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(Credits: Far Out / Wikimedia / Nathan Dumlao)

Music

Never Meet Your Heroes: Billie Joe Armstrong and the 'Boulevard of Broken Dreams'

@LeeThomasMason

Liam Wade, a songwriter and guitarist with a long history of working within the music industry, is recounting his tales of life on the road, translating his memories into a fictionalised format as part of his novella, the ‘Courtney’ stories. Here, following his first effort, Wade details ‘Boulevard of Broken Dreams‘…

“Damn, it’s hot!” – I thought to myself as the morning sun heated up my room, stirring me awake. A thick beam of yellow light was breaking through a crack in the curtains and cutting across my face. The cotton bed sheets were tangled and stuck to my legs with sweat. Los Angeles had been experiencing a heatwave that week; the sun had been relentless as it slowly baked the American West Coast. I’d become uncomfortable with the heat so deep into the year, and my circadian clock was struggling with its new location. It’d been several months since I’d been home, and I’d started to miss my friends and even my crummy old apartment. London was beautiful in the fall as the colour of the city changed from green to golden brown, and people would start to get wrapped up in their woolly hats and big coats. I longed for its cool crisp weather.

That particular day, the temperature in L.A. peaked at 96F, which had rendered me useless for most of it. Hiding in the cool shelter of my hotel room, I spent hours laying on my bed listening to the long spiny fingers of the palms as they tapped against my window. As the sun began to set, I stepped onto my balcony and admired the pastel pink and blue hues slicing up the horizon: “It’s not all that bad,” I thought to myself.

That evening, I had been invited to attend an event thrown by Jack Daniels at The Viper Room, a club with a typically shady Hollywood history. It was the venue where River Phoenix, a rising Hollywood star, lost his life to a cocktail of drugs. I would be attending the event alone as my bandmates had all flown home after the recording sessions.

L.A. was a city I still wanted to know. I’d decided to stay.

I jumped in a cab from my hotel to The Viper Room and made my way inside. It was dark and bustling with people, pink neon strip lights highlighted the bar, and a small stage hugged the back corner. Good looking waitresses in small shorts were wandering around handing out free drinks with forced smiles. The kid next to me was muttering “Jack ‘n Coke” then laughing and winking as his girlfriend keyed a bump into her nose; I watched her eyes roll back as she vacuumed the key clean, right there, in the middle of the club. I moved away from them to find a good place to watch the evening’s entertainment. Har Mar Superstar was performing his latest record with Fab Moretti on drums. It sounded funky yet, metronomic; a straight-groove indie butter churned from the milk of a musical teat.

Standing alone at the bar, I felt a bit of a loser with no friends. Which was only half true. I didn’t know anyone, and I didn’t see anyone else on their own to make conversation with — everyone seemed to be out with their
friends getting drunk. As the band performed their last song, I decided I’d had enough fun. Downing my whiskey, I made my way to the door and out onto the street. A cool breeze washed over me, and the humidity of the club evaporated from my skin. I lit up a cigarette and took in the nightlife on the boulevard of broken dreams. Hollywood is an offbeat mix of people from all different walks of life.

The bros and the queens living in harmony, sucking up as much alcohol as the surrounding establishments will facilitate. I was staying at the Chateau Marmont, a gothic white castle, a renowned playground for the
rich and famous. It was a 20-minute walk from The Viper Room, so I decided I’d take my chances with the street. I had been walking for ten minutes, passing by the bars and clubs, the smell of stale alcohol and
body odour filtering through the air, when I came across four ‘beer-boys’ in tight vests getting into their fleshed out Cadillac. The scrawniest of the gang took one look at me and decided I would be the target for
the evening’s amusement. He had a checkered baseball cap screwed on backwards and enormous jeans that draped over his shoes. He stepped out in front of me, blocking my path.

“Hey man, can I get a smoke?” He said as he stood almost nose to nose with me. I stopped and took a step back. “Sorry mate, it’s my last one.” There was at least half a pack jammed in the back pocket of my jeans, but there was no way I was giving him one. I tried to ignore him, stepping to the right in an attempt to walk past. He stuck his foot out and tripped me; I fell to the ground, cracking my knee on the concrete. “Oh, sooorrryyy MATE!” he chirped in a fake British accent. He and his friends began to laugh, and to make matters worse, the cigarettes fell out of my pocket and onto the sidewalk. “Ohhh what’s this then?” He said as he bent down to pick up the Marlboro’s. “C’mon mate, hand them back will ya?” I rose to my feet and brushed my knees clean. Instead of handing them back, he turned the pack upside down and let them tumble into the drain beneath his feet. The combination of embarrassment, a sore knee, and now the loss of six dollars worth of cigarettes made my blood boil up inside me.

I lurched forward and punched him square on the nose.

There was a split second of shock on the faces of his friends as they absorbed my surprise attack. “This is my chance,” I thought. I took off like a professional sprinter, as quick as the wind, bowling down Sunset Boulevard into oncoming traffic. The drivers honked their horns and shouted obscenities at me as I dodged their cars. One of the beer boys chased me for 50 yards before giving up. He eventually stopped, out of breath and cursing into the night sky. I was gone. Out of sight. I didn’t stop running until I reached the ivory towers of the Chateau, although I checked behind me a couple of times along the way.

Scurrying up the driveway, I flashed my room key at the hotel security and made my way to the safety of the hotel garden. I was panting heavily as I sat down at a table, neatly tucked into the corner by a thick set of palms. I pushed my head into my hands.

(Credit: Liam Wade)

“What the hell am I doing here?!” I started to question my decision to stay. Los Angeles was not as I expected it to be, and it was starting to get me down. Here I was, alone, surrounded by these beastly people. I wanted to go home. I sat up straight as Sammy, the bar manager, came over to my table. “Evening Liam, how ya doing? Will anyone be joining you this evening?” he asked. “Hey Sammy, no – it’ll be just me tonight.”

In February, 1994, I was nine years old. My childhood best friend’s older brother had a copy of Dookie by Greenday, on cassette. When his brother would go out, we would break into his room and take the album out of his drawer, then sit listening to the explicit lyrics – having no idea what any of it meant. Track seven, ‘Basket Case,’ was our favourite song and we knew every word. The chugging guitar and booming drums would send us into a frenzy as we jumped around pretending to be rockers. Years later, when I was a teenager, Greenday remained one of my favourite bands. I would have a recurring dream that I would hang out with them in an undetermined sun-soaked city.

As I sat in the garden of the Chateau Marmont, still feeling a little dejected from the night’s events, the next thing that happened was one of the greatest moments of my life. Billie Joe Armstrong, the singer and guitarist of Greenday, walked into the garden. My jaw must have hit the table because Billie noticed me gorping at him and casually walked over to where I was sitting.

“Hey man, mind if I join you?” He said, as he placed his hands on the back of the empty chair opposite me. I could not believe my eyes or ears. My teenage dream was unfolding in front of me. “Erm…yeah…yeah,” I spat and sputtered as he sat down. “I’m Billie,” He said, as he held out his hand. “I know…I’m Liam, nice to meet you.” I reached back and we shook.

Sammy walked over and placed a tall slender glass of vodka and orange in front of me. “Hey Billie, how are you man? What can I get you?” he asked. “I’ll take the same as Liam please Sammy.”

Myself and Billie spent the next thirty minutes getting to know each other, talking about music, amps and guitars…our mutual love of The Nerves, a Los Angeles punk band who wrote ‘Hanging on the telephone,’ made famous by Blondie. We really gelled. He was a musician, a fan, and best of all – a regular guy. He was as intelligent and beautiful as I had ever dreamt.

Then – he asked me for a cigarette. I felt the warm rush of embarrassment filling my face for the second time that evening.

“Damn, I actually don’t have any…I just got robbed by some crook on the boulevard…he tripped me then threw my cigarettes down the drain!” i explained.

“Duuude…that sucks!” Billie paused.

He beckoned Sammy over, who was clearly watching out for his most famous guest. “Hey Sammy…can I get two packs of Marlboro reds please.” Within a couple of minutes, two packs of ‘reds’ arrived at the table. One for Billie, one for me. Later on, Billie asked me what I was doing here. I explained that I had been playing guitar in Courtney Love’s band. “I know Courtney!…is she here? I’d love to say Hi.” I pulled out my cell phone and called Courtney, who was more than happy to see her old friend and she told us to head to her Chateau apartment.

‘Man, what a trip’, I thought, not only was I a fan of Hole, and had just been on tour with the lead singer, but I was about to bring another of my ’90s heroes and Courtney Love together. For the next two hours, I got to sit on the floor of the hotel room and hang out with two of my musical heroes. We talked and laughed, and for a brief time, I forgot all about my troubles. I went from the boulevard of broken dreams to drinking room temperature vodka orange with a self-professed basket case. And, I really did…have the time of my life.

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(Credit: Liam Wade)