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Being an adult is difficult. Being a creative adult even more so. When you’re a child, the adults in your life tell you to follow your dreams with tired idioms such as, “the sky’s the limit,” and, “where there’s a will there’s a way.” Once you hit 25 or 30, you learn better. Life has a funny way of beating down the dreamer in the best of us; life has a way of breaking our dreams.
For musicians, the road to professional independence through their music is one of the hardest anyone travels. Billie Joe Armstrong and his band Green Day began as a punk rock band in 1987, yet didn’t see the light of day until they released Dookie
in 1994. For those of you not counting, that’s 7 years of endless touring and virtually nothing to show for it.
By now, of course, they’re one of the world’s best-selling groups of all time, having sold almost 100 million albums, won five Grammys, and had a stage adaptation for their album American Idiot
debut on Broadway in 2010 (also nominated for 3 Tony Awards). It’s hard to imagine the struggles Green Day dealt with in their early days, but thankfully Armstrong chronicles some of these hardships in the lyrics for one of his masterpieces, "Boulevard of Broken Dreams."American Idiot,
hit #1 as soon as it was released in 2004 – ten years following Dookie
. Labeled as a punk-rock opera, the concept is about a fictional man named Jesus of Suburbia and depicts modern American life under control of an idiot president (modeled after George W. Bush). Armstrong drew a lot from various sources when composing this work of art. He gives different perspectives on the everyman, icons and icon worship, as well as misuse of propaganda in politics.
The centerpiece of the album is "Boulevard," whose bleak and somber imagery illustrates a lonely man walking down an empty road far above a bustling metropolis. Incidentally, the preceding track is "Holiday" – an antithesis track – depicting the same man high on the city, before the subsequent "crash." The question remains, however, where is the Boulevard of Broken Dreams? What was Armstrong’s influence for the lyrics? This writer has a theory.
There is an intersection of two highways in Southern California, just outside the town of Cholame. State Highways 41 and 46 converge and it was here that tragedy struck on September 30th, 1955, when college student Donald Turnupseed crashed into an oncoming Porsche 550 Spyder. That Porsche belonged to actor James Dean.
James Dean Memorial
(Crash site was about 900 yards north of tree)
The bittersweet career of the Indiana native lasted for only three films: Rebel Without a Cause, East of Eden,
. But for some strange reason over the past 60 years, Dean’s evolved into a cultural icon. He didn’t seem to share his fans’ passion for acting as much as auto racing and he desired to return to the sport since Warner Brothers barred him from it during filming. Scheduled to compete in an event on October 1st of that same year, Dean felt his Porsche lacked "break-in" miles. He wanted to get more time behind the wheel.
Dubbed Racer’s Road, the highway he took to get to Salinas for the race was known to be a shortcut for sports car drivers. At 85 mph, there wasn’t time or space for any of Dean’s racing maneuvers to save him, and at 5:45 p.m. he collided – virtually head on – with a 1950 Ford Tudor coupe. His Spyder flipped into the air and landed in a gully. After his death, he became the first actor to receive an Academy Award for Best Actor posthumously (recently Heath Ledger won another for his portrayal of the Joker in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight
Could Racer’s Road and the death of James Dean been influential in Armstrong’s concept of the Boulevard of Broken Dreams? It seems possible, if not likely. Both Armstrong and Dean were in creative fields (music and acting respectively). Both also struggled with success and fame early in their careers. Armstrong’s career has lasted over three decades while Dean’s lasted only three films. His death not only ended his dreams, but the dreams of his millions of fans.
There may not be a connection at all, but I like to think that art not only imitates life, but also imitates art. I’m comforted by the fact that musicians and writers have the ability to pull passion and emotion out of tragic, real-life events. It makes the art that much more valuable and worth saving.
~ Justin Novelli
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