“Seventeen and strung out on confusion”, Billie Joe Armstrong belts out the opening line of “Coming Clean” in a high, booming notes to immediately drive home the coming-of-age struggle the song concerns itself with. Tied to a guitar groove that emphasizes the upbeats of the rhythm, “Coming Clean” is a short track that barely makes it past the minute-and-a-half mark. Regardless of its brevity, it’s rightly considered one of the standout album cuts from Dookie, as Armstrong tackles the subject of sorting out one’s sexual identity in a concise, empowering manner.
Sure, there are no overt mentions of homosexuality in the song (the closest you get is the line “Skeletons come to life in my closet”), but Armstrong has made it clear in interviews that dealing with such desires during adolescence is what “Coming Clean” is about. Forgoing Armstrong’s typical self-effacements, “Coming Clean” is the only track on Dookie that can’t be described with the word “bratty”. The reason is simple: “Coming Clean” is intended as an affirmation, one that demands respect from others even if they unwilling to offer acceptance.
Even though the song is infused with plenty of Generation X anxiety (“Mom and dad will never understand”), it is in the end a celebration of self-discovery and emotional honesty, as indicated by the couplet “Seventeen and coming clean for the first time / I’ve finally figured out myself for the first time”. Furthermore, Armstrong subtly dismantles any knee-jerk “sissy” pejoratives that be lurking about by repeating the phrase “I found out what it takes to be a man”.
If homophobic biases maintain that homosexual feelings are less than manly, Armstrong argues that was really defines manhood is coming to terms with one’s identity, whether or not others will accept you for who you are.
It’s worth mentioning that Green Day opted to take along queercore band Pansy Division as an opening act during its Dookie promotion in 1994. It was an inspired move that simultaneously introduced a homosexual point of view to a burgeoning mass audience while also puckishly pissing off the less tolerant members of the crowd.
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