Green Day’s Bil­lie Joe flips – and turns the re­hab cliche on its head

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Opinion -

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

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