Musicians have written many, many songs about — or inspired by — riding public transportation. KEXP DJ Brian Foss has made a bus playlist, and the Fabulous Downey Brothers played a concert on a Seattle bus.
The first time Brian Foss rode a city bus, he was 13 years old, living in Florida, the son of newly divorced parents — and going to a dentist’s office to get his first cavity filled.
It was not an ideal public-transportation experience.
“My dad was busy, so he couldn’t take me,” Foss said. “They filled my face full of Novocain — it felt like a balloon. So, my first bus experience was kind of weird.”
But when The Seattle Times asked Foss, who now hosts KEXP’s Saturday-night punk show Sonic Reducer, for a bus-themed playlist to amuse the city’s rapidly growing ranks of bus riders, he said he got a little obsessed: “As a DJ, I like finding themes. I didn’t know there were so many fun, interesting bus-related songs until I started looking.”
One of those songs turned out to be the infectious “Bus” by local band the Fabulous Downey Brothers, who fold together the eccentricity of Devo with the peppiness of the B-52s and a lovably theatrical, post-punk zaniness.
Their song “Bus” is so catchy, Foss and The Seattle Times persuaded King County Metro to let us film a music video of the band playing a concert for a packed crowd on a bus.
“The Downeys are awesome,” Foss said. “They’re just one of those bands that are really underappreciated in Seattle. I don’t understand why they’re not huge.”
The songs on Foss’ playlist reflect people’s conflicted relationships with buses: Depending on your situation, a bus can be a hassle or a godsend or a vector for political change.
“Public transportation is a wonderful thing,” he said, “but you have to share it with other people and just roll with stuff! New York is New York for a certain reason — there’s a subway system and public transportation matters. Los Angeles is Los Angeles for a certain reason. People say, ‘You need to have a car to live in LA.’ And that’s the culture. Public transportation is a dividing line for how people live in a city.”
Foss also offered comments (below) about a few of the songs on his playlist:
Frankie Smith: “Double Dutch Bus,” 1981
Foss: “As a kid, I loved that song! It was a hit and I listened to it a bunch. It’s got a lot of the ‘izz,’ ‘izzy’ in the lyrics that Snoop Dogg eventually wound up using. Snoop knows the history of soul and funk and references it in his music. And Frankie Smith is just fun.”
Dream Salon: “On the Bus,” 2014
Foss: “They’re a local band, whose members have been in the A Frames, The Lights, The Intelligence. That song is more about the frustration of waiting for the bus — for anybody who has to ride the bus and has to be somewhere at a certain time, it can be a stressful thing. You can hear them shouting in the song: ‘Here it comes! Here it comes!’ ”
The Replacements: “Kiss Me On the Bus,” 1986
Foss: “It’s all about kissing on the bus. There’s urgency in the lyric ‘hurry, hurry, here comes my stop.’ He’s with his girl, he’s on the bus, he’s got to get off so he wants to kiss her because he has to leave. It’s romantic.”
“Weird Al” Yankovic: “Another One Rides the Bus,” 1981
Foss: “That’s the first song I remember as a kid hearing about the bus. Growing up in the ’70s and listening to the radio, Queen’s ‘Another One Bites the Dust’ was everywhere. It got so overplayed. So the ‘Weird Al’ satire of that song was wonderful — and that’s where he got his start, just literally him and an accordion. Dr. Demento started playing it on his radio show. A song about being annoyed by being on the bus is what gave ‘Weird Al’ his career.”
Fishbone: “Slow Bus Movin’ (Howard Beach Party),” 1988
Foss: “That song has edges of Rosa Parks-type stories. Even though that’s a fun song, it talks about people being screwed over, people being ill-treated. But humans need to get around. That’s what public transportation is — for some people, it’s a way to make it. The history of mobility is the history of making life workable and affordable for the average person.”
Tacocat: “FU#8,” 2014
Foss: “I’m so happy for Tacocat. I think I booked their very first club show at the Funhouse around 2007. I ride the 8 bus on a regular basis and I understand the frustration — the problem with the 8 is that it runs from where I live in the South End, through Capitol Hill, then goes down Denny. If you take Denny heading toward I-5, there’s so much traffic that you just sit there. Some days, Denny is basically just a parking lot. You’ve got no control over it! The song is saying: ‘I’m counting on you and you’re not on time!’ If you’re counting on public transportation and it’s unreliable, what do you do? You complain about it! It’s less about Seattle buses than Seattle traffic. Metro is really trying, but we need more lanes where only buses can drive.”
The Seattle Times isn’t the only local publication investigating buses these days. Check out the KBCS series “What’s the Flux?” for more stories about public transportation in Seattle and what it means in our lives.