1994 – 2009 : Music and Life. / Music Review: Green Day: 21st Century Breakdown


If you had looked at my music collection, on cassette of course, around 1993 you would probably question a lot of things about me.  Steve Winwood (in all of his heinous post-Traffic 80s glory).  Peter Cetera (in all of his even worse than Steve Winwood post-Chicago heinousness).  Bruce Hornsby & The Range (which actually isn’t so bad I suppose in a Huey Lewis kind of way).  Tom Cochrane (I, admittedly, still do love “Life is a Highway” and loathe the Rascal Flatts version from the movie Cars).  MC Hammer (I bet I could probably still rap along to both Let’s Get It Started and Please Hammer, Don’t Hurt ‘Em).

And, of course, Billy Joel.  In the early ’90s, I was probably The Piano Man’s biggest Eighth Grade fan, if not biggest fan under 40.  In 1993, “River of Dreams” was my jam.  I even owned a tape of his late ’60s psychedelic rock band Attila (an album considered by many critics to be one of the worst rock albums of all time).  Since the majority of what I owned was given to me by my parents, and not stuff I had asked for (excepting MC Hammer which was probably my first attempt at discovering music on my own), I believe the Attila tape was a birthday present from my father in an attempt to bridge the gap between the Billy Joel I owned, and the classic rock I was beginning to explore on the radio (which I think made him happy).  Led Zeppelin, in particular, was speaking to my young male dorky self with its blazing guitars, thunderous drums, cocky sexuality, and weird fantasy overtones.  This would soon enough lead me to exploring and embracing music that wasn’t as wussy as what I had been listening to, yet, of course, it will still be music my father hated, which brings me to 1994.

1994 was a big year for me.  I cut my teeth musically that year.  Music, as it is for so many people, was a major part in my formation of a personal identity.  Looking back there were so many songs and albums that were significant.

Note:  The following are in no particular order and I’m sorry to those songs and albums that I’m forgetting (apparently you were not as important to me as you thought you were), and yeah, some of these may not be 1994 songs, but they FEEL like it to me as they are part of the milieu of music that influenced me around that time.  “1994” being somewhat of a catch-all term for ca. 1993-1995 music.  Also, to be fair there are songs and alubms which I’m leaving out from theses lists that were from this time period, but didn’t have a major impact upon me until later.  Alice in Chains, Nine Inch Nails, and U2, for instance, became major parts of my life around 1997-1998.  (Now that I think about it, another blog post about ca. 1997 could be worthwhile).  Likewise, there was a slew of great country songs from that period which have only become of interest to me in recent years, songs such as:

  • “Watermelon Crawl” by Tracy Byrd
  • “Indian Outlaw” and “Down on the Farm” by Tim McGraw
  • “A Good Run of Bad Luck” by Clint Black
  • “Chattahoochee” and other songs by Alan Jackson
  • “Queen of My Double Wide Trailer” by Sammy Kershaw
  • “Goodbye Says It All” by BlackHawk
  • “John Deere Green” and “Pickup Man” by Joe Diffie
  • “She’s Not the Cheating Kind” and other songs by Brooks & Dunn
  • “Thinkin’ Problem” by David Ball
  • Pretty much every Garth Brooks song
  • “Should’ve Been a Cowboy” and other songs by Toby Keith
  • And lots and lots and lots more country music that I keep rediscovering from that era.

Songs from ca. 1994.

  • “Seether” by Veruca Salt
  • “Linger” by The Cranberries
  • “She Don’t Use Jelly” by The Flaming Lips
  • “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)” by The Proclaimers
  • “Queer,” Only Happy When It Rains,” and “Stupid Girl” by Garbage (one of several instances where the whole album didn’t seem to matter at all to me, just the singles which I heard on the radio.  Possibly due to lack of money to buy albums?)
  • “Insane in the Brain” by Cypress Hill
  • “Runaway Train” by Soul Asylum
  • “Here Comes the Hotstepper” by Ini Kamoze
  • “No Rain” by Blind Melon
  • “Low” by Cracker
  • “You Oughta Know” by Alanis Morissette
  • “Stay” by Lisa Loeb & Nine Stories
  • “Two Princes,” “Little Miss Can’t Be Wrong,” and “Jimmy Olsen’s Blues” by The Spin Doctors
  • “Hey Jealousy,” “Until I Fall Away,” and “Follow You Down” by Gin Blossoms
  • “Shine” by Collective Soul
  • “Gangsta’s Paradise” by Coolio
  • “Possum Kingdom” by The Toadies
  • “Come Out and Play” by The Offspring
  • “Bang and Blame” and “What’s the Frequency Kenneth” by R.E.M.
  • “Plowed” by Sponge
  • “Creep” and “Just” by Radiohead
  • “Santa Monica” by Everclear
  • “In the Meantime” by Spacehog
  • “I Wish” by Skee-Lo
  • “Tomorrow” by Silverchair
  • “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me” by U2 (one of my all-time favorite music videos and probably where I first took real notice of U2, and then would later go on to be entralled by them)

Albums from ca. 1994.

These were complete albums that had an impact upon me at that time, in no particular order:

  • Ill Communication by The Beastie Boys (still my favorite album they’ve produced)
  • Vs. by Pearl Jam
  • Ten by Pearl Jam (they’ve never again reached the brilliance or importance of those first two albums)
  • Core by Stone Temple Pilots
  • Purple by Stone Temple Pilots
  • Under the Table and Dreaming by Dave Matthews Band
  • August and Everything After by Counting Crows
  • Marvin, the Album by Frente (I loved the singer’s voice. Prior to Sophie Ellis-Bexter, whatever her name was’s voice was the sexiest singing voice I’d ever heard)
  • Superunknown by Soundgarden (I’ve probably owned this album 7 or more times, at least 5 on tape, and 2 on CD, yet I haven’t listened to it in a good 4 years or more now)
  • Unplugged in New York by Nirvana (such a perfect moment in time)
  • Wildflowers by Tom Petty
  • The Presidents of the United States of America by The Presidents of the United States of America
  • Weezer (the blue album) by Weezer (I think the standard for what alternative rock meant when the term was coined)
  • Sixteen Stone by Bush
  • Four by Blues Traveler
  • (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? by Oasis
  • Throwing Copper by Live
  • Hoist by Phish (though I wouldn’t really get into Phish until just the past couple of years)
  • Dookie by Green Day

Thinking back I must thank a couple of my 9th grade classmates:

  • Grunge-y Tony (last name forgotten), who, while sitting next to me in the middle of our English class, piereced his eyebrow with a large safety pin, and regularly wore a dress to school, introduced me to Pearl Jam and Nirvana (I had, of course, as musically oblivious as I was, missed out on all the hype only to find out about them just before Kurt’s death).
  • That potheaded kid who was in 10th grade and in my computer class.  He turned me on to Tom Petty’s Wildflowers (he liked it because “You Don’t Know How It Feels” mentioned smoking a joint) and Green Day (he liked them because their name supposedly came from Billie Joe Armstrong’s first experience smoking marijuana).  I remember him heavily extolling the virtues of Green Day’s Kerplunk! over Dookie.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t also thank 102.7 WEQX.  Without them I never would have access to any of the music that became so important to me.  They are one of the last independent alternative radio stations out there.  And to this day, they still rock.


Flash forward 15 years.

  • Weezer has released its third self-titled mono-chromatic album (and are still trying, like many bands that grew up in their wake, to recapture the blue album’s geeky alterna-pop-rock perfection).
  • Chris Cornell is on his second solo career with an album (which Trent Reznor bashed on Twitter) of loops and samples produced by Timbaland after finishing up as the best singer Guns N Roses ever had with his 6 year stint in Audioslave.
  • Nine Inch Nails is calling it quits and have announced their farewell tour (probably a decade too late).  Trent is in love and pissed off at his angsty fans who have turned their unnecessary rage and loathing on him via Twitter.
  • Stone Temple Pilots has broken up and reformed, with Scott Weiland then releasing a second bizarre and nigh unlistenable solo album (at least some things never change, Weiland is still way whacked out).
  • Nirvana has been gone the entire span of 15 years, and have we really missed them?  Dave Grohl has soldiered on with the pop-angst-rock of the Foo Fighters (probably to far greater sales than Nirvana would ever have seen).  Kurt Novoselic began to dabble in politics and almost ran as Lieutenant Governor of Washington in 2004.  If Kurt was alive today, what would he think of the music industry (he was already disillusioned in 1994) or the world today?

If you had asked me in 1994 what band that mattered to me, that was opening my mind and blowing my ears, would still be around 15 years later, and not only around, but ultimately relevant, I would not have answered Green Day.

Yet here we are in 2009.  Don’t get me wrong.  I loved Dookie.  I even crashed a car in 1998 after many, many late nights with friends followed by too many, too early mornings driving to my job as a line cook at the nastiest restaurant in Rutland, VT.  I vividly remember waking up while still yelling along to “Basket Case” as I first hit a speed limit sign, then spun out on the wet road sideways into a tree.  Even with my love of that one album, I never really got into any of the rest of their albums, including 2004’s critically praised and commercially successful American Idiot.

But over the past couple of days, I’ve listened to 21st Century Breakdown.  I’m blown away.   Green Day have released a brilliantly contemporary rock record that is easily one of the best albums of the year.  Recently, Scott Mills of BBC Radio 1 called Green Day “the biggest rock band in the world”  and at the time I scoffed, still believing it to be U2 (as a side note, No Line on the Horizon has not grown on me, if anything my opinion of it has decreased, and it hasn’t seen play on my iPod since the beginning of June).  Now, I might agree with Mills.

Green Day 21st Century Breakdown

21st Century Breakdown is at once raw and beautiful.  From the garage punk of “Horseshoes and Handgrenades” to the Beatles-esque “Last Night on Earth” to the amazing “Restless Heart Syndrome” with its scorching guitars, the album simply stuns.  Musical influences from The Ramones to Eastern European rhythms are on display, and throughout you’re taken on trip through contemporary America and introduced to the lives of people living there.

At some point, Green Day threw off the hijinks, off-color humor, and trappings of American punk.  They’ve grown up, and with that comes excellent songwriting, fine musicianship, a socially critical point of view, and a sincere sense of trying to make a difference, somehow.  Whether its through humanitarian and charitable acts such taking part in a hurricaine relief with U2 with “The Saints Are Coming” or the Music Rising campaign, or by showing the flaws in society with their lyrics.

At some point, Green Day did the unimaginable:  they actually became the voice of their (my) generation.

Essential tracks:  “21 Guns,” “Know Your Enemy,” “Viva La Gloria (Little Girl),” “Restless Heart Syndrome”


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