Song Meaning, Song Lyrics and Music Analysis: “Broadway” (by The Goo Goo Dolls)

The Goo Goo Dolls Broadway SingleHere’s a rare non-Robby Goo Goo Dolls song that I didn’t like at all the first couple times I heard it. I caught phrases like “Broadway”, “old man’s bar”, and “drink it off your mind” and wrote this off as a song about people going out and getting drunk. And, well–it sorta is. Sorta. But while that is a facet of this song, it’s only a piece of the backdrop. As you might expect from one of the more popular and classic Goo Goo Dolls songs of all-time, this song is actually conveying an idea that’s quite a bit more interesting and meaningful than just a bunch of guys sitting around and getting drunk at the bar.

Music Video:

Lyrics:

Broadway is dark tonight
A little bit weaker than you used to be
Broadway is dark tonight
See the young man sitting
In the old man’s bar
Waiting for his turn to die

The cowboy kills the rock star
And Friday night’s gone too far
The dim light hides the years
On all the faded girls

Forgotten but not gone
You drink it off your mind
You talk about the world
Like it’s someplace that you’ve been

You see you’d love to run home
But you know you ain’t got one
‘Cause you’re livin’ in a world
That you’re best forgotten around here

Broadway is dark tonight
A little bit weaker than you used to be
Broadway is dark tonight
See the young man sitting
In the old man’s bar
Waiting for his turn to die

You choke down all your anger
Forget your only son
You pray to statues when you sober up for fun
Your anger don’t impress me
The world slapped in your face
It always rains like hell on the losers day parade

You see you’d love to run home
But you know you ain’t got one
‘Cause you’re livin’ in a world that you’re best forgotten
And when you’re thinkin’ you’re a joke
And nobody’s gonna listen
To the one small point
I know they been missin’ round here

Broadway is dark tonight
A little bit weaker than you used to be
Broadway is dark tonight
See the young man sitting
In the old man’s bar
Waiting for his turn to die

You see you’d love to run home
But you know you ain’t got one
‘Cause you’re livin’ in a world that you’re best forgotten
And when you’re thinkin’ you’re a joke
Do you think that they’ll listen
To the one small point
I know they been missin’ round here

Broadway is dark tonight
A little bit weaker than you used to be
Broadway is dark tonight
See the young man sitting
In the old man’s bar
Waiting for his turn to die

Analysis:

Let’s start with the basics: What is “Broadway” exactly? My first thought was that “Broadway” was talking about the famous NYC Broadway street, which is a constant nexus of bright lights, life, and cultural activity. But of course, there are layers here.  Many Broadway streets exist in many towns in America (not coincidentally including Buffalo, NY, where Robby Takac and John Rzeznik are from). Traditionally Broadway is a main street in towns, filled with entertainment in the form of shows, restaurants, and bars.

With that in mind, let’s look at the main chorus: “Broadway is dark tonight”. Given that Broadway is supposed to be constantly ‘lit up’ with activities and events occurring, the notion that Broadway is dark seems to be a contradiction and leads to several questions: Why is Broadway dark? Why aren’t things happening on Broadway? If the people who should be on Broadway aren’t there, then where are they? And why?

We come upon the enigmatic line “A little bit weaker than you used to be”. It’s ambiguous whether the “you” is referring to Broadway itself, or an individual that this song is about, or perhaps even both. Taking it a step further, the line could refer to youth in general. Regardless, the line implies that the subject has deteriorated from a previous state and is now less than what it used to be.

That leads us into the most suggestive part of the chorus: “See the young man sitting/In the old man’s bar”–Here we have an interesting paradox going on. We have a young man, someone typically characterized as being vital and alive, being compared to an old man, usually depicted as being worn down and tired. In addition, it’s stated that the young man is “waiting for his turn to die”, which is certainly atypical of what you’d expect from a vital youth. Coupled with the prior lines, we start to see a picture forming. Here’s someone young who is sitting around acting ‘old’ and being idle, who also happens to be “a little bit weaker than you used to be”.

“The cowboy kills the rock star” is an interesting line, as it goes against the course of history. Cowboys and westerns were popular in American culture for many years, before interest in rock and roll and music “killed” westerns by taking people’s attention and interest away from them. This line is a reversal of the natural order of events. This reversal is analogous to that of the lines “See the young man sitting/In the old man’s bar/waiting for his turn to die”. This is not the way that events are meant to transpire, but even so, it’s the reality of what is occurring.

The dim light hides the years/On all the faded girls”–Again, perception is not aligning with reality here. Young, good-looking women are the object of a man’s desire, but in this instance the girls only appear to be young and beautiful when they’re really old and “faded”–it’s a trick of the light. But diving a little bit deeper, we can see the young man in the bar desiring something that is not nearly as it appears to be as being symbolic of people wanting something that they don’t fully understand and which isn’t necessarily what they truly want.

Drinking (alcohol) takes one’s mind off of their problems–“forgotten but not gone”–but the act of making one’s self forget about problems doesn’t do anything to solve those problems. “You talk about the world/Like it’s someplace that you’ve been” is a complementary paradoxical pair of lines: You can’t accurately talk about something first-hand that you haven’t done or experienced yourself, just as you can’t solve your problems by pushing them out of your mind.

“You pray to statues when you sober up for fun”. Taken out of context, the concept of praying to statues is something that sounds illogical, like a crazy thing someone drunk would do. However, within society the socially acceptable (and paradoxical) thing to do is to pray to statues.

“Forget your only son” is an ironic line because it goes against conventional societal norms. Depending upon the culture you come from, often daughters or younger children tend to be ignored or forgotten much more than older children, particularly the eldest son. Traditionally, the eldest son is the one who inherits the family’s position and carries the responsibility for the family’s business.

Finally, let’s talk about anger. The dictionary definition of anger is “a feeling of great annoyance or antagonism as the result of some real or supposed grievance”. The first line in the song about anger is “You choke down all your anger”. This line sparks a couple of different thoughts. When one is angry, it’s possible to lash out and behave in negative ways one normally wouldn’t, such as violently. At the same time, when acting out of anger, it’s also possible to express ideas or emotions that would usually be kept in check. So in some ways, acting on anger is a positive thing–it allows one to release things that might otherwise be repressed, and thus carries the possibility of changing the conditions that have created the anger in the first place. The line “you choke down all your anger” implies impotence and a lack of action, as if the speaker believes that anger is something that should be expressed. This is supported by the follow-up line, “Your anger don’t impress me”–the speaker isn’t impressed, as the subject is just repressing their anger and failing to utilize it to any constructive end. The lines that follow, “The world slapped in your face/It always rains like hell on the losers’ day parade” indicate general circumstances that are angering and provoking the subject, and yet the subject is holding his back his anger and not doing anything to change his situation.

Now let’s put it all together.

Summary: From the analysis, it’s pretty clear that “Broadway” is a song about paradox and cognitive dissonance. It is a song about people doing things that they know that they shouldn’t but choose to do anyway, but also a song about people not choosing to do things that they should do. Human beings don’t always act in their own best interests–they fall into emotional and psychological traps and often fail to meet their own potential. Hence the answer to the essential questions I posed earlier: “Why is Broadway dark? Why aren’t things happening on Broadway? If the people who should be on Broadway aren’t there, then where are they? And why?” Broadway is dark because people aren’t out fulfilling their potential and being all that they can be in the world. They know that they should be doing different and better things, but they’re wasting their lives and promise away instead due to their own flawed humanity. The theme of this song is actually recursive, as the song doesn’t suggest any sort of change in the subject or revolution in humanity–it’s simply about the way that people do and always have behaved, with no hint of changing. “Broadway” has a bleak attitude toward a bleak aspect of human behavior, and it expresses its ideas perfectly.

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One Response to Song Meaning, Song Lyrics and Music Analysis: “Broadway” (by The Goo Goo Dolls)

  1. Joanna says:

    Hi! I love your blog and especially its song analysis. 🙂 I found you from the MCRmy boards.

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