Jesus of Suburbia: A Metaphor for the Five Stages of Grief?

Dearly beloved, are you listening?

Green Day’s 2004 rock opera Jesus of Suburbia is an explosive and cathartic nine minutes of pure punk rock angst and killer guitar riffs. Composed of 5 separate parts that all come together to tell a cohesive story, Jesus of Suburbia is about a scrappy kid trying to escape the trappings of suburban life and flee to the city. Coincidentally, I’m a scrappy kid trying to escape the trappings of suburban life and flee to the city! I’ve been listening to it a whole lot more recently. On my latest re-listen, I noticed that each of the five parts of the song directly correlate with the Kubler-Ross five stages of grief, a psychological model created in the 60s to analyze how the human mind deals with grief. It’s legitimacy has been widely debated within the psychological community, but it’s pretty neat nonetheless. In order, they are Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. In this case, our main man Jesus (metaphorically speaking of course, this song really likes its biblical allegories) is grieving over his broken home and community. 

 

The song’s intro cleanly lines up with Denial. Grievers spend their first few thoughts outright denying their loss, and Jesus is no different. He laments his toxic and decrepit hometown while at the same time denying its effects on his psyche. The chorus of this part of the song is Jesus proclaiming that “there’s nothing wrong with me / this is how I’m s’posed to be”. This is very clearly Jesus denying that his hometown is a serious problem. We can see this throughout the whole intro as he tells us about it, with numerous allusions to using drugs to stave off boredom. Try as he might to deny it, Jesus can no longer ignore the problems that surround him or his feelings. This leads us out of Denial and into the next stage of grief.

 

The next part of the song is the stage of Anger, where grievers lash out in frustration. Jesus can no longer deny the soulless tragedy of his community and his response is pure, hotblooded rage. He calls his hometown the “city of the damned”, he says that it’s “motto was just a lie”, and at this point in the music video Billie Joe Armstrong begins to trash a music store in a destructive frenzy. Jesus is fed up, and rightfully so! He’s surrounded by apathy, contempt, and substance abuse, and he admits that his hometown is problematic. But he’s not out of the woods yet, because can’t quite figure out what to do about it! 

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His quest for a solution leads him to the third stage, Bargaining. The most abstract of the bunch, in this stage the griever will try to make “promises”, usually to God, but sometimes to others or even themselves. Here, Jesus pleads to the audience and himself that “I don’t care if you don’t care!” 13 times over, just in case you didn’t catch it the first time. Similar to the denial phase, Jesus has regressed into a mindset of trying to ignore the problem, but in a different way this time. He makes a “bargain” with us and himself, that if everyone simply stops caring about his situation, he’ll also stop caring, and everything will be alright again. Unfortunately for him we’ve made it this far and we’re not about to give up on him just yet, so we as the audience continue onwards.

 

This unsuccessful self bargaining leads to a brief moment of lucidity and clear thought as the intensity is dialed back for part 4. This stage is Depression, which needs no introduction. Jesus begins to doubt himself and his own senses, saying “Are we demented or am I disturbed? / The space that’s in between insane and insecure”. He sings about his experience with therapy and how he expects it to fill the void within him. Although therapy is helpful, the void he’s feeling can only truly be solved with one revelation. He’s spent the entire 6 and a half minutes not being able to describe exactly what he should do, but through therapy he finally reaches the last stage of grief.


Tales of Another Broken Home is the final part of the song and also final stage of grief; Acceptance. Grievers embrace mortality and achieve a state of calm, or in this case, rockin’ guitar solos. Jesus knows what he must do, and what the audience has been rooting for him to do since the beginning: Get out! “To live and not to breathe is to die in tragedy”, he sings. He’s finally realized that in order for his life to get better he has to leave his sorry hometown. He  accepts that his life won’t get better until he starts making his own decisions instead of letting suburbia crucify him. His penultimate verse is this realization manifested, singing “I don’t feel any shame, I won’t apologize / When there ain’t nowhere you can go / Running away from pain when you’ve been victimized / Tales from another broken home.” Jesus has overcome the five stages of grief and is beginning his path to better himself by leaving his broken hometown.

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Nicholas is a first year RTA Media Production student from Vaughan, Ontario. A former theatre kid who’s channeling that creative energy into the world of writing, he’s written and directed short films that have been accepted into the Vaughan Film Festival as part of their Student Initiative. He’s into movies, video games, politics, and he can make you a mean steak sandwich if you ask him nicely.