Along with Growin’ Up, Mary Queen Of Arkansas and It’s Hard To Be A Saint In The City, Does This Bus Stop At 82nd Street? was presented at the audition that Bruce Springsteen held in ’72 in the presence of the CBS talent scout, John Hammond, and which led to the signing of the young singer-songwriter’s first record deal. Does This Bus Stop At 82nd Street? then entered the tracklist of the first album, Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J., in a version played by the first core of the future E Street Band. The acoustic version recorded for the audition, however, will be released only in the box Tracks (1998). Bob Dylan‘s strong influence on early Springsteen lyricism is fully evident in Does This Bus Stop At 82nd Street? and helped convince Hammond of Bruce’s potential, who he himself wanted to launch as the new Dylan, a decade after discovering the original.
A KID IN NEW YORK
Reviewing Does This Bus Stop At 82nd Street? from a lyrical point of view is not simple, not only because it is a small song, only two minutes and a handful of seconds long, but also because it has some peculiar features. The lyrics don’t have a real plot or even a protagonist, they don’t tell a story and don’t express a moral. Springsteen seems to simply be practicing his style of photographic writing, immortalizing everything that surrounds him and attracts his attention the most, as he rides through Manhattan on a bus. That the narrator is not a third individual, but Bruce himself, is confirmed by his later statements: he really wrote the song on a bus (and partly on the subway) on his way to Spanish Harlem for a date.
MANY PHOTO CLICKS IN FEW VERSES
At that time Bruce had more than one reason to go to New York. Beyond the acquaintance of friends and girls, young Springsteen began to wander between recording studios and nightclubs of Soho and Greenwich Village. The latter no longer as a simple customer, but as a protagonist on stage. Being complicated, as well as expensive, to get there by car, he very often took public transport and his fervent creativity led him to jot down everything most bizarre and eccentric that he saw along the streets or in the subway tunnels. Indeed it seems to see not a scene from a film, as often happens in his songs, but a series of photographs or, at most, very short films of a few seconds for each shot. This aspect makes Does This Bus Stop At 82nd Street? a kind of unique in Springsteen‘s discography: a sort of Dylan style exercise not aimed at telling a story, but remained as it was conceived: a notebook of notes, transformed into music and images.
A METROPOLITAN BABEL
The enthusiasm of a boy who discovers the metropolis and aspires to become a great songwriter led young Springsteen to develop a remarkable descriptive ability. In just two minutes of song and less than thirty verses, he lists a plethora of characters, each busy in search of his fortune or simply something to live on. But, with the exception of a few realistic characters (the bus driver and the unreliable old men with sticks), we find figures so bizarre as to seem mythological. The contaminated women in Vistavision, the possessed sorcerers and the pimps with dirty stockings, young interstellar mongrels, a girl chasing heaven on a gyroscope, young matadors in search of their Spanish rose. We don’t even have to wonder, as in other cases, what will happen to those people. A few seconds and the bus goes further and each of them are left to their fate.
HOPE ALREADY APPEARS
A couple of deeper food for thought however can be found in Does This Bus Stop At 82nd Street?. The lines “Where dock worker’s dreams mix with panther’s schemes to someday own the rodeo” in their bizarreness probably mean that Bruce already knows how elusive the American dream is: those dock workers dream of a future different from that, but that dream appears impossible (just like the probability that a panther owns a rodeo). Furthermore, in Mary Lou’s response to the press, “Man, the dope’s that there’s still hope“, we glimpse an element that will remain fundamental in all of Springsteen‘s poetics: hope. In this small but important line hope is a drug, that is metaphorically something that stimulates people to continue in their life and in their research.
NO CHORUSES, NO SOLOS
Other original elements of Does This Bus Stop At 82nd Street? can be found in its musical features. First of all, the song has no choruses and refrains. Then, it’s the only song in Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J. in which the title is not mentioned in the verses (this will happen more often in the second album, The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle). Again… in those two abundant minutes of 60s-style beat adrenaline, we don’t even find a solo or, at least, an instrumental part that emerges as an alternative to the vocals. Springsteen sings from beginning to end, without pauses, in succession of verses, structured in seven quatrains. The only variation allowed both in the chords and on the rhythm is right at the end of the piece, when it is necessary to give a passionate background to the throwing of the rose by the Spanish girl. The band is the reduced one of the very first recordings for Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J.: only four elements, with Vini Lopez and Garry Tallent to drag the rhythmic floor, while David Sancious on piano and Springsteen himself on guitar support the beat without frills. The resulting sound is that acoustic rock that can be also appreciated in It’s Hard To Be A Saint In The City and For You.
THE 2012 LIVE VERSION
If you really are not satisfied with the more basic sound of the first embryo of the E Street Band in the original studio version, then I suggest you listen (or listen again for those who have already had the good fortune ) the few live versions of Does This Bus Stop At 82nd Street? available on the internet. In particular, during the Wrecking Ball Tour, Springsteen proposed a soul rock version that completed all the “deficiencies” of the studio version: a musical introduction, a carpet of horns, a series of solos (Roy Bittan on the piano, Charlie Giordano on the organ, Jake Clemons on the sax, Miami Steve Van Zandt on the guitar) and even a “musical fight” between drums and congas. All immortalized in a video available on the internet of a live in Tampa, Florida in March 2012.
Next review: Lost In The Flood – 10 july 2023
Read Also: Blinded By The Light, Growin’ Up
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