[26 November 2009]
Sound Affects Editor
“Having a Blast” highlights one of the great fascinations that frequently captivates adolescents: the thrill of blowing things up. Green Day lyricist Billie Joe Armstrong uses this as the basis for a revenge fantasy where a frustrated bomber plans to take everyone else out with him. When Dookie was released in 1994, the song’s lyrics were mere cathartic fantasy, about as serious an issue as the pyromaniacal antics of the animated stars of Beavis & Butthead (that is, more idiotically dangerous than truly threatening). In the intervening years, however, school violence involving troubled, alienated teenagers who have no qualms about unleashing retribution on their classmates has become a fixture of the news media. In the light of tragedies like the murders at Colorado’s Columbine High School in 1999, “Having a Blast” has since become Dookie’s most uncomfortable track.
It’s important to note that in no way is the narrator of “Having a Blast” admirable; few characters on Dookie are. The protagonist is extremely self-centered—with “explosives duct-taped to [his] spine”, he insists, “Nothing’s gonna change my mind”. He says, “I won’t listen to anyone’s last words”, explaining in the chorus:
“Well no one here
Is getting out alive
This time I’ve really lost my mind and I don’t care
So close your eyes
And kiss yourself goodbye
And think about all the times you spent
And what they’ve meant
To me it’s nothing”
While he rationalizes his actions by stating “I’m taking it all out on you / And all the shit you put me through”, the song’s narrator is ultimately very selfish. He doesn’t care about all the people he’s about to kill, and he won’t listen to anything else they have to say to try and save themselves. Everything is “nothing” except the “loneliness” and “anger” that consume him.
As Armstrong sings, he utilizes palm-muted strumming during the verses, gradually building up intensity until he switches to regular strumming for a fuller sound. This evokes the burgeoning tension of the protagonist, who’s literally ready to go off at any moment. After the second chorus, the song forgoes repeating the verse chord progression a third time in lieu of an extended bridge section featuring several dramatic pauses to underscore Armstrong’s vocals. Here, Armstrong employs a songwriting trick he will use throughout the album: introducing a twist into his lyrics to change the listener’s perception of the characters. Armstrong poses a series of pointed questions, culminating in the clincher: “Do you ever build up all the small things in your head / To make one problem that adds up to nothing”, which insinuates that the song’s protagonist is making a big deal out of insignificant slights in life. The protagonist of the song may want to “mow down any bullshit” that confronts him, but Armstrong concludes the track by questioning whether or not it’s anything actually worth blowing everything to hell over.
By ending “Having a Blast” with the chorus refrain “To me it’s nothing”, Armstrong argues it isn’t.