Wake Me Up When September Ends Song Meaning ( See Actual Lyrics)
When you're listening to "American Idiot," Wake Me Up When September Ends always comes as a bit of a weird change of pace after the in-your-face super-charged punk styles of Letterbomb. It's also the only song on the album that doesn't seem to fit seamlessly into the whole Jesus of Suburbia / St. Jimmy / Whatsername storyline.
This incongruity may be due to the fact that this is one of the most personal songs Billie Joe Armstrong has ever written. In an interview on VH1, Billie Joe says the song is about his feelings surrounding the death of his father, who died of cancer when Billie Joe was ten years old. He says that it is a tough song to play in concert, which is why they always play it at the end.
"Like my father's come to pass / Twenty years has gone so fast / Wake Me Up When September Ends." These lines are a painful testament to the life-changing grief that afflicts us like a disease when someone we love dies. You just want to shut the world off. Curl up in bed, and wake up when things are better.
And because of the cyclical way in which the years pass, the perennial anniversary of a death - accompanied as it is by changing seasons, falling leaves, shorter days - is like a scab being pulled off an old wound again and again, even after twenty years.
But why, then, does Billie Joe first sing about how "seven years has gone so fast"? It's likely that the memories of his father make him think of his own role as a father to two young sons. Already they are nearing the age where Billie Joe lost his dad, and as all parents do when they watch their kids grow up, he's probably wondering where the time has gone.
Kickass songwriters that they are, Green Day's music never has just one simple meaning. Before they play Wake Me Up When September Ends in concert, Billie Joe often dedicates the song to Johnny Ramone, who died on September 15th, 2004.
That the song is about not just losing fathers, but father-figures and role-models like Johnny Ramone, makes sense in the context of the line "Like my fathers come to pass." The first time this lyric appears, there's no apostrophe before the 's,' which suggests that Billie Joe is talking about fathers / male role-models, in general. He wrote this song before Johnny died, but then when it happened in September, it was the perfect tribute to a dead punk hero.
In this sense, Wake Me Up When September Ends is a song about generations - the responsibilities, and the pain, that each new generation goes through as it follows, and then ultimately, supersedes the last. Like the traveling of the seasons and the years, the whole process has this savage inevitability to it that is one of the great tragedies of our existence as sentient beings on this mortal coil.
Consider, then, the larger context of this song. September is not just a sad month for Billie Joe. In the new millennium, September has hosted some of the worst catastrophes the US has experienced in a long time. In 2001, there was 9/11. And then, in September 2005, the southern states reeled in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. "The innocent can never last," then comes to mean that even in the United States - land of promise, land of opportunity - war and death and destruction can, and do, take their toll.
9/11, and the war on terrorism that followed it, informs, in large part, the politics on the "American Idiot" album. In a way, you could say that we're all still trapped back in 9/11, the repercussions of that fatal time reverberate and impact the most mundane events of our daily lives. Considered in this light, Wake Me Up When September Ends takes on a whole new meaning. Wake me up when the nightmare is over. Wake me up when this bullshit war is over.
This understanding of the song is supported by the video, which tells the emphatically anti-war protest story of a young couple torn apart when the guy joins the marines and goes to fight in Iraq. A lot of people criticize the video for being cheesy and overdramatic, but as many others in that situation have said, it doesn't seem so cheesy when you know what it's like to have people over there.
Sam Bayer, the video director, says he and Billie Joe agreed that the song is "all about youth and dreams and bonds that get broken." Whether this brokenness comes from the death of a father, the death of a hero, the death of a community, or the death of a dream of peace, Wake Me Up When September Ends captures the moment of despair and hopelessness when you just want to fuck it all, hide your head and hope that when you emerge from your grief, things will be better.
Unfortunately, as the song says, "my memory rests / But never forgets what I've lost." We can't just pretend something didn't happen. However, there is a right way to react, and a wrong way. Wake Me Up When September Ends seems to suggest a period of mourning, followed by a time of renewal and peace: "Ring out the bells again / Like we did when spring began."
The issue is death. You can't fight it. You can't make it better by waging war on it. But you can move on. You can let September end, the way it's supposed to, the way seasons and years roll by, naturally. Of course you'll never forget, shit is fucked, and nothing will ever be the same again, but as Billie Joe tells us, 20 years after the death of his father, now with children of his own, it is possible to go on, to live despite death, and "become who we are" in the best way possible, impacted by tragedy, but not controlled by it.