On a Bus

 

MH-INXS-album
Photograph from LP sleeve of INXS’s self-titled debut album © 1980 Deluxe Records

The first song on INXS’s first album, “On a Bus” bursts out of the gate with upbeat drums and an energetic melody. No doubt the song compelled its original Australian pub audiences to jump up and down and dance. In this musical invitation to have fun, it is easy to overlook the undertone of melancholy realism in Michael’s vocals, and his ironic, socially-introspective lyrics:

“LIQUOR MARKET

LOTS OF FLATS

ANOTHER 24-HOUR CHEMIST

SELF-SERVE GAS

I SAID ALL THESE THINGS

SERVE ME WELL

I SAID ALL THESE THINGS

SERVE ME WELL – YEAH

IT’S HYPOTISING

IT SENDS ME TO SLEEP

NO-ONE TALKS TO ANYONE ELSE

IT’S FRIGHTENING

EVERYBODY’S MINDS ARE BLANK

OH-OH HYPNOTISING

I’M ALWAYS USING YOU

WHEN I’M OUT OF CASH

I STARE THROUGH THIS WINDOW

ON A BUS, MOVING FAST

I SAID ALL THESE THINGS

SERVE ME WELL

I SAID ALL THESE THINGS

SERVE ME WELL -YEAH”

“Liquor market” typifies mind-numbing consumerism, by the inhabitants of “lots of flats.” “Another 24 hour chemist, self-serve gas” continues to establish the visual of a town passing by, (and rather incisively implicates the pharmaceutical and fossil fuel industries). A theme of isolation emerges: people anesthetizing themselves with alcohol and drugs at all hours, retreating to their respective boxes, and even being alone when they pump their gas. The later lyric, “I stare through this window in a bus moving fast,” continues the literal perspective, but can also be interpreted metaphorically: the soul inhabitant is viewing a quickly-passing world, through the lens of sensory input and contemplation.

Or non-contemplation. The repeated chorus begins with a dissonant music change and an objective reflection, “It’s hypnotising, it sends me to sleep,” along with the observation, “No one talks to anyone else,” furthering the theme of modern-day isolation. “It’s frightening,” describes the feeling of realizing the mindless, disconnected consumerism all around, in which “everybody’s minds are blank,” including the self which has been lulled into unconsciousness. Fast forward 30 years into the future, put a phone into everyone’s hands, and it is easy to see how this mindless isolation has become normalized and accepted as a component of modern-day society. While sitting on the bus, we travel down paved roads which have disrupted ecosystems in the name of convenience and modernity. As we allow ourselves to become detached from the earth and the natural world as a whole , so too do we become more easily detached from one another, losing the ability to find unity and our common humanity. 

“I’m always using you [the bus] when I’m out of cash” places the narrator at the end of the personal consumer cycle. This quiet time on the bus gives sacred opportunity for the narrator to reflect upon the choices he has made up to this point and his role in perpetuating dead-end, frivolous consumption.  This could be the moment when reality and introspection sets in.

Or non-introspection. Michael goes on to further implicate himself, “…All these things, they serve me well, I said all these things, they serve me well – yeah!”

Michael delivers these lines with an ambivalence, almost as though he really does appreciate the comfortable trappings of society. On some level, he is acknowledging that he engages in the same disengagement everybody does, and maybe that’s the problem.

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