Tuesday, 13 September 2011

What Music Means to Me: Jesus of Suburbia

To this day, still I remember the first time I ever heard Jesus of Suburbia.

It was the summer of 2005, and my cousin had just bought the American Idiot album. At the time I was twelve, and to me, music was a poppy mash-up of old Steps CD's and a couple of Hearsay songs I used to screech along to in the car.  We were sitting upstairs in a room we shared on weekends at our grandparents' house, and she casually told me about this great new band she'd started listening to called ‘Green Day’. After the go-ahead from me, she popped American Idiot into the CD player as nonchalantly as she would any other passing band who took her fancy for a couple of months, and I sat back, listening, as the album rocketed into life.

As any kid first getting into rock music would, I thought the song American Idiot was fantastic. It was loud, fast, cool, and most of all, had a swear word in it. We fiercely pressed the repeat button more than a dozen times and rocked out on the bedroom carpet - air guitars and pretend stage dives and all. It was probably the most fun I'd ever had listening to a song in my life, and hey, I was an S-Club 7 fan. After a good half an hour of flailing around wildly in a way which could barely be described as human, let alone dancing, we collapsed in a heap on our beds and shut our eyes, exhausted.

It was after this crushing end to our American Idiot session, that I first heard the two lines of lyrics which little did I know, would go on to not only impact, but shape me in a way I don’t think I’ll ever be able to properly repay them for. With their blunt, assertive, magnificence, out from the speakers blasted “I'm the son of rage and love, the Jesus of Suburbia."

At the time, I only ever got to hear up to the second chorus of J.O.S., because all the stomping and shouting and commotion we’d been making earlier had provoked my parents to finish their cups of tea downstairs and get up to take me home. During the quiet journey back to my house however, for some odd reason, I couldn't get those two lines out of my head. I didn’t know what they meant, or who was singing them, and it was though it didn't matter how much fun I'd had messing around to American Idiot, because it were those very words and their bold entry into greatness I found were replaying themselves over and over in my mind without me being able to control it.

They stuck. But they stuck in a way I’d never experienced before with music – those lyrics felt like they were my own. And I don’t mean that it was like I’d written them myself, because this was long before I started playing guitar, and even longer before my dreams of becoming a writer. They felt like my own because they grabbed me in a way which nobody had told me how to feel. My cousin, who I’d always imitated and looked up to, hadn’t mentioned anything about the song to influence me while we heard the snippet earlier (I later realised this was because she was one of the shallow fans who bought the album only for American Idiot and Boulevard of Broken Dreams), which meant that this strange and beautiful connection had been completely my own emotion. I felt like it was almost as though I’d been the only one really hearing it.

That feeling of complete independence I’d earned from hearing those first two lines stayed constant in my mind, but I didn’t get to hear the end of the song the next time I saw my cousin as I’d hoped. She’d moved on from the band – such as I’d done as a superficial listener in the past. I didn’t ask her permission to hear the album with her again. I didn’t want to. After my revelation about the first two lines of lyrics, in my mind the song had evolved into something so personal I didn’t want anybody to else know or understand how I felt until I figured it out for myself. Instead I relied on the radio and music channels, searching for anything Green Day related to bring the screen to life.

Four months (my thirteenth birthday to be exact) it took for me to gain access to the album which had morphed my outlook on music in ways I couldn’t believe. I’d only heard four songs in total – the elusive Jesus of Suburbia still absent of this list – but they were enough to compel me to run to my room as soon as I ripped open the wrapping paper, plug my earphones into my Walkman and slam the door in a rush to shut the World away. That was when I first heard Jesus of Suburbia all the way through. The whole, pulsing, outstanding, overwhelming, nine-and-a-bit minutes of pure perfection exploded through my eardrums and into my virgin mind like the detonation of a punk-rock nuclear bomb. I was dragged on a journey of pain, pleasure, loneliness and insecurity, adolescence, power, the lack of it, of rage, and of love, by the scruff of my entire being. And not for one second, have I ever looked back.

You know… It irritates me more than anything, at this moment in time, after understanding that this song is something else, that this song is completely, and utterly, perfect, that I can’t quite put my finger on what makes it so out of this world. Is it the genius behind the lyrics? The theatrical power behind the “rock opera”? The absolute accuracy of the depiction of growing up? Yes, it’s all of those things combined, but I still don’t know what gives it the edge, and I doubt I ever will.

And here’s what I wrote to end my post on the Green Day Community (where this was originally written for): It’s taken me such a long time to come up with a comment because I’ve been hoping to be able to think about it for a while, and then make a grand judgement on what makes this song so special in less than 100 words. But it’s taken until now for me to realise that it’s just not possible – and that’s why Jesus of Suburbia is such a masterpiece.

It’s indescribable. 

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