Billie Joe Armstrong: Idiot Savant
By Shana Naomi Krochmal
�I felt like, if these mainstream kids who are seeing us on MTV are going to accept us, then they have to accept that where we come from there�s a lot more to the scene,� he says now. �There were a lot of people who didn�t accept it, who were homophobic.� (Fans still fill message board threads with fights about just how gay Armstrong actually is.) �The fact that it�s an issue is kind of phobic within itself. At some point, you gotta think, this should be something that�s just accepted.�
After almost 16 years of monogamous marriage to the same woman -- a minor rock �n� roll miracle itself -- he says he�s not sure if he�d still call himself bisexual. �But I�d never say that I�m not,� he quickly adds. �I don�t really classify myself as anything. And when it comes to sex, there are parts of me that are very shy and conservative. I want to respect my wife.�
His wife doesn�t seem particularly disrespected by Armstrong�s tendency to grab whatever guy is closest during a show and kiss him, whether it�s a bandmate or one of the many fans they bring onstage to help sing and play. �My wife Googled �Billie Joe Armstrong bisexual,� � he says, laughing at the completely predictable outcome. �She�s like, �Yeah, there are about 20 pictures of you kissing different guys.� There�s one side of me that thinks of it like the old Bugs Bunny cartoons, where he plants one on Elmer J. Fudd. But there�s that other side of it, like, Wow, you�re doing that in an arena somewhere like Hartford, Connecticut. It resonates in different ways.�
�On the Kinsey scale, I don�t think there is a perfect 1,� Mayer says of Armstrong. �He�s so completely who he is, and I find that to be maybe the biggest turn-on of all. He�s so absolutely in his skin.�
When rock radio stations began playing �American Idiot,� many of them whittled it down to �Maybe I am the bleeeeep America,� even though it�s clear the faggot Armstrong is referring to is -- at the very least -- himself. He was offended, if unsurprised, by the censorship. �It�s just the hypocrisy that goes with being in America,� he says. �I love fucking with the English language. I thought of it as a bold statement. When I�m writing lines like that, I�m trying to reverse the word to something that means power.�
Though he still looks like a young punk, Armstrong is 38, and his two sons are now almost 15 and 11. �You have this image of yourself that you�re kind of stuck with -- you know, I still wear Chuck Taylors, and I wear pegged pants, and I play rock �n� roll, and my friends still talk shit. And all of a sudden you�re like, �Oh no, you�re young. I�m not.� When I hit 35, I was like, I�m 15 years from 50. I was a terrible math student, but when it comes to age, I�ll count the days.�
Mostly he�s trying to figure out how to raise two boys in the bleak world he writes about without succumbing to its old expectations. �You have to watch yourself,� he says. �It�s very easy to repeat the bullshit that you were taught as a kid. You worry, How is my son going to turn out? Is he going to be successful? Is he macho enough? And then I�m like, Oh my god, what am I even thinking right now?�
He�s reliving the most miserable years of his adolescence through the eyes of his oldest son, and all Armstrong can think to say is, �Look, man, I�m not gonna lie to you. This is gonna be a bad year.�
Michael Mayer sees a similar tough-love answer in American Idiot�s message to its audience, be it gray-haired grannies or kids taking the train in from the suburbs: �As fucked up as the world that you inherit is, you can come out the other side with a little bit of clarity.�
A little bit. Maybe. In comparison to the crucible of anger in 2004 that forged the album�s boldest proclamations, �I feel more confused by the world,� Armstrong says. �It seems to be one thing after the next. I don�t want to be a burden on this country. I want to figure out how to be helpful. And that�s where I get the most confused. What do you do? Where do you even begin?�
American Idiot opens at New York City�s St. James Theatre on April 20.
For a slide show of photos from Armstrong's cover shoot -- including exclusive web-only images -- click here.
For exclusive extras from Armstrong's interview -- including his thoughts on masculinity, his queer influences, and meeting Lady Gaga -- click here.