Dionne Warwick's Annotated "Do You Know The Way To San Jose?"
Previously: “This is a prop cigarette designed to fool us. Like Saint Simeon the Holy Fool, who feigned madness lest his true saintly nature be discovered and he come in for approbation and praise, Dean Martin feigned a greater attachment to vice than he truly felt, that we might not be overawed by his smooth loungery.” Dean Martin’s “Gentle On My Mind,” annotated.
Supposedly Warwick never cared for “San Jose,” telling Ebony she thought it was a “dumb song” back in ‘83, although I wasn’t able to source that quite myself. For a song of its type – the “watch it for those big Los Angeles dreams because they’ll drive over you on the new freeway” sort of song, of which there are plenty, like “Drinking in LA” and “Malibu” and “Welcome To The Jungle” and “Hooray For Hollywood” – it’s a little unusual. San Jose isn’t usually positioned as L.A.’s opposite; that role usually gets assigned to somewhere in the Midwest or the East Coast. San Jose’s just a five-hour trip up the 5, and if anything the traffic there is worse. It’s an odd fit, and it’s jarring – the song’s narrator claims “I was born and raised in San Jose” but has apparently forgotten how to get there, even though the drive is a pretty straight shot until you get to the 152. If you want to avoid even that, you can just stay on the 101 on the whole time.
So she’s got a lot of friends in San Jose, but she’s forgotten how to get there, and the claim about having lots of friends (“There’ll be a place where I can stay”) is followed immediately by a direct request – “Do you know the way?” She can’t ask her San Jose friends for directions, for some reason, and she doesn’t know whose place she can stay at yet, and it sounds like she doesn’t want to ask anyone in advance. “I’ve got lots of friends in San Jose” / “And there you are without a friend.” I’ve got lots. Do you know? Can’t wait to.
0:04-0:10: Don’t waste my time; the dress is over-the-top enough, just launch right into it. Sing a little faster than the song requires, sway only as much as the year 1968 demands of all singers, waste no energy and gesture no more than legally required. This is a song to get through. DoyouknowthewaytoSanJose, fine.
0:11-0:15: A resentful turn of the head to follow the camera, followed by an insouciant little smile. Thought you could hustle me, cameraman? I’m covered in feathers. I’m un-hustle-able and unhurriable. I’ll get to San Jose in my own sweet time.
0:16-0:32: Clutching her gown and saunter-jogging the way you pick up your skirts when you have to half-run to catch up with someone in an outfit you weren’t planning on running in. That’s the run for when you didn’t plan on running out to the mailbox and it’s colder than you realized.
0:33-0:35: Morphs into a neat little snap-and-sway. No gestures wasted.
0:36-0:39: Turns her head before the camera gets a chance to move. You keep up with me.
0:40-0:50: Almost dancing. Still just a touch faster than the orchestra, splashing around in the velvet basement of her lower register and having a fine time. Sing deep enough and no one thinks you’re singing too fast. She’s singing like she’s really asking for directions, too: Sorrytobotheryoudoyouknowthewayto.
0:51-1:20: Again, letting the feathers do the work. Stand up straight, throw ‘em the slightest suggestion of a shoulder shimmy every few seconds. This is 1968 and everyone watching is trying to come down from Quaaludes and mescaline and you don’t want to overwhelm them with a lot of movement. Maybe a half-hand circle, nothing that’s going to scare the day-trippers.
1:21-1:39: Let the backup singers and the orchestra pull a little weight. Now’s the time for half a box-step and some modest pointing; your lungs are corded in gold and push out the sweetest little gift-box of a voice at the lightest encouragement and you only dance when you feel like it.
1:40-1:51: Snap to draw attention to two things: The exquisite diamond solitaire weighing down your right hand, and the fact that you’re keeping it tight enough to get through with San Jose in less than 2:30. Maybe they have time for three-minute songs in Madison; you wouldn’t know. You don’t perform in cities without an international airport. This song moves like San Jose traffic, over before you know it. Keep up, kid, or you’ll never make it on either side of the 5.
1:52-2:14: Start edging ever-so-slightly backstage. Mask it with a few shimmies and a big show-biz smile. That’s how you deliver a hit – straightforward, not too much moving around, with a smile in every note, big shiny teeth, never let them see your shoes beneath the gown, deliver the last chorus like you’re repeating legal copy, never let them see you break a sweet. Last six seconds of the song are for applause; let 2:15-2:21 carry you home. You can say you live in San Jose, even though no one will believe you.