Let Sleeping Billie’s Sleep: Green Day And The True Meaning Behind Wake Me Up When September Ends…

The song was a tribute to Billie Joe Armstrong's dad who died of cancer when he was just 10 years old.


American Idiot released in 2004. It was the seventh studio album for the band Green Day. Whom, after a successful 10 year run of making music about how it sucks being a loser, skate punk, and lonely masturbation, many critics had then considered at the time, were a band now over the hill (at least to Rolling Stone).

Meant to be a more serious album compared to their classic records such as Dookie or Insomniac, American Idiot was different in that this was Green Day’s first ever concept album. A Rock musical set in lower suburbia starring a character with a messiah complex literally called:

“The Jesus of Suburbia…”

Adored by every outlet and pop cultural magazine everywhere, the album represented pop punk at its finest. With songs that touched upon a generation of youth during the turn of the 1990s from skate punk, to emo, and of course, the hardcore punk scenes.

American Idiot had released at the right place and the right time. It was inspired by a cascade of current events during the moment, such as the aftermath of 9/11. Which was at the time, a moment of unease and insecurity (and a lot of racist scares) for most teens. There was this ever-growing fear of a possibility of a teen draft and the call to war. Which, very un-healthily, began just a few years after the Y2K bug hit that got the ball rolling. This ever present discourse around the post-apocalyptic fear mongering scare of the decade during the Bush administration years.

As a result, American Idiot spoke had several classic singles that surprisingly charted well on Billboard’s lists of top songs for over a year. Boulevard of Broken Dreams, American Idiot, Jesus of Suburbia, and of course, Wake Me Up When September Ends. 

The song was… different to say the least. It felt like a hangover of sorts. Distinct, in that it really never fit that concept album or the theme of a lower-middle-class anti-hero rebelling against a disappointing establishment.

Ironically, it was Wake Me Up When September Ends that became the most memorable of Green Day’s album. And for the past decade, it’s become a viral and very popular internet meme to poke fun of throughout the end of the month of September, not unlike Justin Timberlake’s: It’s Gonna Be May.

Yet, the original song’s purpose was meant to be a song tribute to his father, who died on September 10th, 1982 after a battle with cancer. Billie Joe Armstrong’s dad was influential on the youth’s musical upbringing, being both a trucker on the road, but more importantly, a Jazz Musician. When returning home from the funeral it’s been said that Armstrong had locked himself into his room. Repeating what would become the chorus of the song.

“If there’s a song on there that veers away from the story for the album, it’s that one. It’s a personal thing. I’ve never tackled an issue about that — about singing about my father,” said Armstrong in an interview with MTV back in 2005. “It’s hard to sing, but definitely therapeutic, because it deals with the passing of someone that you love.”

The song’s music video likewise featured a Marine-themed love story starring actors Jamie Bell and Evan Rachel Wood. It’s also, highly considered the band’s most accomplished song on the adult contemporary market and to this day, is covered by artists across the world. Featured in video games such as Rockband.

It’s been known that Armstrong absolutely hates how his song has become a meme. It’s gotten so terrible, that he’s also, jokingly, gone on record wanting to make a sequel called: “Shut The Fuck Up, When October Begins”.

So should we be making fun of the song? I don’t know but I do think its roots should at least be noted in consideration before sending another meme about it.

Christian Angeles
Christian Angeles
Christian Angeles is a screenwriter who likes sharing stories and getting to meet people. He also listens to words on the page via audible and tries to write in ways that make people feel things. All on a laptop. Sometimes from an app on his phone.

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