'Do you know the way to San Jose?': Burt Bacharach and the music of non-place

John Scannell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


'Do you know the way to San Jose?', a forlorn Dionne Warwick enquired of anyone who might be listening, as she reconsiders dreams of stardom in the self-imposed exile of the 'great big freeway' of Los Angeles. This cautionary tale in song, levelled against the all-consuming 'nonplaces' of supermodernity that increasingly governed urban life in the late 1960s, was Burt Bacharach and Hal David's jaded paean to the lost anthropological place of the organically social, populated by friends and human relations, instead of the 'solitary contractuality' (Auge 1995: 94) of those anonymous, transitory spaces dedicated to the sole purpose of fulfilling commercial objectives (Auge 1995: 101-102). Foreshadowing French anthropologist Marc Auge's classic text, Non-Places: Introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity (1992) by two decades, Dionne Warwick's 1968 worldwide hit single, deceptively 'Muzak'-ical in form, was also, ironically enough, the product of the very spaces it was protesting. While Bacharach and David's anodyne easy listening is synonymous with the commercial, transitory non-places of elevators, supermarkets and shopping malls, this paper will argue that its eminently commodifiable pop sensibility was underscored by an inherent self-loathing and need for confession, and that songs such as 'Do You Know the Way to San Jose?' could not help but to comment on its collusion in the creation of these non-places of supermodernity in which it served as ubiquitous soundtrack. Listening to it today, we are reminded of just how the non-place has flourished, for if the narrator of the song had ever managed to get back to San Jose they would now be living in the epicentre of supermodernity, a city that serves as the capital of Silicon Valley, and resides over the global, digital non-places of an increasingly networked society.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)73-79
Number of pages7
JournalSocial alternatives
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2014


  • Music--Philosophy and aesthetics
  • Automobile driving
  • Composition (Music)

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