retro record

LISTEN: That time Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong came out in the most punk rock way possible

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By the time they released their album Dookie in February 1994, Green Day had already built a name for themselves in the punk rock scene around San Francisco. At the time, they were still underground, but quickly developing a fan base with their energetic performances and catchy tunes.

One album changed all that, turning them from local heroes to global superstars.

Dookie is remembered to this day for its many hits, but among the title’s 14 tracks is a deeper cut that LGBTQ+ listeners have latched onto for decades.

“Coming Clean” sees frontman Billie Joe Armstrong opening up—coming clean—about his own sexuality. He isn’t explicit in the discussion, but songwriters don’t need to be in your face with what they’re trying to say. That’s the art of it all… but he certainly hints at what he might be going through.

The tune begins with the line “Seventeen, and strung out on confusion” which is a feeling many LGBTQ+ people can identify with. The confusion of not understanding what’s going on inside one’s self as they develop and become sexual beings is tough, and it’s one that Armstrong had to endure as well.

He continues that youth-minded thinking, singing, “I’ve found out what it takes to be a man / Well, Mom and Dad’ll never understand.” Here he also touches on masculinity and what society believes makes a man, which might not be in line with what Armstrong is feeling in his heart.

The lines that make it almost 100% clear what Armstrong is talking about—without giving everything away—are found in the second verse. There, the punk rocker croons, “Secrets collecting dust, but never forget / Skeletons come to life in my closet.”

The mere mention of secrets and the “closet” are enough to let his LGBTQ+ fans know what he’s really saying. It’s almost as if straight listeners can take one thing from this tune, while those who identify as queer will appreciate it on a completely different level.

In a 1995 interview with The Advocate, Armstrong wasn’t shy about opening up, and he didn’t need cryptic lyrics to talk about who he’s attracted to. “I think I’ve always been bisexual,” he stated, which was a big deal back then. He was a rock musician in the mid-’90s, and yet he wasn’t shy about confirming his same-sex love.

What makes “Coming Clean” even more amazing is the fact that it was released shortly before Armstrong was married—to a woman named Adrienne Nesser. His admission to the world that he’s attracted to men and women was brave enough, but to do so just before tying the knot was a seriously bold move.

“Coming Clean” is not remembered as a standout from Dookie, but that’s only because the CD spun off so many massive hits that are still beloved to this day. Tunes like “Basket Case,” “Welcome to Paradise,” and “When I Come Around” are some of the group’s biggest smashes.

And while they’re all excellent and honest compositions from Armstrong and company, “Coming Clean” will always be an exceptional and rare show of support for the LGBTQ+ community and what they go through from one of the world’s top rockers.

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