Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Idiot Rock Stars

Reactions to Green Day's Billie Joe Armstrong shipping himself to rehab last month were even more predictable than the the chord changes on ¡Uno!. There was schadenfreude, most embarrassingly from fellow musicians (Trevor Dunn and the Faceless' Michael Keene among them) who publicized their jealousy with potshots at Armstrong's bank and playing ability. But just as bad was the applause that Armstrong got, for, to paraphrase the most of the cyberverse, "the most punk rock thing he's done in ages."

American Idiots vs. "American Idiot"

Debates over what is and is not punk are fruitless. What I am more concerned about is why we want our rock stars to be idiots.

How many times have you heard it about Green Day, the Beastie Boys, Metallica, Van Halen, the Red Hot Chili Peppers or Guns N' Roses? "I liked them better when they acted like idiots." Better when they were drunk or stoned. Better when they were inciting riots. Before they collaborated with the San Francisco Symphony.

People who applauded Green Day for turning Woodstock '94 into a mudfight and naming an album Dookie chickened out on the band once they got a Broadway musical. Nostalgia for "Fight for Your Right to Party" still runs higher than that for Tibetan Freedom-era Beasties. Metallica were ridiculed last year for collaborating on an album about expressionist, fin de si├Ęcle German theatre, but all was forgiven when they opened their concerts this year with "Hit the Lights" ("No life 'til leather, gonna kick some ass tonight.")

Part of it is the still absurdly overused "the old stuff is better" screed, which shouldn't matter to anyone with enough perspective to realize that "Give it Away" wasn't in any way effected by "The Adventures of Rain Dance Maggie." It's understandable to pine for our favorite artists to keep making great music, but why do people relate that creativity to idiocy?

Is it an inferiority complex to people who found success by following their dreams? Ignorance to the fact that guys who played slackers in the "Longview" video but somehow had gotten two records out on a prominent indie-punk label weren't actually slackers? Just something we associate with being young? Discuss.

1 comment:

Phillip Pantuso said...

Hey Ben--sorry to get in touch with a comment, but I don't see an email address anywhere. I'm a magazine journalism student at NYU and I've been assigned to write a profile of someone involved in the presidential race. I thought you might be a good fit, as we seem to have some things in common (MLB, music--though you could teach me a thing or two about metal) and was hoping you'd be interested in consenting to an interview and allowing me to tag along to canvassing in PA and the debate-watching party. If so, email me back at phillippantuso at, and we can talk a little more. Thanks man.