Green Day’s “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” Lyrics Meaning
To begin with, “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” is a song about loneliness. It has been interpreted in various ways, including macrocosmically to point to the grand idea of the loss of the American Dream.
But its primary author, Billie Joe Armstrong, penned it at a time when he was “feeling alone” and about in New York City. And he decided to include it on American Idiot, a Green Day concept album, because he felt it conforms to the project’s overall themes of escapism and inner conflict.
Or put differently, with that in mind we can presume that the narrator has chosen his own path which resulted in him “walk(ing) alone”. And said journey would be the result of him trying to escape from something, which we can most generally classify as an unsatisfactory life, in pursuit of his “dreams”.
But along the way, on top of them being “broken”, as in not coming to pass in a manner which actually depresses him, he also finds himself suffering from a harrowing loneliness. And it is that latter aspect which alludes to this character, in the words of Armstrong, “fighting (his) own inner demons”.
Or stated otherwise, said loneliness would be at least partially attributable to a personality flaw on his behalf. And perhaps we can go out on a limb by asserting that said flaw, based on the chorus for instance, is akin to timidness, particularly as far as socializing is concerned. And such a characteristic can in fact develop in someone who finds themselves in a completely alien environment as has the subject of this song, the fictional Jesus of Suburbia.
At the end of the day
So in breaking all of the above down, what we have here is a narrator who has just moved to a new environment – from the suburbs to the big city to be exact.
Such suburb-to-urban drifts almost inevitably means that the person involved is in search of a more-edifying life in some way, shape or form, which is in fact the case with Jesus of Suburbia. But the reality of the move has not lived up to the fantasy. And instead, what he has come to meet is a marked loneliness which is indicative of the overall ideological failure of the movement.
And whereas, keeping the whole American Idiot project in mind, this may be a metaphor speaking to the concept of the United States not being what it used to be, microcosmically and relatedly it is also reflective of what some people have literally gone through as individuals.
“I walk these empty street
On the Boulevard of Broken Dreams
Where the city sleeps
And I’m the only one and I walk alone”
Facts about “Boulevard of Broken Dreams”
This track is from Green Day’s highly celebrated concept album American Idiot (2004). This was a Reprise Records release that came out on the date of 29 November 2004. That is also the same day upon which “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” was issued as the second single from the project. Four other singles were released from this album. One of them was “Wake Me Up When September Ends“.
The primary writer of this song is recognized as Billie Joe Armstrong, who is the lead singer of Green Day. And his bandmates Mike Dirnt and Tré Cool also contributed to its composition.
Additionally the three of them produced the track, though as a unit under the Green Day moniker. And in that regard they worked alongside regular collaborator Rob Cavallo.
The title of this song was indirectly inspired by a famous painting of the same name by an European artist named Gottfried Helnwein. And the reason we say indirectly is because Billie Joe Armstrong did get the title from a Helnwein painting alright. However, it was one that was mislabeled “Boulevard of Broken Dreams”.
The Helnwein painting that is officially entitled “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” depicts James Dean (1931-1955) alongside Humphrey Bogart (1899-1957), Marilyn Monroe (1926-1962) and Elvis Presley (1935-1977) and was painted in 1984. But the mislabeled one that Armstrong got the name from featured Dean alone and was apparently a replica of an old photo of the actor dating back to 1948.
Basically someone took Helnwein’s James Dean solo painting and slapped “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” on top, even though that isn’t it’s actual title. However, Armstrong apparently thought that it was.
Success of “Boulevard of Broken Dreams”
Green Day, a band that originated in California, has been around since 1987. And as of the writing of this post in 2021, “Boulevard of Broken Dreams”, which peaked at number 2, marks the highest they ever reached on Billboard Hot 100.
It did appear on seven other Billboard lists though, topping six of them. And the tune also topped the UK Rock and Metal Chart and music charts in the Czech Republic and Canada. And in total it charted in about 20 nations, achieving platinum status in Australia and Canada.
This song is also responsible for the only time Green Day had managed to win a Record of the Year Grammy Award during their heyday. And said accolade was received in 2006.
In 2009 the readers of Rolling Stone ranked “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” the ‘Single of the Decade’ as far as the aughts were concerned.
The music video to the track, which was put together by director Samuel Bayer, also proved quite successful in its own right, particularly as far as MTV is concerned. That is to say that it took home a whopping six MTV VMAs in 2005. Topping it all off was of course being named Video of Year. However, it also emerged victorious in the following “Best” fields:
- Group Video
- Rock Video
In other words, it won in every category that it was nominated in.
During said MTV ceremony Green Day pulled up in the same car, a modified 1968 Mercury Monterey, that was featured in the music video. And they had also used this automobile on the video for “Holiday”, the single the band put out after “Boulevard of Broken Dreams”.
The ever-colorful Noel Gallagher of Oasis indirectly but intentionally dissed Green Day in 2005. And that is because there are notable sonic similarities between “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” and a track that Oasis put out in 1995 entitled “Wonderwall“. However, Gallagher never went as far to file a lawsuit or anything like that.
A live version of this song can also be found on Green Day’s 2005 Bullet in a Bible project. Amongst the artists who have covered this song is the German choir band Gregorian, who did so in 2006. And in terms of pop media, it has appeared on the likes of Smallville (2004) and The Office (2009).
Here is a list of countries where this Green Day song was a top-10 hit:
- Czech Republic
- New Zealand
- United Kingdom
- United States
I wonder if the title of the song from the painting – if the painting’s title was taken from the ending of the book “Hollywood Babylon” by Kenneth Anger (1975)