Song Lyrics – Green Day – Boulevard of Broken Dreams
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Hello and welcome to Learn English Vocabulary. My name is Jack and I’m making this podcast for you to learn or revise English vocabulary. You can find a transcript of this podcast on LearnEnglishVocabulary.co.uk. There’s a page for this podcast with the transcript, an activity and a task for you to do in the comments section.
Today, I want to talk about a song which was requested by Udit. The song is Boulevard of Broken Dreams by the band Green Day. I was at school when Green Day’s first record on a major label was released and they were really popular. When I was first teaching, I used to take my guitar into class and we’d all sing together and Basket Case was a favourite, especially among my students from Spain. I really loved teaching those classes. I don’t think I was a very good teacher back then, but my classes were a lot of fun.
Boulevard of Broken Dreams
Let’s start with the title: Boulevard of Broken Dreams. This is very poetic. A boulevard is a wide road in a city that has trees planted along each side. The word came to English from French and it makes me think of broad city streets in Paris. There are several grand boulevards in Paris that were planted with lines of trees something like 300 years ago. They are grand and impressive city roads.
Young people often move to the city from the country to follow their dreams. Especially cities like Los Angeles where people go to try to make it in Hollywood. A dream is a hopeful plan for the future. Something that you want to do very much could be said to be a dream for you. If you imagine something you want in the future, you are dreaming about it, at least day dreaming. So the things that you find yourself imagining, that you really really want are your dreams.
A broken dream happens when someone gives up on a dream. So if you wanted to be a singer and you travelled to London and tried to find a band and a recording contract and gigs, but it didn’t work out and you gave up, that would be a broken dream. This is not a widely used phrase. As I said, it’s poetic, but it’s not too difficult to understand.
I looked it up and apparently, Green Day’s singer and guitarist Billie Joe Armstrong saw a painting by the artist Gottfried Helnwein called Boulevard of Broken Dreams and thought it would be a good song title. In fact, it was a song title before Green Day pinched it from the artist. It was the title of a song written for the 1936 film Moulin Rouge, though it was very different from Green Day’s song.
You can imagine a broad city tree lined street, where people with dreams of success in music, in movies or perhaps in something more personal go and their dreams are crushed so they give up. That would be a boulevard of broken dreams.
I’m now going to go through the rest of the lyrics and I’ll explain the interesting vocabulary and try to interpret the meaning as I go. The language in this song will be good for B1 learners.
The song starts:
I walk a lonely road
The only one that I have ever known
Don’t know where it goes
But it’s home to me, and I walk alone
Straight away, there are two words that people learning English often make mistakes with: lonely and alone. OK, so alone means without other people. It always comes after a verb. You can be alone. You can live alone. You can walk through the park alone. The adjective is not necessarily negative or sad, but it can have that sense. If you want to emphasize the solitary sense, you can say all alone. He lived all alone in a big house. She sat all alone waiting for her friends.
Before a noun, we use the adjective lone. You can use lone in the same way as solo or single. But it also emphasises a vulnerability or that the thing being described is an outsider. There was a TV series called the Lone Ranger which was a bit of a strange title because he actually had a Native American sidekick so he wasn’t alone, but he was an outsider.
Lonely describes a feeling of sadness from being alone. For me, it was a very specific feeling. I am lucky to have a wonderful family and so I never really feel lonely, but I did when I was younger and I don’t think it’s right to say that it’s just sadness caused by being alone.
A lonely road is an empty road that inspires feelings of loneliness. When you walk down a lonely road, you feel lonely. This is also one of the most cliched metaphors in art. The road or path you take is a metaphor for the direction of your life, the combination of the decisions you make are your road. People sometimes describe certain jobs or past times as lonely roads because they involve long periods of being on your own.
If you choose a life that is solitary, that leads you to spend a lot of time travelling, like a musician or an actor, perhaps, that might be a lonely road. Probably not if you are in a band and have bandmates who are close friends, but I think that’s the sense of the song.
It’s the only road that the singer has ever known. I guess this means he has been living this way for all of his life. He says he doesn’t know where it goes, but it’s home to me. This is a strange lyric. He doesn’t know where his life decisions are taking him, but this path he is on is home, which implies it’s a place where he’s happy and comfortable and safe, I mean, that’s what home means to me.
Let’s move on.
I walk this empty street
On the Boulevard of Broken Dreams
Where the city sleeps
And I’m the only one, and I walk alone
I don’t think I need to talk about any of the vocabulary again. So the singer says that the street is empty, which we already know, but now the street has a name: the boulevard of broken dreams. So his path through life is a path of broken dreams. I guess this means that in the past, he had lots of dreams, there were lots of things that he wanted in his life, but all these dreams and ambitions have failed.
It could also be a path that lots of people take that causes their dreams to break. For example, if you drink too much or start taking some drugs, especially opiates like heroin or other very addictive drugs, there is a good chance that it will mess with your dreams.
Or it could be about the pull of California and Los Angeles where so many hopeful actors go. The broken dreams could refer to the failed actors; the people who spent years trying to make a career in Hollywood. I think there must be lots of people with broken dreams in Los Angeles.
Where the city sleeps … When people say the city sleeps, they normally mean the night time, late at night when everyone is in bed and the city is quiet and the streets are empty.
I think I’m going to have to keep going with this song and look at some more lines because right now, I think the song is not about the singer and his choices. Let’s move on and see.
I walk alone, I walk alone
I walk alone, I walk a-
And then there’s the first chorus:
My shadow’s the only one that walks beside me
My shallow heart’s the only thing that’s beating
Sometimes, I wish someone out there will find me
‘Til then, I walk alone
A shadow is the dark place behind an object that is blocking the light. OK, that’s not a very good description. The dark place behind an object might be in the shadow of an object or it might be in the shade. However, if you see the dark shape of a person, cast by light shining behind them, that is their shadow. I have a projector and if you stand in front of it, it casts a shadow. You can make shapes with your hands; shadow puppets. My kids love playing in front of the light and seeing their shadows on the screen.
Beside means next to or at the side of. In the song, there’s a figurative meaning which is quiet common. He sings that his shadow is the only one that walks beside him. If someone stands beside someone else, it can mean they support them. There is another incredibly overused cliché: standing shoulder to shoulder, to imply complete support. The writer George Orwell mentioned this cliché as one that was over used at the time and demonstrated sloppy thought by the politicians, so sloppy that journalists back when Orwell was writing actually mocked politicians for using it.
My shallow heart is the only thing that’s beating. OK. This is a bit harder to work out. Shallow is an adjective. The literal meaning is not deep. In a swimming pool, you often have a shallow end and a deep end. The shallow end is about 1m deep. You can stand up in the shallow end and most of your body is out of the water. At the other end is the deep end which is often 2m deep so you can’t stand on the bottom with your head out of the water unless you are really tall. Shallow can also be used figuratively to mean simple and not serious.
The opposite, deep, can be used to say that something is very serious and complex and full of meaning. Some poetry is very deep and is designed to make you think about the world differently. Some is shallow and funny and is written to make you laugh. Normally, shallow is used negatively. The phrase shallow hearted can be used to say that someone is not capable of deep and serious thoughts and feelings. It appears in Shakespeare to describe some happy young boys who have no worries or fears. If you described someone as shallow, you might be saying that they don’t think about things. If you have a shallow heart, you might only be interested in having fun, in playing silly games and watching silly TV shows and action films. They certainly wouldn’t read poetry or be interested in the sort of art you find in galleries.
I think that this line tells us more about his character, but the fact that his shallow heart is the only thing that’s beating might just emphasize again that he’s alone. I’m not sure what else could be beating.
He sings that he wishes that someone out there will find him. Out there is an interesting phrase. It means anywhere that is not here. You sometimes hear people ask: is there anybody out there? It means outside, usually outside the door, but it’s not specific. It really means anywhere that’s out or away from here.
I think that the writer included this line because it sounds a bit desperate. It’s like asking: Is there anyone anywhere in the world, is there anyone out there? It’s interesting that he sings sometimes, I wish someone out there would find me. Not all the time. Most of the time, he says he feels at home on his lonely road, but sometimes he doubts it and wishes someone would find him.
In the next verse, he songs:
I’m walking down the line
That divides me somewhere in my mind
On the borderline
Of the edge, and where I walk alone
To divide, means to separate something into parts. You can divide money between people. A teacher might divide the class into small groups. Perhaps there is a river in the town or city that you live in that divides the city. I looked at a collocation dictionary and the first examples were all about ideas that divide people. For example, different religious beliefs might divide a community or … if there are controversial plans, perhaps for a new housing development, people might be divided about whether it’s a good idea or not.
The singer says he is walking the line that divides him somewhere in his mind. This means he is not convinced about the path he is taking. We have already seen that sometimes he wants to be found and not alone.
On the borderline. A borderline is the point or space between two different situations. Where two countries meet, you just have a border. We normally use borderline as an adjective to say that someone is in a condition that is between two categories. So a student in a school might be a borderline A grade student. This means that their grades are mostly As, but there are some lower grades so their teacher thinks they could be a B grade student. There are other conditions, like illnesses where the doctor might describe them as a borderline case if they are not sure about the diagnosis.
Normally, the word edge is used to describe the point or line when something ends. So you can talk about the edge of a table. My wife is alway moving drinks away from the edge of the table to stop my kids from pushing them off. So the edge describes the ends, as far as you can get from the centre while still being on the same surface. You can walk along the edge of a building or the edge of a cliff. It’s a dangerous place to be, because you could fall. So if you walk on the edge, you are in a dangerous place.
Let’s move on to the final verse:
Read between the lines
What’s fucked up, and everything’s alright
Check my vital signs
To know I’m still alive, and I walk alone
To read between the lines means to work out or discover the truth about something that’s implied but is not clear if only look at the situation quickly. So, you might use logic or empathy. I think usually, we use this phrase to talk about someone’s feelings or at least to infer from your knowledge of someone’s feelings what might be true. So if your friend is acting strangely but doesn’t want to say what’s wrong, you might have to read between the lines to work out what the problem is.
What’s fucked up. If something is fucked up it is broken. We also use it to describe situations that are morally unacceptable. If someone does something that’s really horrible, you might say that’s fucked up. The word fuck is an incredibly flexible verb that’s used in lots of different ways, but it is offensive, it’s a swear word. It’s one of the most offensive words so you should be very careful about using it. It would not be appropriate to use this phrase at work and as the root is a sexual swear word, you should be especially careful around children. However, if you visit the UK and go to a pub or spend time with adults, you will discover that it is used a lot.
Alright is a strange word. It is a common form of all right which just means OK or good. So in these two lines, the singer is saying you need to read between the lines, you need to infer what’s fucked up and wrong and what’s OK. I think that this suggests that this borderline path that the singer is on is not clear morally.
Your vital signs are the things that a doctor monitors when you are in hospital; your pulse and heart rate, your blood pressure, you temperature, that sort of thing. The singer says that you should check his vital signs to know that his is still alive.
After this, the lyrics repeat.
I’m not sure what the song means. We know that he is not sure about his choices, to be alone and follow the path he has chosen. He says that sometimes he wants someone to find him, that he’s on the edge, which implies the path is dangerous and also that you need to read between the lines, which I am trying to do here. I think that the path he is on is dangerous. He is isolated and unhappy.
I suppose this song is about the pursuit of dreams and how when you strike out on your own to try to achieve something, especially in music, perhaps, the journey is lonely and you can feel isolated and want people to know that you are still alive and need help and people. I’m not sure. The lyrics are certainly dark and the melody is quite haunting so it’s got a sad feeling. … Perhaps. What do you think? This is just my interpretation and I don’t think I’m very good at reading between the lines.
Thank you for listening this far. I hope you have found the language from this song interesting and that you can go away and look the song up on youtube and listen to the song with this vocabulary fresh in your mind. I will embed the video and the lyrics on the page for this podcast on Learn English Vocabulary where you’ll be able to read the transcript and say hi in the comments section.
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