Happy Birthday Billie Joe: An American Idiot Turns 40

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Today, Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day turns 40. Eighteen years ago, in the time known as 1994, he turned 22. Two weeks earlier than that, his band's major-label debut, Dookie, had hit store shelves. That album would go on to sell 16 million copies worldwide, although he didn't know that yet.

In about nine months, I'm going to turn 30. 18 years ago, I was 11. Nine months into that future I was going to turn 12 and my favorite band would be Green Day. I would play that CD so often that it would start skipping, but I didn't know that yet.

Billie Joe got older and I got older. A band that named their major-label debut after diarrhea eventually had their songs turned in to a Broadway musical. I went from writing down thoughts in my notebook to writing blogs on the Internet. We grow up, we (mostly) mature.

If you have even a passing interest in mainstream music, you know the Green Day story by now. Dookie, "Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)," American Idiot (the album), American Idiot (the musical), American Idiot (the animated series).

(There's not really an animated series. Yet.)

Rather than go over the same facts and minutia that come up every time someone writes about Green Day, I'd like to focus on a different part of their success. When a band reaches a certain level of popularity they transcend simple things like genres of music. They become a part of popular culture.

Don't believe me? Check out this list of moments where three punks became something more.

Aug, 14, 1994 - Woodstock '94:

Some bands who played the festival might have covered themselves in mud, but Green Day had the mud forced upon them. This might have thrown most bands off their game, but the mud helped elevate their set from a festival show to a classic moment.

They weren't a household name at this point, but the snarky attitude they voice toward the event and the mud war they start make this a weekend defining performance. Nine Inch Nails may have gotten dirty, but Green Day are the reason we call it "Mudstock".

Nov. 16, 1997 - King of the Hill:

The band makes their first animated appearance as a group of unruly rockers who traumatize Hank via a game of paintball. It's a pretty fun episode that has a great piece of musical advice from Hank: "It's OK if you only know three chords, but God, put 'em in the right order!"

Celebrity cameos are pretty pedestrian now when it comes to animated shows, but this was one of the first times an entire band showed up to play fictional characters.

May 14, 1998 - Seinfeld:

The final episode of Seinfeld was one of the most anticipated episodes of anything in TV history. Commercials cost $1 million for 30 seconds of airtime, other networks chose not to even air anything against it, and 76 million people watched it.

And in the clip show to lead in to the episode was "Good Riddance" to play over the "bloopers and look back at all the fun we had" montage. NBC were apparently huge fans of the song because it later showed up in a funeral scene during ER.

Sept. 25, 2006 - The Superdome:

The first game in the renovated Superdome post-Katrina was an event. To help raise money for the recovery efforts, two of the biggest bands in the world got together for a charity single. U2 regularly play stadiums, and there aren't a lot of bands out there that can stand on the same stage and not be overwhelmed.

That Monday night in New Orleans, the two bands would come together as equals for a four-song medley featuring songs from both artists and a cover of The Skids "The Saints Are Coming", solidifying Green Day's place as one of the top bands in the world. Even better, the Saints won the game over the Falcons 23-3.

June 26, 2007 - The Simpsons Movie:


The Simpsons

finally hit the big screen, only two guest stars appeared as themselves: Tom Hanks and Green Day. That's pretty good company to share.

Not only did the band appear as themselves performing a concert on a barge (which would later sink) but they also had the honor of doing the theme song for the soundtrack. The show has always been an interesting barometer of pop culture, which makes being in their only theatrical feature a bigger accomplishment.

June 8, 2010 - Green Day: Rock Band

Some musicians are paid to endorse a video game. Some musicians license their music to a video game. Some musicians compose the score for a video game. Very few musicians actually have their own video game.

When you consider that the only other band to get their own game in the Rock Band series was The Beatles, you start to get a look at just how big some people see Green Day.

June 13, 2010 - The 64th Annual Tony Awards:

From throwing mud to performing in front of some of the fanciest-dressed people in New York. It's amazing the difference 16 years and one really solid concept album can make. That shot of the crowd clapping along is a thing of beauty. The expressions range from joy to pure confusion to silent apathy.

Three punk rock kids from Oakland at the Tony Awards? Sometimes it is better to grow up rather than burn out.

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