Expressing the inexpressible.

I hated Green Day when I first heard them. Hated them.

I remember hating them though, in vivid detail. I remember telling my brother to turn them off in the car. I remember the video for Basket Case, with Billie Joe and his crazy eyes in a mental institution, which seemed to be in constant rotation every time I snuck a peek at MTV behind my parents’ backs. It was 1994, and I was a happy teenage girl, and I wanted to listen to bad pop music sung by cute boys, not punk music sung by bleached blond, tattooed, guylinered guys, about being lazy and smoking and masturbating.

I’m not sure when I stopped hating them. It might have been later in high school, when Time Of Your Life was so ubiquitous. And I’m not sure exactly when I started loving them. It may have been in college, when I found myself buying the Warning CD and blasting it on summer days as I drove to and from my job at the mall or when I used Hitchin’ a Ride as the soundtrack to a video production project during my junior year. It might have been the first time I saw them in concert, co-headlining a tour with Blink 182, at what will always be known in my mind as the Star Lake Amphitheater outside of Pittsburgh. It might have been a night I had completely forgotten about until today – a night when I went on one date with a guy and ended up back at his house, hanging out in his basement and listening to the International Superhits album.

The point is, I have a long history with this band. As I grew up, so did they. I can’t tell you precisely when my opinion changed from hate to like to love, but I can tell you exactly when it went from love to something more.

“After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is Music.”
– Aldous Huxley

American Idiot was released while I was living in Greece. It was 2004, a challenging time to be an American abroad – 9/11 was still fresh in everyone’s minds, but the goodwill towards the U.S. had worn off in a lot of the world. Even though I was with my ex, and we were going through the experience together, I often felt alone and confused and frustrated. That album became a link not only to home, but to all the emotions I couldn’t really explain. The lyrics were lonely and confused and frustrated. The guitars were loud. Sometimes, when I found myself in our apartment alone, I’d lay on the bed, put my headphones on, and turn up Billie Joe’s whiny voice to try to drown out the outside world.

Even after we came home, that album was a thing for my ex and me. It became a tradition of ours to play it every time we drove to Pittsburgh – we knew it would kill a quarter of the drive, and there wasn’t a single song we ever wanted to skip. And, unlike almost every other piece of music, television show, or movie that we shared a love of while we were together, I never once stopped listening to it. It took me months to watch The Office. I still haven’t been able to watch certain movies or listen to certain songs again. But I have listened to American Idiot in its entirety more times that I could ever count, and it’s never once made me sad or nostalgic for him.

And I think that’s because of 21st Century Breakdown.

That album was released in the summer of 2009. I bought it ecstatically and was disappointed when I didn’t love it as much as American Idiot. I listened to it off and on, and I saw them in concert that summer – a big arena show at the Verizon Center in DC – and afterwards, I listened to it a lot more. I started to really love some of the songs. But I never felt a connection with it the way I did with American Idiot… until I got back to school.

That was the period where things got really bad between my ex and me. We argued constantly – huge screaming matches that I’d like to go back and apologize to my neighbors for now. I felt constantly under attack, constantly fighting to try to save our marriage, trying to convince him that we could, and the worst part was that I didn’t even know why. I didn’t understand the issues my ex claimed we had. I didn’t understand the complete transformation he’d gone through into someone I didn’t recognize. I didn’t understand why he was making me feel so awful about myself and our relationship.

Simply put, I was a wreck, and I had no idea to fix it. So when I was alone, I put my headphones in, and I listened to these lyrics:

Do you know what’s worth fighting for? When it’s not worth dying for?
Does it take your breath away and you feel yourself suffocating?

Does the pain weigh out the pride? And you look for a place to hide?
Did someone break your heart inside?
You’re in ruins …

I had no clue how to describe how I was feeling – it was a clusterfuck of emotions and fears, and I felt so alone. And yet there was Billie Joe again, singing the words and the feelings I didn’t even understand myself.

When you’re at the end of the road and you lost all sense of control
And your thoughts have taken their toll
When your mind breaks the spirit of your soul

Your faith walks on broken glass and the hangover doesn’t pass
Nothing’s ever built to last
You’re in ruins

I’m not usually that girl who thinks songs are written about me. Sure, I’d put the odd song lyric in an AIM profile just like anyone else in college, but I’d never felt such a strong connection to a song before. When I listened to it – which was often and on repeat – I felt like the lyrics had come out of me, a 28-year-old girl trying desperately to hold on to her young marriage, rather than a 38-year-old man who had been married for close to two decades.

Did you try to live on your own when you burned down the house and home?
Did you stand too close to the fire like a liar looking for forgiveness from a stone?

When it’s time to live and let die and you can’t get another try
Something inside this heart has died
You’re in ruins

To this day, I don’t know what inspired the song. I don’t know what Billie Joe was writing about, and to be honest, I don’t want to know. It’s my song now. It’s my feelings and my worries. That song, as far as I’m concerned, is about the fall of 2009, when I felt so alone and so scared, when I got through it all with the help of friends and family and a silly little rock song.

There are two people in the world I’d really love to meet and thank. The first is Mario Lemieux. The second is Billie Joe Armstrong. If I’m ever privileged to meet either of them, I’ll tell them that they were both so integral in getting me through some really tough times. I’d thank Mario for my hockey team – for giving me a link to home when I lived, and still live, so far away, and for making me genuinely happy when I felt far, far from it. And I’d thank Billie Joe for giving my emotions a voice – for all the nights when I laid in the dark and drowned out the world with his music, when his lyrics connected with something in me in a way I didn’t know was possible, for literally keeping me sane, because even if I felt that no one else in my life understood how I was feeling, those albums made me feel like there was someone out there who did.

Where are you going with all this, B? I can hear you wondering. Well, I’ve talked a lot about karma over the past few months. I haven’t felt like I have been getting my fair share – I feel like I’d been putting a lot in the karma account and not taking any of it out. Well, I think all my karma deposits were saving up for this week. On Saturday, I’ll be inside a venue holding barely more than 1,000 people, with Green Day on stage in front of me. I didn’t expect to actually get tickets and nearly fell out of my chair when we did. I know I’ll be in the midst of a crowd of people, many of whom probably feel the same way I do and who have been fans for years longer than I have. But none of that matters to me.

On Saturday night, if Billie Joe starts singing 21 Guns, it will just be me and him. It’s been three years since I listened to it on repeat, on the bus to and from class, eyes red and puffy from crying and not sleeping. I’m a different person now – bitter, skeptical, cautious, and worried, but also hopeful and wiser and better for going through it all. And somehow, through everything, I’ve emerged on the other side still loving that song.

There’s no way the band will ever know how much their music helped me – whether on a small island in the Mediterranean on a rainy February evening or in a lonely apartment in western Massachusetts. But if that one particular song is played, in a tiny little venue in the middle of Manhattan, I think I’ll feel a little more closure. And every little bit helps.

One, 21 guns
Lay down your arms, give up the fight
One, 21 guns
Throw up your arms into the sky, you and I

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4 thoughts on “Expressing the inexpressible.

  1. This is a great blog post! The transcendental power and emotion that’s manifested in music, and the unique and personal impact it can have on each of us in it’s own way is remarkable. As Nietzsche quoted, “Without music, life would be a mistake.”

  2. I was an oddball little sixth grader when Dookie came out and the boy I had a major crush on loved them, so I figured I had to, too. No question that my relationship with Billy Joe and the guys has far outlasted the one with the boy. They and No Doubt are two bands that have been constants in my life – I wanted to be Gwen and hang out with the boys – and I’m really excited that we get a double-whammy of new stuff from them this month.

  3. What a heartfelt post, Brenna. I got a little misty at the end for a few reasons. For years, well before the fall of 2009, when I heard 21 Guns, I thought of you. Not your ex. Not you and your ex. Just you.

    The Karma Bank is a fickle little thing. It keeps its value locked up, dispensing far less than we want it to. Or even expect it to. Enjoy this concert. ❤

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