Inspired By … 21st Century Breakdown

Inspiration is a funny thing. It can strike at any time and in ways you might never have imagined. The wonderful thing about any kind of art, to me, is its ability to connect with and deeply move you. That doesn’t necessarily mean you immediately then try and write your own song, paint your own painting or take up photography (though it may indeed do that in some cases). The moving part is a sense of extraordinary presence, resonance and connection that can almost overcome you when you’re experiencing and relating to something that is reaching you at a deep soul and spirit level.

Green Day did that to me with “21st Century Breakdown.”

I admit that I disliked Green Day, strongly, for long time. I viewed them as part of a movement of rock music that contributed to bury some of the bands I cared about deeply, going into the mid 90’s, and I resented them for it. As a result, I never really took the time to bother actually listening to what they were doing, even up through “American Idiot.” In my mind, I’d written them off.


Ironically, it was a fan of one of the bands I did always care about that posted on a message board how Green Day had “done it again – they’d created another masterpiece with ‘21st Century Breakdown’.”


Because I valued that guy’s opinion, I went and listened to a few tracks on YouTube. I then searched out and looked at their lyrics, and was very quickly brought to the realization that I’d been absolutely wrong about Green Day for more than two decades. Their songwriting ability fascinated me and I listened to “21st Century Breakdown” almost constantly for the better part of a year, absorbing and relating to heart-breakingly relatable  lyrical passages like this:

“I am a nation
A worker of pride
My debt to the status quo
The scars on my hands
And the means to an end
Is all that I have to show

I swallowed my pride
And I choked on my faith
I’ve given my heart and my soul
I’ve broken my fingers
And lied through my teeth
The pillar of damage control”

The line about “My debt to the status quo” is harrowing to me. The album is laced with thought-provoking observations about what influences our world view, what we choose to believe (or not believe) and what beliefs we eventually pass on to others and what the effect of that might be. I could spend a while pulling this song apart and interpreting it. For now, I’ll just say I deeply appreciate the lyrical content of the record, and have to admit I was dead wrong about this band for a long, long time.

Though I don’t really write or play anything at all like Green Day (I’ve tried. It sounded awful), I consider “21st Century Breakdown” to be one of the most influential albums I’ve ever listened to. There are very few records I spent as much time with as I did with that one, and after seeing them perform on that tour, my respect for the band grew even further. I can’t think of another band that was that energetic for three hours plus. Maybe Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, but Green Day was different. They had the engine pegged the entire night and I was completely exhausted after the show.

Not only did “21st Century Breakdown” get me moving, it got me thinking.

That inspired me.

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