Sparks Fly On E Street: Bruce Springsteen, "Wild Billy's Circus Story" (1973)

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There is a contingent of “fans” out there who label this song the “mistake” of The Wild, The Innocent & the E Street Shuffle. Since I think of the record as one of rock’s perfect albums, I must disagree.

There’s something both romantic and sad about images of the big top. The shows themselves can produce beauty and wonder, while the stories of the troup have often centered on how the outcast and downtrodden run away to join the circus. The song, in true early Bruce fashion, tosses out a big and colorful spate of characters. The music is at first a simple acoustic guitar, to which accordion, mandolin, harmonica, and tuba (as bass) are added. The tuba then switches to a more forward role, playing in unison with Bruce’s vocals, coming in on one of my favorite lines: And now the elephants dance real funky and the band plays like a jungle fire.

Very much like Sandy, I came to think of this song as Danny Federici’s, as he played the accordion alongside Springsteen at the live shows. After Danny’s passing, Bruce wrote the remembrance “The Last Carnival.” Released on Working On A Dream, and with the sad and powerful question “Where have you gone my handsome Billy?”, the two songs became linked.

No, it was no mistake.

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Mark Saleski

Mark Saleski

Mark Saleski is a writer and music obsessive based out of the woods of central New Hampshire. A past contributor to Jazz.com, Blogcritics.org and Salon, he originated several of our weekly features including the Friday Morning Listen, (Cross the) Heartland, WTF! Wednesday, and Sparks Fly on E Street. Follow him on Twitter: @msaleski. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
Mark Saleski
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