"Wake Me Up When September Ends"

A Review of Green Day's Stunning Video

Green Day "Wake Me Up When September Ends" cover
Courtesy Reprise

Acclaimed music video director Samuel Bayer successfully turns "Wake Me Up When September Ends," Green Day's elegy about the death of lead vocalist Billie Joe Armstrong's father, into a hymn to the pain suffered by the entire U.S. No specific political stance is advocated, and no solutions are given. The massive emotional pain of wartime is simply and effectively acknowledged in a very simple story of two young people.

The Pros

  • Captures the pain of the U.S. during wartime
  • The ambiguity of the storyline avoids didacticism
  • Green Day successfully brings young adults into the national debate over the Iraq War

The Cons

  • None



While Green Day was still reveling in leading the pack in nominations for the 2005 MTV Video Music Awards, they set the quality bar even higher with the video for the song "Wake Me Up When September Ends" from the landmark album American Idiot. Music video director Samuel Bayer (the man behind Nirvana's groundbreaking "Smells Like Teen Spirit" video) told MTV this video is "hands down the greatest thing I've ever done." It is difficult to disagree.

Although the song "Wake Me Up When September Ends" was written in memory of the father of Green Day's lead vocalist Billie Joe Armstrong, the music video heads in a different direction. It dives into the morass of conflicting emotions among Americans about the Iraq War. 

The 7-minute length of the video and the fact that young film stars Jamie Bell (Billy Elliot) and Evan Rachel Wood (The Upside Of Anger) were hired to play key roles indicates an effort to make something more epic than the standard music video. Samuel Bayer envisioned the video as a mini-movie.

Beyond somewhat standard footage of Green Day performing, the video is fleshed out by images of young romance and graphic battle scenes. The end of the clip's story is ambiguous, and this ambiguity gives "Wake Me Up When September Ends" much of its power.

Samuel Bayer was influenced to bring the idea of an Iraq War theme for the music video to Green Day after he talked to soldiers who signed up to fight in Iraq after watching a TV commercial.

Samuel Bayer also has said he was bored with typical music videos and wanted to create something that was more like a feature film. The "Wake Me Up When September Ends" music video was filmed in Los Angeles in March 2004.

For many, the U.S. was plunged into an ongoing national nightmare after the events of September 11, 2001, and they can empathize with the sentiment "Wake Me Up When September Ends."

Although the song originally was centered around Billie Joe Armstrong's personal tragedy, Samuel Bayer created his own powerful vision. His interpretation is brought to life with both strength and restraint and is likely to provoke tears, a visceral human response to pain.


Later in 2005, the song "Wake Me Up When September Ends" became frequently tied to the nightmare of Hurricane Katrina which struck the US on August 31, 2005. Green Day performed the song in September as part of a benefit concert for the victims of the hurricane.

A live version of the song was released and dedicated to the victims of Hurricane Katrina. Green Day performed "Wake Me Up When September Ends" live with U2's guitarist The Edge as part of the pregame show for the first NFL football game played at the Superdome in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina.

"Wake Me Up When September Ends" became Green Day's second top 10 pop hit from the landmark album American Idiot. It peaked at #6. It also climbed to #2 at alternative and adult pop radio. "Wake Me Up When September Ends" was the third top 10 pop hit from American Idiot in the UK.

The American Idiot album eventually inspired a Tony Award-winning musical. "Wake Me Up When September Ends" is included in the show and underscores the longing of the main characters in the musical. American Idiot is also considered a landmark in punk and rock music having won seven MTV Video Music Awards and two Grammy Awards.