“Do You Know the Way to San Jose”–Dionne Warwick
“San Jose” (slow mix)
One Man’s Story, in Three Acts.
When I was a small kid in Toronto in the mid-1970’s, we had the 45 single of Dionne Warwick’s hit of the Burt Bacharach song, “Do You Know the Way to San Jose.” My Dad was a young lawyer at IBM and he’d gotten the record a few years earlier at some sort of conference or business trip in San Jose, California. I guess they gave everyone a copy in a nerdy corporate lootbag or something, thinking how clever and hip it was. It was a worn out 45 with a colourful rainbowy label that had a gold stamp on it which said “SO and SO IBM CONFERENCE, SAN JOSE, 1970.”
My older brother and I used to play 45’s on this giant credenza stereo piece of huge furniture thing, seriously the size of a small boat, in our living room. Mostly we’d just be goofing around, dancing around like idiots, acting out songs or just laughing at stuff. But the biggest hit was always playing the “Do You Know the Way to San Jose” 45 and slowing the speed down to 33 1/3.
We would be howling on the floor, laughing, at the slow, moany, “whoah whoah whoa’s” and then we’d just fucking lose it when the shaky, mannish Dionne started singing. I don’t ever remember getting through the whole song, we’d just put it back to the beginning and start again. Whoah whoah whoah whoah…Eventually we’d get bored of that and go do the same thing with the “ooga chugga’s” on the “The Night Chicago Died” 45.
So for years “San Jose” was just this jokey song to me.
Some time in the early-to-mid 90’s, (after a hard-fought 1980’s filled with my mom’s eyeliner, bad synth bands and later, a bit of an intense neo-psychedelic hippie period) I got heavy into a Bacharach phase. “Say A Little Prayer” or “This Guy’s in Love with You” or “Walk on By” or “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again,” whatever. I was a slave to anything with those farting trumpets and those 1965-California-single-people-in-their-30’s kind of storylines. Maybe it started out as kitsch or nostalgia; my being an avid thrift store, Salvation Army and yard sale record-bin scourer (where I’d find precious Herb Alpert and the Tiujuana Brass or Klaus Wunderlich Hammond Pops albums, filling gaps and completing the collections I’d inherited from my really-square-in-the-60’s parents.) But when you’re childless and in your late 20’s, drinking too much and spending too much time listening to records, you start attaching a seriousness and an appreciation to things. And music in the 1990’s had gotten so insanely boring. With a few rare and great exceptions, most 90’s music seemed to be bad techno that sounded like galloping or LOUD-then quiet-THEN LOUD bands with manufactured intensity.
In 2000, my wife got a job with Yahoo, as they’d opened an office in downtown Toronto. I’d been in full-time househusband mode for 3 years now, and at this point we had Olivia, our 3 year-old, and Lily, who was 1. Yahoo gave my wife a giant cellphone and told her she’d have to go for training in California for a month. In San Jose. They were cool about us all going, as long as we paid for the extra airfare for me. We ended up staying in Santa Clara at the Biltmore Hotel, right beside the 101:
At night it said BILTMOE because the R was burnt out.
By day my wife would go and train at Yahoo in Santa Clara, minutes from Google and Apple and countless other computery places. And I would pack the kids into the rental car and drive to San Francisco or up into the Santa Cruz mountains to try and find Neil Young’s house. And every day we’d head into San Jose for lunch or to go to the museum or to eat dinner. But the whole time, “Do You Know The Way to San Jose” was playing in my head. It was cool to hang out in this place that I only knew about from this song.
Really, it’s kind of a slow town, though. And the song is more about NOT being in the “great big freeway” that is L.A. than it is about anything to do with San Jose, except to say that you can really breathe there. And (sorry) we conceived our son in that San Jose hotel room with the burnt out R. My wife had to return from the training for this brand new job and tell them a few months later that she was pregnant and would soon be going on maternity leave for a year. They were pretty unthrilled.
And then, almost immediately after our son George was born, Yahoo laid off most of the Toronto staff when the internet bubble finally burst.