Great Moments in New York Theater: American Idiot
Don’t get me wrong. I think American Idiot is a fine play, a fine musical, a fine cd. Did it mean as much to me as Show Boat? No. Did it move me the way Sunday in the Park with George did. Not a chance. Did I enjoy it as much as Forty Second Street? No effin’ way. BUT (and this is a big but) I am all about growth, be it soul growth, intellectual growth, spiritual growth… it is the journey, the experience, the lesson that I crave. That experience is what I am remarking upon today.
There is very little point in denying that I am a show queen. A true stereotype, I am one of the gay men who spent their childhoods listening to musical on the family hi-fi. I wanted to go on the stage in musicals but there was this little hiccup in that plan: I had no talent. So my best role in musical theater is the one that puts me, firmly, in the tenth row ( as it were ). I am not, though, ignorant about the other forms of music out there. I listen to country, pop, rock, dance music… classical… some opera… I like music of all kinds. I spent my teenage years listening to Supertramp, Styx, Meatloaf, Wings… and when I became an adult I listened to more rock music; music I still listen to today. So I don’t know HOW this happened…
I never heard of Green Day.
When American Idiot was heading in to New York and everyone was talking and writing about it with such enthusiasm, I didn’t know what they were going on about. Apparently it was a rock group that was doing a Broadway show. Oh, ok. Oh, no, wait: it was ACTORS doing the show but it was the rock group’s music. Oh, ok. Got it. That was enough for me, for the moment. When the time came to see the show, I would pay attention. In the meantime, I had a life to live.
The night came when I got to go, with Hunter, to see the play. When the curtain went up I was assaulted by the most wonderful visual artistry! I loved it! The sets, the lighting, the costumes, especially the dancing – it was wonderful! I was very taken in by it.. ALL of it. American Idiot is an extremely visual show – I wish I had been high or something; would’ve made it all the better.
Now… here’s a little backstory on me. I have this thing. It’s a little problem. I don’t think I have BAD hearing … but I do have some issues. Like, for instance, I do not have an ear for heavily accented people speaking in English. I am happy to talk to people from far away lands and try, valiantly, to communicate with them, through thick accents. It just requires work. Another one is that ambient noise seems to override casual conversation. At the gym, the noise from the tv, the stereo, the spin class and the other people talking ten feet away make it difficult for me to hear Hunter or Pat, three feet away. So. When musical instruments overpower the vocalists, I don’t know what they are singing. When singers have mushmouth, I don’t know what the lyrics are. When choruses scream at me, I don’t know what they are trying to tell me. It’s not just rock music, it’s any music. I don’t care if it is a piano, bass and drums playing alongside a club singer – if they are louder than the singer, I would have to be in the singer’s face, reading their lips to know what they are singing about.
I wonder if you can guess what I am about to say…
I couldn’t understand word one of the play American Idiot. I had no earthly idea what was going on onstage. All I knew was that it was visual kickin’ my ass and that that ass was chair dancing. I loved the music. I loved the rhythms. I loved the drums and the screaming guitars. I loved it all. Nevertheless… I had NO idea what was happening on that stage. For an hour. For an HOUR I sat in my seat, chair dancing, rockin’ out to Green Day (who I knew, not, from Adam) and having a great time. I felt like I was at a rock concert.
After an hour, I thought to myself: “Ooooh! I know what my Facebook status is going to be tonight! It will be: I know American Idiot is art; because I loved every minute of it… even though I didn’t understand it.” I thought that would be a wonderful, clever Facebook status message. A few minutes later, something happened that made that status message obsolete.
I got it.
I was watching a scene in the play and, somehow, through the visual and one or two words that actually reached my ears, all the ducks lined up in a row, all the puzzle pieces fell into place, the smoke cleared and I knew what the story of American Idiot was. And my inner monologue went something like this:
“This isn’t NEW!!! THIS isn’t DIFFERENT!!! This story is OOOOOLD! I’ve seen this story told over and over in stories, books, magazines, tv shows, movies, tv movies of the week and on Lifetime Television for Women and Gay Men!!!! THIS!! IS!! NOT!! NEW!!!”
Oh, I was so angry. I was so, so angry. What cheek. What crust. How dare they take this cutting edge look, this hard-driving music, this angry youthed feeling and dump it into a storyline so mundane and overused as to make my 6th grade nun roll her eyes. Oh, how DARE they!!! Oh, I was sooooo angry!!
But I stopped myself. I said “get it back… get it back, Stephen! You were having a good time, get it back!” And I reversed gears and drove my mind, my emotions, my entire internal experience backward four and a half minutes to where I was before I could see clearly… It worked. I was able to control my mind and emotions enough to dispel the umbrage and return to the levity of a man enjoying an inane rock concert being performed by astoundingly talented musicians, singers and dancers. I enjoyed the rest of show. I will, at some point, buy the cast album and the original album by Green Day.
And I will always remember how the Broadway musical American Idiot taught me that, indeed, I CAN control my mind.
First step: American Idiot
Next step: Jedi Mind Tricks