Green Day is an influential and largely controversial punk-influenced rock band that came out of the punk/ska scene of Berkley, Calif., in 1987. The evolution of their albums suggests a move from self-involvement, indulgence, and youthful unrest to a higher, more universal, and more political purpose. Warning, released in 2000, is a pivitol album on the road to later, more politically charged, albums. It mixes angst, sex, and social commentary and is their most musically eclectic album to date. Their political voice is more honed and relevant with every album — everything about Warning screams transition. The band is made up of three extremely talented men, and the music is only getting better as they get more popular, more visible, and more political.
The first and title track addresses a society that is concerned with their safety and taking great measures to ensure it:
“Better homes and safety-sealed communities
Did you remember to pay the utility?
Caution: Police line, you better not cross.
Is it the cop, or am I the one thats really dangerous?
Sanitation, expiration date, question everything.
Or shut up and be a victim of authority”
Perhaps too great. The chorus demands “Warning, live without warning”. This is social commentary on an over-sexed, fearful, suburban, anti-bacterial obsessed nation at the turn of a century.
The next track of any social import is “Fashion Victim,” track four. This song is a non-gender-specific testament to a new, fashion-fueled youth. The lyrics employ a witty play on political terms, such as genocide, to illustrate a youth culture plagued and pestered by the media to conform and adhere to a dress code.
“He’s a victim of his own time
In his “vintage suit” and tie
He’s casualty dressed to the teeth
In the latest genocide
The new seasons come and go
At the dog and pony show
Gonna sit and beg and fetch the names
And follow your dress codes
WHAT’S IN A NAME?…HEY!
She’s a scented magazine
Looking sharp and living clean
Living well and dressed to kill
But she looks like hell to me
So when you’re dancing through your wardrobe
Do the anorexia go-go
Cloaked with style
For pedophiles as the credit card explodes
You auctioned off your life
For the “most” expensive price
Now it’s gone”
This song is about selling yourself to the media and becoming a sheep. Or rather, not succumbing to social or popular norms. Youth are expected to buy name brand products and starve themselves thin in order to fit in with their peers. This song asks: “What’s in a name”? The answer: nothing. Be yourself. Do not conform.
Now, we’re going to skip over to the last two tracks on the album: “Minority,” track eleven, states in plain terms its message.
“I want to be the minority
I don’t need your authority
Down with the moral majority
‘Cause I want to be the minority”
This anti-authority lyric is also forceful and demanding. It speaks against political and societal trends, but also religious conformity:
“I pledge allegiance to the underworld
One nation under dog
There of which I stand alone
A face in the crowd
Unsung, against the mold
Without a doubt
The only way I know”
This alternative Pledge of Allegiance is potentially offensive, not only politically, but religiously (one nation under dog). This song is a slap in the face to any conservative American citizen, and a powerful youth anthem for the ages. It gives power to young people by making them feel like an individual in a herd, so to speak. It allows them to take solace in being a “minority”.
Finally, track 12, “Macy’s Day Parade.” This song makes me think of the end of an era. If you have ever listed to Green Day’s 2004 release, American Idiot, it almost sounds like a smooth transition from one set of ideals, to the next, better thought out, level. The song addresses and rejects commercialism by playing on common practices associated with death. Then consumer values are challenged by equating what we want with what we really need, and defining those values with common terms used in advertising. In the end, no matter what we’re talked into buying by the media-machine, we as a people are still not happy because what we really need is hope and a restored faith in humanity.
“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 10% 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
A lesson learned to me and you
Give me something that I need
Because I’m thinking about
A brand new hope
The one I’ve never known
Cause now I know
It’s all that I wanted”
The most interesting part about Warning is that it was released in a pre-9/11 world. Either it is a little prophetic, or the members of Green Day have pretty good insight into social and political trends. Not only that, but they want to do something about it. Warning characterizes the beginning of Green Day’s more straightforward political message in a subtle way. From there, they have only made more impactful loud and socially relevant music, especially in the United States.
“In twenty years, I would not be surprised if people talk about Green Day the way they talk about The Who today.” — Jackie Hodges