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“Is ‘Junkies on a High’ a Sort of ‘Crossing of the Rubicon’ for Green Day?”


Sure, it was only a matter of time before my ephemeral inklings of describing Father of All… as a “classic” would be occluded by too many listens to, say, “Oh Yeah!” Obviously, now, you might say, it’s only one song and can throw off this freight train so far at max. Well, let’s just say it’s like a new Weezer song, which is to say like hoping there’s enough of a convention of 50-year-old women who do Jazzercise and listen to Now That’s What I Call Music 8 while they do it, and maybe think Rivers Cuomo and Billie Joe Armtrong are hot, too. 

This being said, and I typically don’t make a practice of letting list matters out of the bag prematurely, but Father of All… is actually still hanging on within my top 50 albums of this year, still, almost into October. It’s hovering, in fact, right around #47. And no, I don’t just post whatever Bandcamp tells me is good music. Ok, I kinda do. 

But the point is that Fathers of All… is really quite rich in gripping musical moments. Another thing I noticed is that, in light of this nauseating bevy of new rock songs that literally worship women, these songs have a tendency to be, if not self-righteous, at least a tad self-absorbed, a la “I Was a Teenage Teenager” as well as the base, unreasonable impetus for violence in “Stab You in the Heart.” Now, obviously, the subject matter to “Stab You in the Heart” is presented in tongue-in-cheek, but ironically, the extent to which it actually represents a bona fide sentiment on the part of an individual in fact helps it play as good music, because it COULD be actually about someone who’s about to commit violence. And the songs being self-absorbed is good, as well, unless of course I guess you just think women’s bodies are such an unimpeachable subject of worship that any topical deviance from said holy grail be rendered unacceptable sacrilege. Don’t answer that, millennials.

Anyway, to me, the highlights are still “I Was a Teenage Teenager” and “Graffitia,” as I think I’ve vocalized at least once already on this blog, perhaps in the Top 10 Tracks list from that quarter. It’s certainly hard to ignore, though, track eight “Junkies on a High,” the reasons for which seem to abound like heroin zombies on the streets of San Francisco. 

For one thing, it’s the first instance I can recall, in all my Green Day listening, which has now spanned about 25 years, of Billie Joe using that eighth-note picking technique of continually hovering on that same note, so as to correspond with the chord progression and not a sovereign “riff,” which would be composed of separate notes. Actually, in many ways, “Junkies on a High” is uncannily similar to “Boulevard of Broken Dreams,” and sure, if you really have an axe to grind against Billie Joe Armstrong and his band (who could imagine?) you could make the case  that it’s a “ripoff” of “Boulevard.” And if you’re like CCR’s label, you could sue him for sounding too much like himself. Well, I wish you luck in that endeavor, but I think most people, if they still love rock and roll, will be happy just to sit back and let the energy of this sucker take them away, irrespective of chord progression. But what I was getting at is that despite their similarities, “Boulevard” uses the whammy bar throughout the majority of the verse (both songs surrender to basic power chord pop-punk rhythm guitar within their respective choruses) and “Junkies,” as I state, uses this close-picking technique that I’m sure has been offered by some really seminal lo-fi, punk or indie band but is just exemplified with foremost clarity in my own mind by The Folk Implosion on “Fuse” and some of the other songs on The New Folk Implosion

Another obvious thing, anyway, that jumps out at the listener about “Junkies on a High,” is the noticeably slow pace at which it drags along, in all its depraved intensity. Actually, not coincidentally, it’s similar to grunge rock in this way, music not overly unaccustomed with the general entity of heroin, probably. And then this is just my own interpolation on this matter but I could say that apropos of how this song is pretty danged good and also Green Day’s first “grunge” song, unless you maybe count that one-off, bizarro but certainly fun six-eight stomp “Hitchin’ a Ride” (which let’s be honest always came across a little perky to appeal to the folks at Sub Pop and the guys in the Melvins, as it were), it’s my estimation that all this time Billie Joe has just been like, sh**, I love grunge but I don’t know HOW to write a grunge song. But now he does. This humility thing is underrated, anyway, is part of what I’m saying. 

Apparently the heroin problem is worse than ever in San Francisco these days [1]. But here comes the dangerous part. IT LOOKS FUN TO BILLIE JOE ARMSTRONG. I mean, we’ve all had parts in our lives where we saw someone on drugs and thought, God da** I want to do that. 

Just to backtrack a bit here, a little bit of history on this band and its lead singer is that Billie Joe Armstrong lost his father when he was just a young boy. With this being the case, you could probably with some aptitude describe him as an individual who’s “at risk,” though obviously not fitting the “youth” module anymore. But he’s a person who’s had widely chronicled bouts with alcoholism, including incidents involving live shows around their Uno/Dos/Tre releases of 2012. They haven’t broken up and really the music has continued to be pretty vital — I found Revolution Radio pretty solid and even that trio of the Spanish number albums offered a decent amount of artistic power if you just sifted enough. I mean, there’s at least one great album’s worth of music between those three. I’ll put it that way. 

But Billie Joe seems like someone for whom this is an ongoing struggle. And I’m not making any blanket statements on people who lose a parent at a young age but it’s certianly imaginable that there’s a certain void in their psyches as a result, as well as probably a certain frustration which would drive them to seek these physiological escapes such as drinking and hard drugs. As of right now I think Billie Joe has only done “hard drinking” but when you listen to the lines “I’ve seen it all before / I smashed my fingers in the door / My downward spiral” you begin to see how the temptation is there to seek something even harder, something that will take him even farther from this calamitous mental landscape of his which has involved the untimely departure of his father, and which has been his cognitive habitat for so long. Anyway, instead of one more junkie singer on the planet, I think, what we got is a great song — a grunge song, a punk song, but more than anything a Green Day song, and one bound to bring the band members closer together and further cement into immortality the power of this language that some of us know how to speak and we all seem to know how to hear, provided we can let down our guard and ingest a truly direct humanistic statement that needs to be stated. 

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[1] Indeed the city is reportedly having a lot of problems many of which theoretically led to the widely reported mass exodus from the San Francisco this year that has seen its population reduce drastically. 

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