Icons of Iconoclasm: How Green Day Broke Down The 21st Century

Icons of Iconoclasm: How Green Day Broke Down The 21st Century

By David Metcalfe

January 16, 2018

Introduction

Shakespeare, Whitman, Blake, and…Green Day?

Yes, that’s right, I place all of these great minds and their contributions to poetry in equal esteem. To me, “Green Day” is not just another punk rock band. They are the “icons of iconoclasm”, a group of enlightened poets who create powerful music with powerful implications for our understanding of love, liberty, and life. And in order to deliver their message, they trash all of the social constructs that people hold dear.

Throughout this article, I will look at how all music is actually worship music, and why I appreciate the worship stylings of “Green Day”, as well as the BYU choir, and how they have developed my understanding to better appreciate music, art, and poetry, and in doing so, life itself.

Worship Music

I listen to all kinds of different music, and have developed great appreciation for the meanings that songs are able to express that words alone cannot. However, The Billboard Top 100 on the charts is generally where the epitome of idiocy and perversion go to be glorified by the masses. Majority of it is about fulfilling lustful desires, and being depressed when you are not able to do so. People are then tricked when they see a song like “Perfect” and say, “oh look, there’s real love, because he isn’t just lusting and actually cares about her”. Ed Sheeran seems to think that acting like his girlfriend is “perfect” is going to fulfill his life, as though living into infatuation is the pinnacle of human existence.

I don’t think worship songs are restricted to church. I think every song is a worship song in some respect. They just worship different things. Ed Sheeran worships romantic relationships. Taylor Swift used to worship romantic relationships, and now just worships herself. Justin Bieber worships his fans, giving them whatever pandering garbage that will sell. For me, going through the Billboard Top 100 is like marking a spelling test where every word is spelled wrong.

Oddly enough, I actually appreciate Miley Cyrus. I don’t listen to her music much at all, but I think her life and music are a very profound statement on culture and identity. I thought originally, as did many others, that her foray into “insanity” in 2013 was simply a marketing ploy. However, as I read through her life and watched interviews of her talking about it, there was no way that could be the case. She was the prototypical Disney child star, and never had her own identity. Disney marketing experts, looking to get rich by pandering to the masses, robbed her of her identity and said, “act like this”, “sing these lyrics”, “look like this”. Teen years are a vital time to develop one’s identity, but from age 13 onward, she had to do the dance that was asked of her. Rejecting everything, and eventually arriving at her own identity, as conceptualized in her songs “Malibu” and “Younger Now”, is a powerful move against commercialization of people and towards authenticity in music and one’s personhood.

Now, I’m not going to tell you that you can’t enjoy a certain genre or worship certain things through music, precisely because I think music needs to be each person’s choice. If you truly connect to Ed Sheeran’s music and get meaningful enjoyment from it, then by all means listen to it. Same goes for any musician. What my grievance is with is those who artificially cling to an identity that isn’t theirs. They think, “This person is really popular, and I want to be like everyone else, so I’ll like them.” And others, who fail to think through the music they listen to, and just allow it to shape their mind in whatever ways. Music is clearly meant to be enjoyed, and I think that people need to ask three questions when listening to music:

1) Do I enjoy it?

2) Why do I enjoy it?

3) Should I enjoy it?

For example, if someone listens to the music of Eminem: 1) Yes 2) Because he swears lots and insults people 3) Probably not.

However, I myself appreciate some of Eminem’s music, especially “Mockingbird”, “Stan”, and “Lose Yourself”. My answers to those songs would go 1) Yes 2) Because they impart valuable meaning into difficult issues of humanity 3) Yes.

The first question forces us to be authentic to ourselves, the second question forces us to think about the music we listen to, and the third question forces us to consider the moral implications. If all of our society was honest about these three questions, I think the effects of music in people’s lives would be much more positive.

Amazing Grace, How Sick The Sound

Lately, I have been listening to tons of “Green Day” and the BYU choir. They could not be more different. Green Day encapsulates the essence of societal subversion, rebellion, and anger at the system. The BYU choir is a group of young adult Mormons who present the pinnacle of virtue through their positive messages and serene voices. Do I enjoy these groups? Yes. As for the second and third questions, I am going to take the remainder of the article to answer them.

First of all, so you really understand the gravity of the difference between these two, and how crazy it is that I love both of them, I would like you to watch these two videos, which directly contrast one another:

BYU Noteworthy’s “Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone)”: 

Green Day’s “21st Century Breakdown”: 

In the BYU video, the environment features a magnificent nature aesthetic where the beauty of the women’s appearance is only rivaled by the beauty of their voices. The song “Amazing Grace” is a perfect example of the hope that people are looking for in Christianity. Each verse starts out positive, has some kind of struggle, and then finishes with how the grace of God frees us from it. For example:

“Amazing grace! How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found;
Was blind, but now I see”

The person knows that God’s grace is there for them, then they go through a struggle (being a wretch, and lost) but then are saved through it due to their knowledge of God’s grace. Or this verse, which offers a hope from humanity’s fear of death and the inevitability of it:

“The earth shall soon dissolve like snow,
The sun forbear to shine;
But God, who called me here below,
Will be forever mine.”

It’s facing the knowledge of our mortality, and then offering a solution to it. People like things to be wrapped up in a nice little bow. They love hearing stories about how drug addicts, alcoholics or vehement atheists were saved by Jesus.

Fortunately, we have “Green Day” to call out that bullshit. The video is harsh and offers powerful visuals. The opening scene features President Nixon throwing a baby into an industrial fire. It suggests that society screwed us from the beginning by building a tyrannical system that we’re forced to live into. The chorus draws direct opposition to “Amazing Grace”:

“My generation is zero
I never made it as a working class hero
21st century breakdown
I once was lost but never was found
I think I’m losing what’s left of my mind
To the 20th century deadline”

The only thing you can do to be anyone in our society is to work hard at some job and get a paycheck so you can raise a family, buy a house, and have a good retirement. So, you have two options: live in this tyrannical system and be a “working class hero”, or be free and be a zero. My favorite line of the song is “I once was lost but never was found”. It’s a total rejection of the inauthentic crap that inundates society so often. There can’t be a movie where someone has a struggle that isn’t solved by the end. We love when people speak at church and share their testimony when it has a nice ending, but we would never bother to help someone currently in the struggle.

People loved my baptism speech, and I’m glad they did. However, I can’t help but acknowledge that no one gave a shit about me while I was struggling through the actual events. When I was atheist, church people were angry at me, and treated me poorly. No one really wanted to work with me through those difficulties, and it was largely taken upon by myself to solve. Then when I solved them, everyone thought I was great. Then, more recently, I struggle through things, and I get more backlash. “Why can’t you write articles that are more honoring to God?” people commonly ask me. Problem is, maybe I think God sucks sometimes. Maybe I read the news and think people suck. Maybe I see how damaging people’s ignorance to issues is, and I develop disdain for humanity’s willful stupidity. And maybe, I don’t want to write “Amazing Grace”, because I don’t want to put duct tape over a bullet wound and say it’s ok. Sometimes, I just want to write a “21st Century Breakdown”.

The song finishes,

“Oh, dream, America, dream
I can’t even sleep
From the light’s early dawn
Oh, scream, America, scream
Believe what you see
From heroes and cons”

Basically, the American dream is just that: a dream world. But he’d rather face the reality that it won’t bring him fulfillment, so he refuses to sleep. And really, America is screaming deep down, wanting the meaning and fulfillment that only comes through authenticity, but as long as they get conned into the ideal of a “working class hero”, they never will.

Idols, Identity and the Iconoclast

Iconoclast: a person who attacks cherished beliefs or institutions; a person who subverts the status quo

Green Day has become famous for their ability to capture the quintessential spirit of the iconoclast. Here are some songs that serve to deconstruct the false hope of humanity in the social structures we have arbitrarily set up:

“Warning”: Why do we have so many meaningless rules? And more importantly, if you follow every single rule in existence, you will be a mindless robot.

“Question everything or shut up and be a victim of authority”.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eebfMFzJHNs

“Say Goodbye”: While we sit in church singing about God and praying for things, the world is turning to crap. We build expensive cathedrals, churches, and statues for our God, but don’t actually do the things that God calls us to.

“Violence on the rise, like a bullet in the sky, oh Lord have mercy on my soul”.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l9stigDCiLg

“Redundant”: When we do the same monotony over and over again, we lose any meaning that life might have. When a couple says “I love you” every time one of them leaves the house, it becomes more obligatory than authentic.

“I’m speechless and redundant, cause I love you is not enough, I’m lost for words”.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6ydpSVvXE9k

“Too Dumb To Die”: We all need a cause to give us purpose, but is there anything really worth pursuing? He desires to be a martyr, to die for a purpose greater than himself, but wonders if there’s anything worth it.

“Looking for a cause, but all I got was camouflage, I’m hanging on a dream that’s too dumb to die”.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qh7QJ_jLam0

“Oh Love”: Some people complain that there are sexual things in some of Green Day’s music videos. However, they are always portrayed as being disgusting. In “Oh Love” there are a bunch of prostitutes with excessive dark make-up doing sexual things, yet it is not erotic in nature. It forces you to see that sex is actually gross in that context. He has looked for fulfillment in sex, yet it’s not fulfilling in the least.

“Far away, far away, waste away tonight, I’m wearing my heart on a noose”.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IWwMqa-_210

“Troubled Times”: We look on the news and see nothing but crap. And worse off, we don’t know if we can even trust the news. They are just trying to get ratings by putting more sensationalism in their stories.

“What good is love and peace on earth, when it’s exclusive? Where’s the truth in the written word, when no one reads it? A new day dawning, comes without warning, so don’t look twice, we live in troubled times”.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9cVJr3eQfXc

“Back In The USA”: The return to “American values” that people are hoping for in the Trump administration is only giving the government more control, and enabling us to live in a fantasy world where we think America is the best and there are no problems in the world. The mediated nostalgia of the 1950’s is not real and will not help America recapture its humanity and virtue.

“Let freedom ring with all the crazies on parade, let them eat poison and it tastes like lemonade”.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i9GSF3ROa58

If Not The American Dream, Where Can I Find Fulfillment?

I have great appreciation for Green Day’s song, “Macy’s Day Parade”. It’s a hard look at his life, aspirations, and failure to find fulfillment in the things of the world. While you listen to it, you can read the lyrics below:

“Today’s the Macy’s Day parade
The night of the living dead is on its way
With a credit report for duty call
It’s a lifetime guarantee
Stuffed in a coffin ten percent more free
Red-light special at the mausoleum

Give me something that I need
Satisfaction guaranteed to you
What’s the consolation prize?
Economy sized dreams of hope

When I was a kid I thought
I wanted all the things that I haven’t got
Oh, I learned the hardest way
Then I realized what it took
To tell the difference between
Thieves and crooks
Lesson learned to me and you

Give me something that I need
Satisfaction guaranteed
‘Cause I’m thinking ’bout
A brand new hope
The one I’ve never known
‘Cause now I know
It’s all that I wanted

What’s the consolation prize?
Economy sized dreams of hope
Give me something that I need
Satisfaction guaranteed
Because I’m thinking ’bout
A brand new hope
The one I’ve never known
And where it goes
And I’m thinking ’bout
The only road
The one I’ve never known
And where it goes

And I’m thinking ’bout
A brand new hope
The one I’ve never known
‘Cause now I know
It’s all that I wanted”

Basically, he begins talking about how disturbed it is for people to plan their own funerals, and more so, to try and get a good deal on a coffin, as if the constraints of capitalism can’t even be escaped by death. He states, “Give me something that I need, satisfaction guaranteed”. How many times do you hear commercials say “satisfaction guaranteed” and then fail on that promise? What he suggests, is that American life is doing that in a broader sense. America says, “if you just get a nicer house, a hotter wife, a higher income, etc. then you will be satisfied.” But he already has all that stuff. His band has been incredibly successful, and he has everything the American dream has promised, yet it’s not fulfilling. He’s looking for a brand new hope, one that he’s never known.

And this, my friends, is why I love the BYU choir. One of my favourite songs, called “Homeward Bound” is sung beautifully by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Here is the video, with the lyrics written below:

Here are the lyrics:

“In the quiet misty morning
When the moon has gone to bed,
When the sparrows stop their singing
And the sky is clear and red,

When the summer’s ceased its gleaming
When the corn is past its prime,
When adventure’s lost its meaning-
I’ll be homeward bound in time.

Bind me not to the pasture
Chain me not to the plow
Set me free to find my calling
And I’ll return to you somehow

If you find it’s me you’re missing
If you’re hoping I’ll return,
To your thoughts I’ll soon be listening,
And in the road I’ll stop and turn

Then the wind will set me racing
As my journey nears its end
And the path I’ll be retracing
When I’m homeward bound again”

I feel as though this song is a direct response to the very real issues that Billie Joe Armstrong is dealing with in “Macy’s Day Parade”, as well as, really, all of his music.

To his fear of the meaninglessness of life and the inevitability of death: “When adventure’s lost its meaning, I’ll be homeward bound in time”. They acknowledge that life on earth is not meaningful in and of itself. However, when you have something greater to attain to, an afterlife, then there becomes a greatness to aspire to. Humanity has a strong sense that there must be more to life than what is here, and the idea is that we do have more to life, and it is there that our desire for meaning will be truly fulfilled.

To his struggle for freedom against the system: “Chain me not to the plow, set me free to find my calling, and I’ll return to you somehow”. When you understand the greatest sense of freedom, you no longer feel so constrained by the things of the world. Capitalism only entangles us if we worship money. If we worship something greater than money, we are no longer subject to it. Money is merely a means by which to survive in the hope of attaining towards the ultimate goal of serving God and others.

Conclusion

Green Day and the BYU choir are totally opposite, yet both of them are correct. When we feel a lack of meaning and joy in our lives, it is because the things of the world do not truly satisfy. Green Day encapsulates that beautifully. When we turn to a greater purpose, beyond the mundanity of life, we find where true meaning and joy exist. Looking forward towards heaven gives us hope to transcend the pain that exists in the world. The BYU choir encapsulates that beautifully.

Fortunately, that does not mean we are to leave the world as it is. Transcending the things of this world also carries an obligation to serve it. When Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 5:17 to “pray without ceasing”, I don’t think he means to bow your head and close your eyes literally all of the time. Prayer is a form of connection to God, and we connect to God through serving Him in whatever capacity we are called.

Jesus said to his disciples, “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’” (Matthew 25:34-40).

It’s a concept of how our response to inheriting the gift of heaven is not to escape the world, but rather to enter into it with a renewed passion and hope to serve others.

So, maybe you can go overthink your favorite music and get some kind of meaning to apply to your life. I enjoy the process very much, and through it, my appreciation for music and poetry continues to grow, and thus my appreciation for life itself.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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