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Billie Joe Armstrong: I Had No More Choices
(Novus writes inspirational stories of people in the news who have overcome addiction. This is not to infer that these people are connected to Novus Medical Detox Center but simply to provide hope and encouragement to those fighting addiction.)
On September 21, 2012, in front of thousands of fans, Billie Joe Armstrong, lead singer and guitarist of the band Green Day, suffered an onstage, mid-song “meltdown” by suddenly screaming obscenities into the mike, smashing his guitar to pieces and storming off the stage.
Armstrong’s two band-mates were almost as shocked as the crowd at the iHeart Radio Music Festival in Las Vegas. But they knew more about what was happening than anyone else. It wasn’t the first meltdown, there’d been several recently.
Soul-searching after that event helped Armstrong decide to enter treatment for decades of alcoholism and prescription drug addiction. But it didn’t immediately repair the damage. His concert-ending rant also ended the band’s tour, crashing sales of their latest albums. And it almost ended his lifelong friendships with bassist Mike Dirnt and drummer Tre Cool.
Nevertheless, Armstrong entered outpatient rehab on September 24th, just three days after the appalling meltdown.
The birth of Green Day
Billie Joe Armstrong was born on February 17, 1972, in Oakland, CA and raised in Rodeo, CA, a small coastal town on San Pablo Bay roughly 15 miles north of Oakland. His dad was a part-time jazz musician, which may have influenced Armstrong’s interest in music from an early age.
By age 14, Armstrong was a proficient guitarist and song writer. With his best friend Mike Dirnt, also a guitarist, he formed a band that eventually became Green Day – named so because of their “fondness for marijuana” – with drummer Tre Cool.
The rest is history. By 1994 the band was world famous and by 2004 they were “huge,” as the promoters say. The album American Idiot blew the lid off, reaching No. 1 in 19 countries, selling 15 million copies. They’ve had their ups and downs, but have sold 60 million records worldwide.
But the pressure of touring and coming up with new material, coupled with the availability and acceptance of substance abuse in the business, wasn’t good for Armstrong. He told The Fix that he was pushing himself to keep up the pace, that “songwriting became this relentless thing, [I was] trying too hard,” and that he was fueling himself with alcohol and pills “to a point where I was surprised I would wake up in the morning.”
Drinking and drugs became routine.
The Rolling Stone interview
A few months after getting out of rehab, Armstrong agreed to an interview with Rolling Stone magazine. For the first time he really opened up about his near-20 year battle with alcohol and drugs. He was combining anxiety and sleep meds “to a point where I didn’t know what I was taking during the day and what I was taking at night…My backpack sounded like a giant baby rattle” from all of the pills inside.
Some people can have a couple of drinks and walk away. Not Armstrong.
“I couldn’t predict where I was going to end up at the end of the night. I’d wake up in a strange house on a couch. I wouldn’t remember how. It was a complete blackout,” he said. “I’ve been trying to get sober since 1997…but I didn’t want to be in any programs. Sometimes, being a drunk, you think you can take on the whole world by yourself. This [the iHeart / Las Vegas meltdown] was the last straw. I had no choices anymore.”
A sober future
Since that rehab a few years ago, Armstrong has partnered with longtime Green Day associate Bill Schneider, of the punk band Pinhead Gunpowder, to establish a guitar shop in Oakland called Broken Guitars. Also in 2015, Armstrong and Mike Dirnt launched Oakland Coffee Works, a company that sells organic coffee beans using organic, compostable bags and pods.
His latest album, Revolution Radio, was released last September – the band’s first studio album since 2009. It debuted at number one on the Billboard 200, and number one in the UK, Ireland, Italy, Canada and New Zealand. Pointing to the longevity of some other bands like The Rolling Stones, Armstrong said he expects to be playing with Green Day into his 50s and on.
Billie Joe Armstrong says he loves talking music with his two sons, Joseph and Jakob, now both musicians in their 20s.
Was the rehab – some of it at home with a hired nurse – tough on his wife, Adrienne? Rolling Stone asked if she might have “kicked him to the curb” if he’d skipped treatment.
“I’m sure the thought crossed her mind – that if I didn’t get sober, I could potentially lose all of that stuff. I could have lost the band too. I didn’t realize how destructive I was. I thought everybody was in on the joke. But I was the joke.”
At Novus, we hope that anyone who needs help with substance abuse will not wait until they have no more choices. There is lots of help available. All you have to do is ask.
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