Wired and Retired

The use of drugs has always been a large aspect in the typical rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle, but in the past it has always remained taboo. Now, it seems that young people are not only willing to accept the fact that their favourite rock stars are on drugs, but even to expect it.

Just over two decades ago, Green Day were simply yet another pop punk trio singing about nothing more than drugs and boredom. Now, ten albums later, they have political rock anthems and an award-winning musical to their name. With achievements like this, there is no doubt that the band have matured, but have its members?

It was only two months ago that frontman, Billie Joe Armstrong, was admitted to rehab after his onstage meltdown at the iHeartRadio festival in Las Vegas. The singer wrongly believed that the band’s set was being cut short, causing him to smash up his guitar, shouting ,"One minute? Let me f-ing tell you something! I’ve been around since f-ing nineteen eighty f-ing eight, and you’re gonna give me one minute?! You’ve gotta be f-ing kidding me!" The band then released a statement about Armstrong’s condition, with Mike Dirnt, the band’s bassist, then stating that ‘Billie doesn’t take things lightly and he wouldn’t take to rehab lightly either’. While this news would be simply brushed off twenty years prior, when the singer, then 20, spoke openly about his use of marijuana, it is unexpected from the old self-proclaimed family man that we see today, who prides himself on setting a good example for his two young sons.

Green Day hold a large audience, from teenagers and their parents alike; their fan base reaches through generations, with each seeming to have very conflicting views on the vocalist’s current situation. There is no question that the older fans are far less exposed to substance abuse compared to their teenaged counterparts, but surely they can understand that drugs hold a strong connection within the industry of rock music. Throughout the years, the use of drugs has always been a large influence in the song writing and music of a wide variety of artists; from acts like Pink Floyd to David Bowie, it is certainly not a new concept. While the younger fans seem unaffected by the news, simply sending him well wishes and eagerly awaiting the release of each new album, the older fans have taken it much more to heart.

Whether it is because they feel they can relate to him, or simply because they come from a generation where drug use was more shocking, the news seems to have hindered Billie Joe’s likability with his older fans. Comments found on articles about the singer’s current situation seem to show more concern about his family than the vocalist himself, reading ‘he does have teenagers and a wife to consider, he needs to grow up. He is not setting a good example’.

Many of his older fans were shocked by the news, with Sally Ellis, 37, saying ‘I was surprised when I find out about Billie Joe because he seems so family-orientated and I thought he’d grown up, leaving his drug days long behind him’. Nicola Jones, 44, agrees, believing that the singer should be more responsible. She states, ‘I have sympathy for his wife, who has been with him through everything and still has to put up with it, as well as the embarrassment that it must have caused his children’. She goes on to say that she believes that he is setting a particularly bad example for younger artists that look up to him as a role model, including the singer’s own son Joey, who is in a band of his own. From this, it seems clear that Armstrong’s older fans are much more concerned about the well-being of his family and how the singer’s behaviour has affected them.

The shock from older fans could also be as a result of the younger generation having a much greater exposure to the destruction of celebrities and their families caused by addiction. In the past, we were more sheltered, as the media did not follow celebrities with the intensity that they do today. With artists such as Amy Winehouse and Pete Doherty being constantly hounded throughout their careers by the paparazzi trying to figure out every detail about their habits, it is not a surprise that the younger generation has become almost desensitised by the whole aspect of drugs within the world of musicians and celebrities as a whole. A representative from the Amy Winehouse Foundation, a charity set up to prevent the effects of drug and alcohol misuse on young people, claims ‘While a degree of drug use is generally accepted by the majority of musicians, when it becomes abuse, it always has a negative outcome. So much talent is wasted when drugs or alcohol take a life early and it certainly doesn’t help that the paparazzi are constantly documenting the fall of each celebrity that has issues with substance abuse.’

The Green Day singer is certainly not the first rock star to have struggled with addiction after kicking the habit for his family. The likes of Ozzy Osbourne, Brian Molko, and of course Courtney Love, have all attempted to give up drugs for the sake of their families, even if they didn’t always succeed. Love’s trouble with drugs was certainly among the most famous; the Hole singer was constantly in a battle to stop the habit in order to be a stable parent for her daughter, Frances Bean Cobain. The younger Cobain was once quoted as saying ‘Having a cool mom isn’t always fun’, referring to how the idea of ‘sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll’ is perceived as ‘cool’ by younger generations, but is a completely different matter when a parent follows that lifestyle. While Armstrong’s addiction and in fact his way of handling the situation is very different to that of Love’s, this particular quote seems fitting.

Meanwhile, Armstrong’s younger fans seem to be taking his condition in their stride. Twenty year old, Emily Reed, was not phased in the slightest, ‘drugs are a big part of rock ‘n’ roll, it’s not really a shocking realisation that Billie Joe got caught up in the lifestyle that’s sort of expected nowadays’. Her lack of surprise shows just how much the younger fans seem to take it for granted that drug use is simply a part of the world of rock music. One comment left on a fan site for the band’s younger fans, even stated ‘every time someone in a band goes sober, the whole thing falls apart. Think of the music, and keep on the drugs’. It seems shocking that younger fans think of the singer’s addiction as a good thing; that he needs it in order to create good music. What is even more worrying is that the writer of this comment seems to be more concerned about the future of the band than about the health of the singer himself.

It appears that while his addiction has not yet greatly affected Billie Joe Armstrong’s career, or his loyal younger fan base, it has certainly thwarted his reputation with a majority of his older fans. This is seemingly due to the fact that different generations have very different priorities; while the older fans immediately think of the ways in which the problem has affected his family and how the singer has become a much lesser role model for his teenage audience, the younger fans are much less worried and simply see drugs as less of a problem and more of a part of the lifestyle.

So ultimately, is there a correct opinion, or does it simply depend on the outlooks of different generations? The older fans are essentially worried about the way in which the lifestyle affects those related to the artist, while trying to protect the younger audience from an accepted culture of drug taking. On the contrary, the younger generation take a more blasé approach, as they are much more at ease with the situation and if anything, expect nothing less from their favourite musicians.

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