• Quick Jump:
  • Part 1: Childhood - Kerplunk
  • Part 2: Dookie - The Network
  • Part 3: American Idiot - Trilogy
Part 3: The Current Years: American Idiot - Trilogy
In November of 2003, Green Day hit the studio once more and recorded an album entitled Cigarettes and Valentines. They left the studio one night, leaving behind the finished tracks , which would be mastered during their next session. When they came back, all of the masters had been stolen, and until the 2010 North American tour, none of the tracks were ever heard by the public. Instead of re-recording the stolen tracks, the band decided to sit down and write something better and more ambitious, something that would eventually become American Idiot.

During one particularly long night, Billie challenged Mike to write a thirty-second song to give him something to do while he was alone in the studio. Mike came up with "Nobody Likes You." Soon after, Tré decided to give it a shot. His idea turned out to be "Rock ‘N Roll Girlfriend." Billie had his hand at it and wrote about "Jesus filling out paper work" on "East 12th Street." All of these pieces meshed together, and formed the operatic nine-and-a-half minute song, "Homecoming." This song was only a taste of the ambition that would be displayed through American Idiot.

The term "rock opera" had been thrown around as early as the recording sessions for Nimrod in 1997. However, they started taking the possibility of this format seriously after recording "Homecoming" and other songs like "Give Me Novacaine," both of which received brilliant feedback from anyone who listened. The idea became permanent once Billie wrote "American Idiot," which was inspired by the ever-growing news coverage of the war in Iraq. This was Billie growing up and expressing his rage over the state of the nation. He decided, in that moment, to organize the band's new songs to form a concept album that reflected all of this angst. With the title track and ending to the story under his belt, Armstrong began work on the character that is essentially the centerpiece of the story, and the poster-boy for disenfranchised youth: the "Jesus of Suburbia."

Armstrong describes the story as "…this Jesus of Suburbia character [who's] pretty disenfranchised. He hates his town. Hates his family. Hates his friends. He needs to get out so he leaves and goes into the city. He starts dealing with what true rebellion means. Rebellion could be disguised as self-destruction." St. Jimmy is JOS' alter-ego – his rebellion, his drug-dealer, his dark-side. Whatsername is the love of his life, who he eventually loses to the evils that Jimmy introduces him to. Green Day managed to tell this whole story (which feels eerily like a reminiscence on a personal struggle) while also confronting the "idiots" running our nation. They did it well, too. In the beginning, however, some diehard fans disagreed.

Many people who read the web-circulated rumors regarding Green Day's "new sound" in early 2004 weren't as excited as the band was. They thought that Green Day was history, and that the album would fail miserably. The band ignored these sentiments and indulged every creative impulse while recording in LA. They took their sound to places it had never gone before, and the people who were listening to the process were far more supportive than those merely judging based on the gossip.

As the album neared completion, the band recruited director Samuel Bayer to produce the video for the first single, "American Idiot." They knew that it had to be explosive and catch people's attention; Bayer was the man for the job. After they explained their vision to him, Bayer immediately knew the direction in which he wanted to travel. His envisioned ideas for not only the first single, but for the entire album's promotion (he directed the videos for each of the album's five singles). The single hit airwaves like a punch to the gut – the riff was punchy and concise, and the message was screamed out loud and clear. The emotions that it provoked, both good and bad, in people around the world helped to propel the band into relevance again, and certainly paved the road for the immense success of the album as a whole.

American Idiot debuted at number one on the charts on September 21, 2004. This was the first sign that Green Day were back in full force. The album went on to produce five singles, two of which ("Holiday" and "Boulevard of Broken Dreams") shot straight up to number one. The album also won the 2005 Grammy Award for "Best Rock Album," and seven of the eight VMAs for which it was nominated. "Boulevard of Broken Dreams" won the 2006 Grammy for "Best Rock Record." The American Idiot Tours, which kicked off on October 1, 2004, were perhaps the pinnacle of the band's world-takeover. The first leg started in modest venues across North America, but by the final leg, Green Day was selling out massive stadiums holding up to 65,000 people. The years 2004-2006 saw Green Day growing into themselves as musicians in many ways – they rallied voters before the 2004 presidential election, they adopted a red-and-black, faux-formal dress code that became synonymous with their message, and their live show became the explosive, arena-slaying force that it still is today. The band was everywhere during the American Idiot era: opening the 2005 Grammys, and also playing Live 8 in July of 2005. The band went on to commemorate the massive success of this album and tour with a live CD/DVD filmed at the Milton Keynes National Bowl in England on July 18 and 19th of 2005. This was the largest show that Green Day had ever played. Samuel Bayer captured the monumental show and the message behind it with stunning success. Shortly after the release of the live album, the band officially announced the end of the American Idiot era, and began a well-deserved break to enjoy their successes and begin work on their next projects.

The five year span between American Idiot and the release of Green Day's ninth studio album, 21st Century Breakdown, saw the members of Green Day venturing to places they had previously never been. In September of 2006, they collaborated with U2 and covered "The Saints Are Coming" to benefit Hurricane Katrina victims. The two bands came together and performed the song live on September 25th, 2005 at the Louisiana Superdome's grand reopening. In June 2007, the band recorded John Lennon's "Working Class Hero" for the benefit album Instant Karma, whose profits went towards the conflicts in Darfur. On May 23, 2007, the band played the song live on American Idol's season finale. December of this same year would bring Green Day fans the most exciting happenings since the band had stopped touring. In October of 2007, a mysterious Myspace page popped up, exhibiting a few songs that featured a lead singer who sounded a bit too much like Billie Joe. In December, a six-track EP became available for free download. Later, in 2008, Billie Joe admitted that Green Day were in fact behind the Foxboro Hot Tubs. In May of 2008, the side-band released a full album entitled, Stop, Drop and Roll!!!, and went on a mini club-tour of the west and southwest parts of North America that summer.

After the raucous, whirlwind mini-tour, Green Day decided to get serious about making their next record. In an unexpected move, they signed Butch Vig on to produce the new album instead of Warner Bros exec Rob Cavallo, who had produced each of the band's albums from Dookie to American Idiot. In May of 2009, the long awaited follow-up to American Idiot was released. It was also a rock-opera, with a storyline similar to that of American Idiot running through it. 21st Century Breakdown tells the tale of Christian and Gloria, vigilante punk-rockers who set out to change post-Bush America, but ultimately fell to their own demons. Although it wasn't near as successful as American Idiot, the new album debuted high on the charts, got great reviews, and went on to win several VMAs and the Grammy Award for "Best Rock Album" in 2010. The band promoted the album on several TV shows, including the kick off of Good Morning America's summer concert-series. They also played a handful of small shows in California clubs, during which they played the album front to back. The most notable of these taking place at the Fox Theater in Oakland, California. In July of 2009, the 21st Century Breakdown World Tour began in large-scale venues across North America.

In addition to promoting 21st Century Breakdown and touring, the band was also beginning work on another project – the transformation of American Idiot into a musical. Director Michael Mayer, who had previously worked on musicals such as Spring Awakening, approached the band with his visions regarding the album-turned musical. Upon seeing Spring Awakening, the band agreed to collaborate with him on the massive venture. Billie Joe boldly told the New York Times that it was going to be his "wildest dream" come true. On September 4 of 2009, the show premiered at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre to a sold-out crowd. In April of 2010, American Idiot: The Musical opened previews on Broadway. It featured much of the original cast from Berkeley, including John Gallagher Jr., who played the lead role of Johnny. The show received amazing reviews. People from many socio-economic classes and backgrounds were blown away. Even so, the show struggled to sell out on a nightly basis. This changed drastically when Billie Joe unexpectedly stepped in to play the role of St. Jimmy during the week of October 28, 2010. The Green Day fans that saw Billie Joe perform raved, and those who couldn't make it wished they had. The stint was so successful that Billie Joe came back again for fifty performances in January-February, and closed out the Broadway version of the show in April of 2011. The musical kicked off its full tour in Toronto, ON on December 28, 2011, and hit a lineup of major cities in North America before moving on to Europe.

Amidst the growing popularity of the musical, the band had also started a second leg of the 21st Century Breakdown Tour in North America during the summer of 2010. Fans were greatly pleased with the old, rare songs ("One For The Razorbacks," "At The Library," "Paper Lanterns") that made appearances during this outdoor arena tour. The Green Day Rock Band video game was released on June 8, 2010 as the band begun this leg of the tour. That June, American Idiot won two Tony Awards, though it lost out on "Best New Musical" to Memphis. The collection of songs from the musical performances also won a Grammy Award for "Best Musical Album" in March of 2010. On March 21, 2011, Green Day released their second full-length live album/DVD, boldly entitled Awesome as Fuck. The title reflected the band's respect for their fans, as it was these same fans who first started holding up "Awesome as fuck!!!" signs at gigs, following Billie Joe's use of the phrase in an interview. The live tracks came from various locations across Europe and North America, and the DVD was filmed over the course of two shows in Tokyo, Japan.

The latter-half of 2011 produced a few special events that marked the beginning of Green Day's next new era. Out of nowhere, Green Day announced (largely via Billie Joe's Twitter account) a tiny secret show, which took place on August 11, 2011. Fans who were lucky enough to snag one of the 250 tickets available had no idea what they'd be seeing. By the time the night was over, Green Day had played 18 brand-new songs. Before 2011 was over, Green Day had played four more impromptu, new material-packed secret shows: NYC, Texas, and two in California. It was clear that Green Day were now fully focused on their next batch of new songs. Fans waited with bated breath for the band's next great venture. On February 14 of 2012, Billie Joe broke the news: "Happy Valentine's day! Officially started recording the new record today. It's FUCK TIME!!!!" Fans weren't aware of the true scale of the new project until April 11, when Billie Joe tweeted yet another eventful message: "Ok. Here's the deal. We're making a 3 album trilogy. Not 1. Not 2. But 3 albums. Called ¡UNO! ¡DOS! ¡TRE! Coming September November January". Production of the ¡UNO!, ¡DOS!, ¡TRÉ! trilogy apparently finished up in June.

During the summer months of 2012 that lead up to the releases of the three new albums, Green Day did many an interview. Fans found more about what to expect from the three monumental albums coming their way. The band announced that two documentaries would be released in the near future: one on the making of the trilogy (¡Cuatro!), and one using pre-Dookie archival footage. In early August, the band played one more secret show at the Echoplex in LA before heading off to Japan and Europe for a 10-show festival tour. Green Day was forced to cancel their final appearance of this tour, at the I-Day fest in Italy, due to Billie Joe being briefly hospitalized for a stomach issue. The band returned to the US, and gave a vicious, energy-charged performance of ¡UNO!'s "Let Yourself Go" at the MTV VMAs on September 6. Green Day then jetted off to New York to appear at Irving Plaza for a club show on September 15.

They carried their never-ending supply of energy right into a set at the iHeartRadio festival in Las Vegas, NV. At the end of the band's allotted time slot, Billie Joe stopped the band mid-song after seeing a monitor which said that the band had only a few minutes left to play. He felt that their time had been cut into by a previous artist, and went on an expletive-laden rant that ended in the angry smashing of a guitar and a bass. A few days later, Green Day released a statement in which they apologized to "those they offended" at the festival, and revealed that Billie Joe would be going through a rehab process for help with substance abuse. As a result, some US tour dates got cancelled or postponed, and ¡TRÉ!'s release date was moved from January 15 up to December 11th. Official release dates for ¡UNO! and ¡DOS! stayed at September 25 and November 13, respectively.

The band would go on a break for several months with minimal promotion for the trilogy, which showed in their sales. However, Green Day would go on to play over 50 shows in 2013 and 2014 to support the trilogy albums and make up some of the cancelled dates from 2012.

In April 2015 Green Day was indcuted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio. The band played a surprise show two days before their induction. On April 18th 2015, a teary-eyed Billie Joe Armstrong thanked the fans, the band, and his family for helping them get to that day.

Now in the final months of 2015, fans patiently wait for what Green Day will do next.

Want an even more detailed history of Green Day? We recommend reading the book "Nobody Likes You" by Marc Spitz.
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Green Day's live album, "Awesome As Fuck", was released 12 years ago.