Cadillac nostalgia, youth & the American dream

February 28, 2007

1903 Cadillac

Out on the road today, I saw a dead head sticker on a cadillac, a little voice inside my head said don’t look back, you can never look back“. The appetite for nostalgia, the ‘hypochondria of the soul’, proves the old adage that ‘we were never as good as we were‘.  The above words serve as an enduring tribute to the artistic finesse of rock legend  Don Henley in his 1985 hit “The Boys of Summer“.   The song, like his others, is rich in imagery and nuance.

You may remember the “The Boys of Summer” as just another song about lost love and a broken  summer romance with a catchy tune.  However to others, it  is a soundtrack for life,  with political overtones referring to the 60’s generation of youth with their vanquished dreams and hope.

Henley says he wanted to write a song about “nothing” and penned it in just ten minutes.  It does have a sad, fatalistic and somewhat nostalgic feel, even though it is delivered in an upbeat tempo.  It is has been described as haunting the audience by replaying itself in the silent background moments of life, as the past fades into distance.

The opening lyrics invoke vivid imagery together with emotions and memories of bygone days….”Nobody on the road, Nobody on the beach”… conjures up  a place once inhabited, but now nothing more than an abandoned ghost town, with the residents having disappeared to move onto the next phase of  their lives.

The “boys of summer” just move on, but the writer pines for the girl of his dreams,  longing to relive the glory days  who witnesses the dreams of passing generations of youth with the passage of each summer.  The hippies of the 60’s became the yuppies of the 80’s, never looking back to that decade.

When pressed, Henley confesses that the inspiration for the reference to the “Deadhead sticker on a Cadillac” was his siting of the sticker driving on the San Diego freeway.  He believes this line would elicit images of the old hearses of the 60s, rather than the brand new Cadillac Seville he was viewing with a huge green sticker.

The Cadillac is the quintessential representation of achievement in American life, the term deadhead, originally meaning ‘undecided’, but which became a reference to the fans of the ‘Grateful Dead’ heavy metal band.  As Henley explains there was a growing divide between the original followers of the band and the yuppy middle class Cadillac drivers of the 80s.  The counter cultural 60s deadhead sold out to the status symbol driving 80’s era.

There is a hint in the song that the girl is the owner of the car the subject of the song, a deadhead, who in her state of indecision, powers on,  electing to to live in the future,  never looking back.

Cadillac is a car maker owned by General Motors renowned for making luxury prestige vehicles named after a French explorer who founded Detroit in 1701.  The Cadillac brand has been responsible for making many contributions to the automobile industry, the most famous of which was arguably the development of the standard setting V8 engine.

From it’s inception the company put a premium on excellence in engineering and stylish luxury, ranking amongst the world’s finest luxury vehicle makers.
The Cadillac has gone through some major styling changes over the generations.  The 50s style Cadillac epitomised the tailfin craze and exaggerated chrome bumper bar and grille assembly.

The elegance of the Eldorado launched in 1967 was a prelude to the Cadillacs of the 70s with their excessive dimensions and engine size.  The downsizing of the  Cadillac, De Ville and Fleetwood lines in the mid 70s paved the way for yet further downsizing of 80s model compact cars, so that they looked similar to the  Buick Electra and Oldsmobile 98.

1960s Cadillac

During the 80s,  there was a general trend amongst automobile makers to downsize their cars,  but during this period Cadillac was acutely aware of the threat posed by the imported European and Japanese  models with Honda launching it’s US luxury division in the Acura.   This provided the impetus for a new design approach in the Cimarron and later the Cadillac Allante, a convertible designed by Pininfarina of Italy,  a car which was fabricated in Italy and flown by Boeing to America.  After the demise of the Allante and Cimarron,  the only style reminiscent of the large luxury De Villes and Fleetwoods was the Fleetwood Brougham and after it was discontinued, the Lincoln Town Car.

Lincoln Town Car

The position Cadillac formerly enjoyed in the US luxury market was eventually overtaken by  high end luxury Japanese and German brands.

With a philosophy mirroring that of the “Boys of Summer”,  the company decided to forge ahead with a new design philosophy merging art with science,  rather than looking back with incarnations to carry the new generations of Cadillacs into the future.

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