When I first heard “Johnny 99,” it was the driving, almost rockabilly bent to Bruce’s guitar that drew me in. But it was the combination of such upbeat music with a truly nasty story (unemloyment, murder, imprisonment…basically, a life unhinged) that made me pick up the needle and drop it back for another listen. Was it my first experience with ironic juxtaposition of styles? Probably not, but since I hardly ever paid attention to song lyrics back then, this surely made me conscious of the phenomenon.
These days, Bruce amps up the irony by playing “Johnny 99″ as a glorious rock & roll rave-up. Yeah, it might be an awful story, but in the telling, there’s a whole lotta fun to be had. Just check out this version from night #1 at Fenway Park. The horns just push it over the top.
Next up: Highway Patrolman