Thus far in American Idiot, Jesus of Suburbia has left his hometown, abandoned everything he thought he knew, and set out alone to find the truth. However, as we saw in “Boulevard of Broken Dreams”, this newfound purpose and solidarity has left him isolated, lonely, and scared, all the while questioning if he’s really on the right path. With the next two songs in the sequence—“Are We the Waiting” and “St. Jimmy”—we see him band together with others who are also going through the same search for introspection and morality, as well create a whole new personality with which he can lead them.
The former song is a downtempo ballad at heart. It consists mostly of anthemic percussion over simple guitar arpeggios. Billie Joe Armstrong’s verse melody isn’t as sorrowful as it was on the last track, but it’s in the same vein. Lyrically, he continues to lament the hopelessness he feels now that he’s become alienated from the world yet still hasn’t found what he’s looking for. Sentiments like “Are we, we are / Are we, we are the waiting unknown / This dirty town was burning down in my dreams / Lost and found, city bound in my dreams” and “Forget-me-nots / And second thoughts life in isolation / Heads or tails / And fairy tales in my mind” pinpoint this mental state. In addition, it suggests further social commentary, as many Americans felt lost and confused in the wake of September 11th, 2001 and the ensuing war with the Middle East. Interestingly, the chorus finds Armstrong backed with other voices, who repeatedly sing the title as he interjects “and screaming!” This addition implies that he’s found others to join his plight; in essence, he’s become their leader.
Taking this into consideration, it’s not surprising that “Are We the Waiting” takes place on Easter Sunday, as the song also represents the rebirth of the protagonist. Contemplating who and what he wants to be, he realizes that everything he’s been thus far was pointless, so he sees this moment as a chance to start over anew. He sings, “The rage and love / The story of my life / The Jesus of Suburbia is a lie,” making the religious connotations quite palpable. He’s fed up with being who he is, so he decides to try a new persona as his following grows. Enter: St. Jimmy.
The previous song actually gets interrupted by “St. Jimmy”; its outro is still going when a punky frenzy cuts it off, allowing St. Jimmy to take over. Both symbolically and musically, then, this new façade takes over before Jesus even knows what’s happening. Expectedly (given its theme), it’s a faster, angrier, and all around more rebellious track, with clashing rhythms, biting guitar chords, and boisterous vocals. In a way, it’s as anarchistic yet catchy as anything else on American Idiot. St. Jimmy is the cool new kid that someone may become when he or she moves to a new school or neighborhood; his disciples have only just met him, so why shouldn’t he reinvent himself for the occasion?
His legendary stature is suggested from the very start, with observers noting, “St. Jimmy’s coming down across the alleyway / Upon the boulevard like a zip gun on parade / Light of a silhouette / He’s insubordinate / Coming at you on the count of 1, 2, 3, 4”. He then introduces himself with fiery proclamations: “My name is Jimmy and you better not wear it out / Suicide commando that your momma talked about / King of the 40 thieves and I’m here to represent / The needle in the vein of the establishment / I’m the patron saint of the denial / With an angel face and a taste for suicidal”. He goes on to call himself “the product of war and fear that we’ve been victimized” and “the resident leader of the lost and found”, both of which further explain how different he is from Jesus, as well as why he’s the man to make change and shake things up. To make a comparison, if Jesus is like the narrator (superego) of Fight Club, St. Jimmy is like the Tyler Durden (id) of American Idiot. He storms into the scene without warning, demanding everyone’s attention and loyalty without question.
These two tracks represent a turning point in the narrative of American Idiot, as the man we thought was our hero finds himself unworthy of the position, and so he transforms himself into a more disruptive and selfish being so that he can deal with what the future holds. It’s the sort of makeover that many people try out in, say, high school or college to impress anyone who will come along for the ride, and as we’ll eventually see, this winds up having both positive and negative connotations and results.