropping F-bombs, and smashing his guitar in a fit of fury over his band having one minute left to play. Then today, it was announced that Billie Joe Armstrong was going into substance rehab, an almost too quick response that smelled like a publicist trying to repair past mistakes.There were reports that their set had been unceremoniously cut short because Usher, who played before him, had gone on too long. This doesn’t excuse Billie Joe’s behavior, but the sad truth of it all is that he might have had a point.

“I’m not fucking Justin Bieber” he roared at the crowd.  It may have been pathetic, irresponsible, but I sympathized with him.  Here was a band that once tried to mean something, that seized upon the youth of their day with vigor and a sense to question authority. Nowadays a pop star is all but manufactured, sure there are bands that slip through the cracks of polished stardom to become successful, but not enough to make the whole game not look rigged.  And pop stars nowadays certainly don’t push their fans to reject authority or question their role in society, the most questioning that a pop star like Justin Bieber offers is whether it’s ok to eat fondue with your date by the campfire(It isn’t). 

Unfortunately, with the news of impending rehab, the important point behind the tantrum, not the fit itself, will be swept under the rug. Pop culture magazines will be ready and willing to offer Billie Joe Armstrong a cover story on his struggle with sobriety, and what went wrong that night.  In hindsight, the move might even be savvy, as the band of has-been has now been shot into the spotlight once again. But when the dust clears, Armstrong’s not so subtle critic of what get’s called a “rock star” nowadays will be long forgotten.

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