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Between the Grooves: Green Day – ‘American Idiot’

Part social commentary and part fictional narrative, Green Day's American Idiot came out of nowhere and impressed with its biting political subversion, exploration of teenage angst, love, and uncertainty, and perhaps most importantly, brilliant structures, transitions, and overall cohesion.

American Idiot
Green Day
Reprise
21 September 2004

9. “Extraordinary Girl”

Up until this point in American Idiot, St. Jimmy (the alias of Jesus of Suburbia) has been wondering around the streets of America alone, unsure of just about everything in his life. He’s felt a calling to incite change and rebellion, not only for himself, but for the country as a whole; unfortunately, without anyone else to help him, the task is easier said than done. But, with the arrival of Whatshername, a snarky teenage girl who seems to be his match both romantically and anarchically, St. Jimmy has found a new purpose in life. Together, they can complement each other while also challenging the conformity and complacency of the country—or so they thought. As we see in the ninth and tenth tracks of the album—”Extraordinary Girl” and “Letterbomb”—this relationship soon crumbles. It’s a riotous and bitter pill to swallow.

For the most part, “Extraordinary Girl” follows your standard punk rock template; however, its unique opening allows it to stand out from the rest of the songs. Both its initial timbres and rhythms evoke Indian tradition, like a sinister tribal ritual that suggests the underlying rejection and deceit that’s to come. In fact, it’s such a distinctive section on American Idiot that it almost feels out of place, as it really doesn’t connect to the rest of the song, nor to anything else on the record. Yet, it’s this stylistic peculiarity that makes the song so cool. After this moment is gone, the trio resorts back to its archetypical formula of crunchy guitar riffs and pugnacious percussion (which continues to work well, of course).

Lyrically, the track details the difficulties within their relationship following the initial joys present in “She’s a Rebel”. As always, loving someone isn’t always utopic; if often includes heartache, conflict, and resentment. Armstrong sings a straightforward melody as he confesses that “. . . she can’t seem to get away,” while St. Jimmy “. . . lacks the courage in his mind / Like a child left behind / Like a pet left in the rain.” From this, we get the idea that they’re distant from each other, and the keystone reveal puts it most bluntly: “She’s all alone again / Wiping the tears from her eyes / Some days he feels like dying / She gets so sick of crying.” Near the end of the song, the deterioration is cemented when Armstrong tell us that “Some days it’s not worth trying.” Listeners can imagine the two lovers sulking with their backs toward each other.

Interestingly, we’re also told that she “. . . [has] an image she wants to sell / To anyone willing to buy,” which implies that she’s fraudulent and manipulative. Perhaps St. Jimmy is just the latest boy for her to string along, and now that she sees how hesitant and controllable he actually is, she’s lost interest. She needs someone who can really match her destructive nature and carefree persona, and he isn’t it, no matter if he calls himself St. Jimmy, Jesus of Suburbia, or anything else.

(Also, some critics believe that “she” could stand for American culture and widespread political agenda, with the line “She sees the mirror of herself / An image she wants to sell / To anyone willing to buy” representing the country’s need to influence the entire world. Others believe that “she” symbolizes the sexism in America, with the same expression alluding to our nation’s fascination with beauty and female gender expectations. Take them or leave them, these are intriguing interpretations.)

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