Neil Hester

All poems © Neil Hester unless otherwritten

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Location: North Carolina, United States

Sunday, July 01, 2012

The Bus Driver Song

Watch this first.

Alright, let’s talk about The Bus Driver Song. This is a great song. Musically, the song's got a nice Simon and Garfunkel feel to it, which works great with the interesting and intimate lyrics, which will be the focus of this piece.

The song starts out with a few silly bits: the bridge, the council sheepdog, the sock factory. You already get the sense of how small and dreary the driver’s existence is. Then you get hit with this fantastic line: “Well, there are 5,600 tiles on that wall / I know, I counted them all”.  You get a couple more small-world observations (“the local school, the local swimming pool”), and then a couple jokes, including one about the kind of favoritism that’s especially easy to abuse in little communities: “But don’t bother entering the raffle / It’s always won by some kid of the mayor”.

After, you get a little anecdote about the town clock. The sound of a clock is what makes the bus driver “proud”. But all of the song to this point is a build-up to the climax, in which Paula Thompson is described as beautiful, her hair “still gorgeous, even now”. Then:


“Everybody, look at Paula, look at Paula Thompson
I always thought I'd marry Paula
But some things just don't work out that way
Well, that's the most important thing you'll learn on the tour today”

A little throwaway about a toilet break follows. Then, a really great spoken part:

“If you do see Paula in town later on, I’d appreciate if you didn’t mention the details of my tour. The same goes for my wife Gloria, who you’ll recognize ‘cause she looks a helluva lot like Paula, actually, yeah. But she’s not Paula, that’s for sure—no, she’s not Paula, no.”

I mean, this sentiment could be really angsty, but it’s so plainspoken! And the humor that’s mixed in really adds to the strength of the line. The guy’s so absorbed in Paula, even years after both he and she have married, and he jokes about it to try and take off some of the edge. There’s something—something intangible—about Paula that can’t be matched.

From here, the bus driver expresses his wish to go back in time (again, totally absorbed in Paula, and unsatisfied with his life), and the transition to the sentiment is really smooth:


“Take me back next door
Paula Thompson, nee Paula Wright.
That's her old house, number 39
Number 41 was mine
If this old coach could go back in time
I'd drive to 1979
Take me back...”

And then, the song ends: “But that is the end of the tour, so yeah, mind your step, enjoy your step, and good on you.” Just another day in the life.

Most of the songs of Flight of the Conchords are funny, but I can’t think of any others that reach the artistic heights of The Bus Driver Song, which is a nonpareil mixture of humor, melancholy, and longing.

Take care,
~Neil

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