Green Day’s Billie Joe flips – and turns the rehab cliche on its head
In September, the day before they were due to begin a two-month club tour to promote three new albums, Green Day played an iHeartRadio festival in Las Vegas. A teleprompter flashed up the not unreasonable message towards the end of their set that the band had one minute left to play. Lead singer Billie Joe Armstrong responded thus: “You’re going to give me one minute? I’ve been around since fuckin’-nineteen-fuckin’-eightyfuckin’-eight and you’re going to give me one fuckin’ minute? I’m not fuckin’ Justin Bieber, you motherfuckers.” He then smashed his guitar to pieces and exited stage left.
I would be of a mind to present Billie Joe with a commemorative gold medal for the beautifully profane poetry of his oration. Anyone who can insert three “fuckins” into “1988” is obviously a rare lyrical talent. But the backlash from the iHeartRadio incident led to Billie Joe signing himself into rehab.
Green Day have cancelled all activity until March of next year at the very earliest. There are two more major album releases due before the end of the year (to complete their Uno, Dos, Tres trilogy) and their major new year tour has been shelved.
Any individual – whether rock star or not – who seeks help for any condition whatsoever is entitled to all the privacy and confidentiality in the world. What is interesting about Billie Joe’s rehab stint is not just how his fellow band members and producer are publically talking about it, and also the very vocal support from within the rock community. Metallica – who replaced Green Day at a big New Orleans music festival last week – paid tribute to Billie Joe during their performance. They dedicated their Battery to the singer, played the opening chords of American Idiot and James Hetfield said to the crowd: “You’re hoping Green Day are going to show up, right? So am I. They’re getting help. They’re getting it sorted out. The world needs them.”
The band’s long-time producer, Rob Cavallo, said: “Billie Joe’s rehab is no joke. He’s under medical supervision. His doctors are still evaluating.” Bandmate Mike Dirnt said: “At the end of the day, the most important thing is my friend’s life.”
Dirnt speaks about how the pressure of promoting three new albums is as many months – plus big touring commitments – impacted on the band. “With 20/20 hindsight, (this) was a tremendous undertaking. It catches up with you; we definitely just jumped off a moving train. There were signs of things hitting the fan. Billie Joe had been going through his own struggles.”
In the normally pathetically macho rock music world, such public statements are brave and instructive. In times past, enormous pressure would be mercilessly applied to one of the world’s biggest rock bands in the middle of releasing three major new albums and planning a global tour to keep the show on the road.
Many livelihoods can be affected by the actions of one central person in a mega-selling band. The reason Nirvana always gave for not taking time out as Cobain went off the rails was because they felt caught up in the Nirvana machine and pressing the stop button would spell financial disaster for those who worked with them.
It is a positive and welcome move by Green Day to put the brakes on to ensure the long-term well-being of all involved. And now that the band have been given all the time in the world – and are receiving support from all quarters – maybe, finally, the music industry has turned a corner in its usually neglectful approach towards its big stars/money-earners. Sometimes the show mustn't go on.
Billie Joe Armstrong