On the scene: Green Day's "Working Class Hero" video shoot

Billie_lFor some viewers, one of the unexpected highlights of last night’s Idol finale was surely Green Day’s performance of their new cover of what may well have been John Lennon’s finest solo tune, "Working Class Hero." It was a powerful rendition, restrained yet full of intensity — everything your average Idol moment ain’t, in other words. It even came with a good cause: Green Day recorded the song for Instant Karma: The Campaign to Save Darfur, an all-star compilation of new Lennon covers whose proceeds will go toward ending the ongoing genocide in Sudan. (The CD will be in stores June 12; you can already donate $0.99 by buying Green Day’s single or R.E.M.’s "#9 Dream" cover on iTunes. To raise even more money for Darfur, Green Day have designed a limited-edition "Working Class Hero" t-shirt available soon at Hard Rock Cafe.) You couldn’t have asked for a better proof that the show’s commitment to social justice extends beyond their special "Idol Gives Back" episode — or that Green Day are rapidly becoming this decade’s most eloquent protest musicians.

A few weeks back, I was able to sit in on a shoot for Green Day’s "Working Class Hero" music video in Brooklyn. Billie Joe and his bandmates weren’t there, unfortunately — they’d already filmed their scenes on the West Coast — but what I saw there was far more compelling than any lip-synched performance could have been. Director Sam Bayer, Amnesty International representatives, various crew members, and several survivors of the Darfur conflict had gathered in the spacious, light-filled studio. Grouped together in twos and threes, the refugees stepped before Bayer’s cameras to talk about the horrors that have befallen their homeland — truly harrowing stuff. "I’m lucky to escape to USA," Assad Doutoum, who left Darfur last September, told me after filming his part. "But I miss my wife, my family — my sister, my brother, my mother, my father — I don’t know exactly where they are now, [whether] they died. I wish by this project to send my message to all the people, to know what is happening in Darfur. It’s still happening now."

Later on, Bayer — an accomplished director whose long list of credits includes iconic videos from the ’90s (Nirvana’s "Smells Like Teen Spirit"; Blind Melon’s "No Rain"; Smashing Pumpkins’ "Bullet With Butterfly Wings") to the present day (all the videos for Green Day’s 2004 LP American Idiot; Justin Timberlake’s "What Goes Around…"), sat down for an exclusive on-set chat about Lennon’s legacy, honoring the survivors’ experiences, and why this clip could be his last.

addCredit(“Billie Joe Armstrong: Frank Micelotta/American Idol/Getty”)

PopWatch: How did you become involved with this project?
Sam Bayer:
Well, I’ve worked with Green Day a bunch in thepast, and an old friend of mine from Warner Bros. came to me withthis. And as soon as they started talking about doing something to helpDarfur, I was in. If you can educate some people out there andentertain them at the same time, I think it’s a really good thing.

What’s this video going to look like when it’s done?
I look at this old John Lennon footage, like the sit-in in ’68, and there’s very much a pseudo-documentary quality to thatstuff, like handheld 16mm film. So we’re doing the video in black andwhite, and I’m trying to keep the spirit of John Lennon in the footage.I think it’s got the feeling of something that could have been made inthe late ’60s, early ’70s — you know, when people gave a s— aboutchanging the world. And that I really mean.

How will today’s footage fit into the video?

I want to cut some of [the survivors'] stories into the video, andI want MTV to play this. We were choking up filming it. If I can getone soundbite — the guy that told me his father got killed in front ofhim was making me tear up. I think that this can be a really importantvideo. These people have a lot of courage.

How does making a video like this compare to making a typical pop video?
Oh, I mean, this is actually worthwhile. I’m trying to givesomething back. And it’s completely different. I want people to buy therecord, if people still buy records.

What else do you have coming up? I can’t imagine what it must be like to follow up this kind of project.
I think this will probably be the last music video I ever make.You’re asking me — it’s kind of impossible to go back. It’d be very hardto go back and do another music video after this.

Comments (103 total) Add your comment
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  • A Fan of SVL and Billie Joe

    True. Green Day’s performance was soberly awesome, and the cause couldn’t be nobler.
    The question is, will Americans be able to wrench them self away from the latest celeb-drama or reality TV spectacle to care?
    Here’s to Billie Joe for trying.

  • Ron Mexico

    Nice post, Fan. Unfortunately, I don’t have that much faith in my fellow Americans.
    Remember, this was the same bunch that paused for all of about one month after 9/11. After that, they were back to cutting each other off in traffic and giving each other the finger.
    I’m thinking Darfur isn’t high on the priority list. Hell, New Orleans isn’t high on the priority list, and that’s not on the other side of the ocean.

  • Dio_K

    The most amazing band, ever. Americans are becoming more aware of the chaos we’ve created as well as the general chaos in a perpetually changing world. Happy that Green Day is one of the groups willing and able to “give back”. I may be in the minority, but I find most people, at least around me, give of their time, money and thoughts to making the world better.

  • Lennon Lover

    Shame on Green Day. I will in no way support a band that openly attacks the President of my country and then asks me to support a cause that I am sure he is only a mouthpeice for. Watching Billy Joe sing “Working Class Hero” was a joke. He is the complete opposite of every blue collar worker in THIS COUNTRY. He is out of touch and hasn’t a clue.

  • dma69

    Lennon believed in giving peace a chance. You call yourself a Lennon Lover yet you support our President? Talk about an oxymoron…

  • dma69

    Lennon believed in giving peace a chance. You call yourself a Lennon Lover yet you support our President? Talk about an oxymoron…

  • Lennon Lover

    I’ll clarify. I am crazy about John Lennon’s music and think he was a genius. But the adoration stops there because his call for peace and respect for the “working man” was hypocritical. He was just like every other liberal “artist” at the time, and we are simply seeing the same thing now. The only difference is men like John Lennon and Bob Dylan were talented. Green Day is awful and unoriginal. Calling the President an American Idiot is akin to a small child telling his parents he hates them because they won’t buy him his favortie toy.

  • Ron Mexico

    Wow, Lennon Lover, I think I might have to respectfully disagree with you just a smidge. I think if anyone is out of touch, it would be our President.
    75% of us oppose the war, over 80% of us oppose amnesty for illegal aliens, 70% of us are in favor of stem cell research. He is on the opposite side of all of these issues – and those are just three that I came up with off the top of my head.
    Who is really out of touch?

  • Ron Mexico

    And before you go getting snarky on me, Lennon Lover, let me just clarify that I am working class, I am a veteran, and I am a huge of neither John Lennon or Green Day.

  • C’mon People

    Stop the squabbling. Unfortunately without celebrities who may or may not be simple mouthpieces for Darfur and other causes, we would not know about them. Aside from buying the single and/or CD, I hope this prompts people to do a little research on what’s going on outside our borders. Hate is a very powerful motivator.

  • Dio_K

    Hey, Lennon Lover, no one is asking you to vote for Green Day or buy their records. They’re trying to raise money for a good cause. You don’t have to support that either.
    And FYI – you don’t own blue collar. I was raised blue collar as were the members of Green Day. Feel free to support the president, but don’t feel free to speak for me.

  • Ron Mexico

    My only complaint with the whole Darfur thing is that New Orleans is still in a total state of disrepair. I’m all for helping out globally, but I think we need to fix ourselves as well.

  • Lennon Lover

    Your statistics are out of touch, Ron Mexico. I assume you frequent CNN and MSNBC for your information. Why is it that when celebrities begin endorsing causes, the American public chooses to support them? Why is it ok to support a cause like Darfur but not ok to support a cause that could keep our country safe from terrorists?
    And for the 80% of you that oppose amnesty for illegal aliens (especially if you are blue collar); how did your family get here? The wave of Italian immigrants (both legal and illegal) in the 19th and 20th centuries exceeds anything we are seeing today. But yeah, let’s kick out of everyone who doesn’t belong here so they don’t drain our resources and meanwhile use said resources on other people in the world we consider more deserving.
    Look – Green Day can do whatever they want because this is a free country. I just with they were more appreciative of that right.

  • Lennon Lover

    And before I get yelled at: I think what is happening in Darfur, and lots of other places around the world, is heartbreaking. I just don’t understand why our country gets slammed for not supporting enough global causes and then slammed again for being too imperialistic.

  • Lennon Lover

    And before I get yelled at: I think what is happening in Darfur, and lots of other places, is heartbreaking. I just don’t understand why our country gets slammed for not supporting certain global causes and slammed for at the same time for being too imperialistic.

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