I used to go to a lot of rock concerts, and when I say a lot, I mean a lot. As in, one year I went to probably somewhere between 40 and 50; shows of all sizes, from the large arenas to the small clubs and everything in between. I saw popular acts and no-names, veterans of stage and one-hit wonders, some you may have heard of and some you will never heard of again. I would say that I spent a lot of my mid-20s in clubs, standing on the outskirts of mosh pits, avoiding the sweaty-dudes as they came flying around the floor, and waking up with head aches borne of too much head banging. And amongst my favorite genres of music was the punk rock scene, bands such as Goldfinger, Social Distortion, Rocket From the Crypt, The Suicide Machines and, of course, Green Day.
So the chance to see the new Green Day musical “American Idiot” was something I would not pass up. For not only do I love rock music and concerts, I also love musical theater and the chance to see a blend of the two was not to be missed. So after having seen the show this weekend, I came away with a stark realization—I was pretty darn oblivious to what was going on around me.
First, let me say that I really enjoyed the show; the music was loud and jumping and raucous and perfect and the stage direction was frenetic and wild and hyper. But it certainly took me awhile to get into the show because my initial reaction was not positive. In fact, it was downright negative.
Without giving away too much of the story, the show takes place in the early 21st century and revolves around 3 friends in their late teens who have an attitude of rebellion against the establishment, the government, their parents and a society that is trying to force them to conform. They take up arms against the establishment and the show follows them as they take three different paths to self-realization, all three of which are fraught with challenge, turmoil and despair, and finally some form of redemption.
My difficulty, though, is that even though I am a huge fan of the music and certainly spent enough time in the mosh pit standing next to people like the characters in the show, these people were not me and I could not relate to them. I was never a shiftless lay-about; I always had good relationships with my parents and teachers, and there was never any doubt about who I was or where I was going. A few minutes in to the show and I wanted to know what happened to the unseen “fourth” friend, the one who studied hard in school, went to a good college, and became a productive member of society. But even though I loved the music and spent so many hours in clubs and concert halls, the story of the characters in the show was not my story and I found it difficult to relate to them.
But then two things occurred to me as the show progressed. First, despite my strong love of music, I am for the most part an oblivious listener. I don’t pay any attention to the words (despite knowing them all and signing along at the top of my lungs) and some of these bands truly have something important to say. The second thing I learned is that the characters in the musical were caricatures for the kids I saw at the shows, the ones I silently snickered about, joking that mom had to pick them up after the curtain came down. While I had it all under control and was usually the oldest one at the show, the rest of the kids understood the songs better because the songs spoke directly to them. Punk rock was born from a need to reject political idealism and the flower-power mindset of the hippies, choosing instead a nihilistic and self-imposed alienation from the establishment. The characters in the show fit that bill—I didn’t and never will.
So when I finally came to the realization that the story really wasn’t my story, but the story of the other kids at the concerts, the show became more enjoyable to me. I finally was able to see what everyone around me at the concerts was going through, the angst and need for rebellion, the freedom they found from music that spoke to them and for them; a sense of belonging in a world in which they didn’t fit.
But the artists that I listened to 15 years ago are no longer punk rock kids but are parents themselves. While many of them were products of broken homes and a society that ordered them to conform or fall behind, hopefully they learned from their own experiences and will be there for their children the way their parents may not have been for them. And hopefully there is then redemption in the punk rock lifestyle portrayed in the musical and in the music of that scene—it is a conviction that the punk “rawkers” won’t let their children go through the challenges and struggles that they went through.
One can hope that at least the anti-establishment will have a strong foundation and support system in their family. Lord knows our world needs more parents like that, who allow their kids to choose their own path, but with their help and support and love. Even though I wasn’t truly part of the punk rock scene from the standpoint of being its prototypical representative, I still loved the music…