“Do You Know The Way To San Jose” — Dionne Warwick

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Photo by C Drying on Unsplash

Pretty much all of us dream of fame and fortune. We all want to be adored by millions of fans, live in mansions and drive around in a Rolls-Royce.

That’s the dream we’re sold as kids, but frankly the stats aren’t good.

For every global mega-superstar, there are millions who tried but didn’t quite make it. Many are accepting of that, and grateful just to have had the chance of giving it a shot. Others are scarred by the experience, worn down from being manipulated to fill someone else’s bank account and left distraught by memories of mental or physical abuse along the way.

We might not have sabre-tooth tigers to worry about any more, but there are agents and managers in the movie world and the music industry who come pretty close…

“Do You Know The Way To San Jose” is a story about someone who tried their best, but never quite made it.

Like so many, they set off from a small-ish town…don’t forget “Do You Know The Way To San Jose” was written in 1968, long before San Jose became the beating hub of the global tech industry…to seek fame and fortune in LA…(maybe nowadays they’d stay in San Jose and try to get a programming job at Apple…)

We’re all told to keep going regardless and never give up until we reach our goals. But I’ve always felt that’s misguided advice — we should never give up for as long as the goal is within our complete control. If you want to run a marathon, you can. That’s entirely within your control, although the lead-in-time is longer for some of us than others, admittedly.

However no amount of will-power and determination is going to make you a Hollywood movie star if no studio wants to sign you up. That’s not completely within your control, and the studios may be mistaken in their judgement, but the solution is not completely in your hands — hundreds of other people need to sign up to your dream to make it happen.

And, just by the law of averages, that isn’t going to happen very often.

Maybe the most courageous among us aren’t those who keep slogging away, giving up everything they hold dear in the hope of making it one day.

Maybe the most courageous among us are the ones who decide they’ve done the very best they can, and change tack.

Pursing a dream is really hard, but nothing like as hard as having to tell your family and friends that the dream you’ve put 20 years of your life into has taken too great a toll and you’re throwing the towel in. Maybe that’s what real courage looks like.

There’s a great segment in Hal David’s lyrics for “Do You Know The Way To San Jose” which goes…

Hal David is a masterful lyricist, and for me, that little snippet from “Do You Know The Way To San Jose” is one of the most melancholic lines in popular music.

I don’t know why, but I find it incredibly moving. And, of course, Hal David’s skill in describing a complex story and series of emotions in just a handful of words is peerless.

The music for “Do You Know The Way To San Jose” was courtesy of Burt Bacharach. Starting in the late 1950s, Burt Bacharach and Hal David were one of the premier songwriting teams of the 1960s.

Many of their songs have become 20th Century classics, like “I Don’t Know What To Do With Myself”, a big hit for Dusty Springfield, “Make It Easy On Yourself” for the Walker Brothers and “(They Long To Be) Close To You” for the Carpenters were all Burt Bacharach/Hal David collaborations.

But it’s probably fair to say, their work with Dionne Warwick was where Burt Bacharach and Hal David really hit their stride.

So many of Dionne Warwick’s greatest hits…and some of the finest songs of the 1960s…came through that route. Of course, “Do You Know The Way To San Jose” was one of those, but so were many other big hits like “Anyone Who Had A Heart”, “Walk On By” and “You’ll Never Get To Heaven (If You Break My Heart)”.

Great songs all, but “Do You Know The Way To San Jose” is right at the top of the pile for me.

As you’d expect, Burt Bacharach creates a light, bright soundscape for Hal David to paint on, but Hal David slips in a somewhat darker message than usual. In fact, had Burt Bacharach not done his usual wonderful job on the music, “Do You Know The Way To San Jose” might have been a pretty dark song…

There’s even an ironic aside in there… “with a dream in your heart, you’re never alone”. Some of the loneliest people are those who are pursuing their dreams while not taking “no” for an answer.

Because their dream matters more than anything…and more than anyone…everyone else comes a distant second.

At the time you can rationalise it, and certainly if you make it big you’ll have no end of hangers-on and fake buddies around. But if it doesn’t work out, what have you got? Packing up your car by yourself and heading home to have your failure publicly acknowledged.

Hal David does spend some of his lyrics in more positive territory, though. Putting aside the disappointment of not making it big, he reflects on the desire to be back home again, surrounded by friends and family, away from the pressures and temptations of life in the big city…

You can just feel the self-imposed pressure coming off, the re-connection with a happy childhood in a familiar place, where you know there’s someone who will take you in and let you find that peace of mind you’ve been missing for so long.

The pursuit of fame and fortune can appear like the pursuit of self-interest. But perhaps the biggest possible action you can take in your own self-interest is when you give up your dreams of fame and fortune and head back home again, even if that’s just to an unglamorous life of parking cars and pumping gas.

It might not be the bright lights of Hollywood, but perhaps you’ve just landed yourself the biggest dream of all…peace of mind…

Nobody can give you a better gift than that…

Here’s Dionne Warwick with one of the many Burt Bacharach/Hal David songs she took to the upper reaches of the pop charts… “Do You Know The Way To San Jose”…


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Without words, it’s just a nice tune. Add words — now you’ve got a song. And songs can change your world. I write about some that changed mine.

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