Billie Joe Armstrong: Idiot Savant
By Shana Naomi Krochmal
Two queer storylines emerged in Mayer�s work, which were then workshopped with Armstrong (they share credit for writing the show�s book). In one, Johnny�s bandmate Tunny is enticed to enlist in the army after watching a muscular striptease commercial starring a character who calls himself the �favorite son.� �It becomes a kind of homoerotic transference for Tunny�s ambivalence about who he is in the world,� Mayer says. �And the irony is that in this age of �don�t ask, don�t tell,� he gets seduced into the Army.�
The other centers around St. Jimmy, the charismatic, cultish drug dealer who vies for Johnny�s attention and affection when he comes to the city. �I thought a lot of the guys [who auditioned] were too masculine,� Armstrong says. �And they weren�t seductive enough.� Plus there was a deeper philosophical question: Was St. Jimmy truly his own man -- or merely an alter ego? Ultimately, they decided St. Jimmy was �an extension of Johnny�s need,� Mayer says, like Brad Pitt to Edward Norton�s character in Fight Club. Still, the struggle between Whatsername and St. Jimmy, especially as played by the scene-stealing Tony Vincent, feels all too real. �There�s a way to read it as a love triangle,� Mayer says.
�These songs were a wakeup call: Let�s take our lives back,� Mayer adds. �That was very powerful to me. I have not always had the greatest relationship with this country. Being a gay man, how could I? Sometimes it�s enough to be able to look in the mirror and say, as Johnny does, �This is my life,� and accept that. All of those identity politics are at the core of this.�
Armstrong found his identity politics at age 15 in the punk rock scene at 924 Gilman, an all-ages collective-slash-venue in Berkeley. He�d been singing since he was a kid, the youngest of six raised by a single mom who worked as a waitress (his dad died when he was 10), but he kept his hobby to himself. The friends he had were in the Boy Scouts or busy trading baseball cards. �I was a singer,� he says. �That�s something that your sister did. I was too scared to tell them.�
Stuck in a shitty suburban high school in one of the roughest parts of the Bay Area, Armstrong -- along with future Green Day bandmates Mike Dirnt and Tr� Cool -- threw himself into the music and �question everything� ethos. �There was a lot of queerness in the punk rock scene in that time, from Bikini Kill to Pansy Division,� Armstrong says. �It was just in the air. And I felt like a part of it.�
When Armstrong was 21, the band made the leap to a major label, released Dookie, and sold more albums in a few months than probably every band they�d ever played with put together. In 1994, Green Day took their former indie labelmates Pansy Division out on tour with them, and Armstrong told The Advocate, �I think I�ve always been bisexual. It�s ingrained in our heads that it�s bad, when it�s not bad at all. It�s a very beautiful thing.�
He�d just married his wife, Adrienne, and had a kid on the way. With the list of other out musicians who could headline arenas at exactly two -- Elton John and Melissa Etheridge -- it wasn�t the most obvious career choice to make.
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