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The Friday Morning Listen: Green Day – 21st Century Breakdown

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I'm writing this on the back of a printout of a Garrison Keillor appreciation piece on choreographer Merce Cunningham. You wouldn't think that there would be an intersection between Keillor and Green Day but here's one — they both appear to annoy people. Keillor gets under the skin with his melodious vocal inflections and liberal politics. Green Day used to irritate folks with their snotty Californipunk tunes and faux-British accent. Add liberal political leanings to the mix and you've got the band rubbing shoulders with Keilor at the bi-monthly AmericaHatinLiberals™ meetings.

For me, the politics don't matter so much. Green Day became more interesting to my ears exactly when American Idiot was released. That was also when the politics hit the fan for a lot of people. Too bad really, because the band had gotten hooked on the canon of rock operas and had expanded their music beyond what I always thought was a Clash/Ramones-riddled sort of thing. The move put them several levels higher than a lot of 'punk' bands of their generation, too many of which were content to bash out the same old, same old.

With 21st Century Breakdown, Green Day wears their love of rock operas right out there in the open. In fact, there are a few moments on the disc when you'd swear they're going to lurch into something from the middle of Tommy. Many have scoffed at the idea of a new rock opera in this day and age, but I have to say that it's pretty exhilarating to see somebody even making the attempt. Billie Joe won't be happy to know that I still don't know what this thing is all about, but that's definitely my fault and not his.

Or maybe it IS his a little, since I'm still pretty much hung up on the giant musical statements. Sure, I know that he's still pissed about the state of things. That's not tough to get, but "Know Your Enemy?" Three huge chords is sometimes all you need. The politics will no doubt annoy the crap out of people in some quarters, generating the usual "shut up and play" responses.

Which brings me to this weekend's Newport Folk Festival. No, Green Day are not playing there, but Pete Seeger is. Damnation, it's been 50 years since his first appearance. Yessir, the old liberal coot, the one who would never shut up, returns to where it all began. Fifty years! I'll bet most of his nay-sayers are gone. Good for him. His detractors would never admit that he loved America too, that in fact, there actually is more than one way to love it. Too bad for them.

All of which brings me to a Merce Cunningham quote that Keillor dropped into his piece. He said that "You have to love dance to stick to it….It gives you nothing back…nothing but that single fleeting moment when you feel alive."

That's exactly why I listen.

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About Mark Saleski