Theater fans been trumpeting the arrival of the new "American Idiot" musical on Broadway, after a successful run at the Berkeley Rep. Based on the 2004 Green Day concept album that catapulted the band back into the spotlight after some lean years in the 90s, the stage version has been getting raves from just about everybody and is already being talked up as the show to beat at next year's Tony's.
Popular music tends to elude me, as I am perpetually behind the times and I have trouble matching up bands and singers to the songs coming out of the radio. But I remember "American Idiot" roaring onto the scene at the height of the second Iraq war, encapsulating the moody zeitgeist of Gen Y in the millennial era of Dubya and WMDs. I knew Green Day vaguely from my teens as the hot punk band of the moment, roughly when I was a sophomore in high school. "Good Riddance" was inescapable at graduations and end-of-the-year functions for a while, and several of my friends were madly in love with the band members.
It actually took me a while to connect the scruffy rockers of my youth with the scruffy-and-slightly-older rockers behind "American Idiot." They didn't sound especially different from their "Dookie" days, but there was suddenly a message coming in loud and clear, a frustrated, disillusioned refrain being shouted back against the war, the establishment, and the media, backed up by fevered guitar riffs. And when the album wasn't hollering it seemed to be drawing out our need to mourn, with the melancholy "Boulevard of Broken Dreams" topping the charts for months. It was the perfect soundtrack to the burgeoning discontent of the times, akin to Coldplay's "Viva La Vida" playing Wall Street day traders off into the recession.
Listening to the album and watching the videos, the thought of a movie version popped into my head more than once. Some of it was due to the similarities between "American Idiot" and other concept albums like The Who's "Tommy" and Pink Floyd's "The Wall," which were converted into cinematic visions of freaky and curious delight. Mostly, though, I think it was because there were so many tantalizing hints of something bigger in the works. The "Wake Me Up When September Ends" video featured Jamie Bell and Evan Rachel Wood in essentially a mini-movie, and there were constant rumors about a mystery project that would expand on the album.
And what can I say? I'm a movie nut. I don't know much about popular music, but I love films that center around them. Rock operas and rock musicals especially fascinate me, everything from "A Hard Day's Night" to "Hedwig and the Angry Inch." The verve and vigor of even the most flawed projects like "Velvet Goldmine" or "Rent" never fail to get me excited. I wish we had more of them, and I wish our best musicians would bring their stuff to the screen more often – not just with biopics and concert films, but full-fledged creations conceived for film.
"American Idiot" has so much potential to cross over to other media, not just because of its themes and messages or its strong evocation of a particularly fractious point in time, but because it has a different point of view. Rock musicals we've seen before on Broadway, but a punk rock musical? A Green Day rock musical? That's a new generation and a new kind of beast rearing its head, and I'm not surprised that the critics are eating it up.
But while I think that an "American Idiot" musical is a great thing to have and I hope it has a long, happy run, I want a movie version. I want it on the celluloid, distilled, refined, and flickering in the dark. I want those green-filtered images from the music videos expanded, blown up and given more and more dimensions until they're spilling over the edge of the frame. They could shoot it in 3D. I hear that's in these days. But I want to see the moment captured on film, before it's too far behind us. I want an "American Idiot" movie.
And I want a Gorillaz movie too, but that's a post for another day.