Fan video with lyrics:
The “Homecoming” suite and the “Jesus of Suburbia” suite bookend the album. In “Jesus of Suburbia,” as we already discussed, the main character moves from a place of home bound inaction to a place where he leaves home to seek his fortune elsewhere. In the “Homecoming” suite, he ultimately decides to return home – though there’s a lot more going on here.
The suite opens with these lines from “The Death of St. Jimmy:”
My heart is beating from me
I am standing all alone
Please call me only if you are coming home
Waste another year flies by
Waste a night or two
You taught me how to live
I find this to be one of Billie Joe Armstrong’s most affecting lyrics and vocal performances. Its simple, vulnerable and very powerful.
The rest of this section has to do with the end of the “St. Jimmy” part of the Jesus of Suburbia’s personality. His girlfriend has left him and now he’s rejecting the “rage” part of his personality, too. There’s a suggestion (especially in the next section) that he’s trying to kick drugs and that getting rid of his anger is part of what he needs to do to address his addiction.
“East 12th St.” begins with a “nobody cares” refrain that is similar to the one in the “Jesus of Suburbia Street.” My understanding of this section is that the title character is checking himself into rehab because “this life like dream [of drug use] ain’t for [him].” Its time to stop avoiding reality and start confronting it.
His first post-rehab confrontation with life is in “Nobody Likes You.” We heard a snippet of this song during “Letterbomb.” He’s healthier, but his choice to clean-up hasn’t done anything to bring Whatshername back into hi life. No matter how late he forces himself to stay up, she’s not here and he feels like nobody likes him. Mike Dirnt wrote this one.
What’s worse, the people he encounters in his life are like the guy portrayed by “Rock and Roll Girlfriend.” Sung by drummer Tré Cool, this song suggests a shallow, self-involved rocker whose life lacks any sense of permanence or depth. Whether this is a vision of what Jesus of Suburbia might become in the future if he stays where he is or whether its the kind of person he’d just as soon avoid, this character prompts him to return home.
And so we conclude with “We’re Coming Home Again.” The first image is of soldiers returning from war. It goes without saying that they’ve been changed by their experience, but they are coming home anyways to confront their post-war lives. Perhaps inspired by them, the main character of the story recognizes that he needs to stop running from his life. Getting rid of the “St. Jimmy” part of his personality wasn’t enough – he need to return home and work on making his life work there.
A couple of observations. First, it has to be said that the split personality aspect of this album immediately brings The Who’s Quadrophenia to mind. The Who are an enormous influence on Green Day – you can hear it most clearly in the interplay of voice in guitar in “The Death of St. Jimmy.” Imagine the line “In the streets of shame/Where you’ve lost your dreams in the rain” sung by Pete Townsend and you’ll her it right away.
Next, the album features a character trying to grapple with both personal and political problems. I read his return home not as a retreat but as a realization that he has to make changes at home in order to effect larger changes. Trying to change the world by railing against injustice isn’t really going to accomplish anything. Returning home will, presumably, give him the chance to actually do something concrete for his community. I think this is why the “We’re Coming Home Again” sounds like a triumphant anthem rather than a song of defeat or surrender.
And so the major story arc of American Idiot is one of a character who overcomes his own idiocy. If we imagine the song “American Idiot” is a prologue (and the next song is an epilogue), then the story told between the opening suite and closing suite is one of a character achieving a certain amount of wisdom.
One of the criticisms of American Idiot was that Green Day’s fans, perhaps, could care less about songs of hope. I don’t know – I think that, in 2004, songs of hope were badly, badly needed. Still are today.