Live 01 May 1973 version
[Spoken intro:] All the singers have lines they say before songs to the people they dedicate it to. But, you know, dedication is a funny thing. We got this gig in New York. Somebody, some crazy man put this in the Madison Square Garden: "Anybody who wants a name set at Madison Square Garden can meet me backstage with a quarter." This is a song about the circus.
Well, the machinist climbs his Ferris wheel like a brave
And the fire eater's lyin' in a pool of sweat, victim of the heat wave
Behind the tent, the leather boy tightens his legs on the sword swallower's blade
The circus town's on the shortwave
Well now, the runway lies ahead like a great false dawn
Oh, Fat Lady, Big Mama, Missy Bimbo sits in her chair and yawns
And the man-beast lies in his cage sniffin' popcorn [sniffs]
The midget licks his fingers, suffers Missy Bimbo's scorn
Circus town's been born
Whoa, and a press roll, drummer go, ballerina to-and-fro
Cartwheelin' up on the tightrope with a cannon blast, lightin' flash
Movin' fast, through the tent, Mars bent, he's gonna miss his fall
Oh, God save the human cannonball
And the flying Zambinis watch Margarita do her neck twist
The ringmaster gets the kids to count along: "Ninety-five, ninety-six, ninety-seven"
And behind the tent, half bent, money spent, with his wet face fallen on the ground
There's a half-smile, half-frown going down
Oh, Jesus, send some sweet women to save all the clowns
And circus boy dances like a monkey on barbed wire
As the barker romances with a junkie, she's got a flat tire
And the elephants dance real funky, and the band plays like a jungle fire
Circus town's on the live wire
And the strong man, Sampson, lifts the midget, little Tiny Tim, way up on his shoulders, way up
And carries him on down the midway
Oh, past the kids, past the sailors, to his dimly lit trailer
And the Ferris go 'round and 'round like it ain't ever gonna stop
And the circus boss is whispering into some little boy's ear, "Hey son, you wanna try the big top?"
All aboard, Nebraska's our next stop
The above lyrics are for the live 01 May 1973 performance of WILD BILLY'S CIRCUS STORY at Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles, CA, during what is considered the Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J. Tour. The song was played in acoustic version, with Bruce Springsteen on guitar, Danny Federici on accordion, and Garry Tallent on tuba. This version has a rewritten fourth verse, now similar to the album version. This is the last version that uses early lyrics in the third verse.
Bruce Springsteen performed on 01 May 1973 at Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles, CA, as part of his Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J. Tour. This was a triple-bill show held in the sold-out 2,000-seat Ahmanson Theatre, with Springsteen opening for Dr. Hook & The Medicine Show and headliner New Riders Of The Purple Sage.
The Ahmanson Theatre show was a public admission event, but incorporating an unusual format. Organized and promoted by CBS as "A Week To Remember", it consisted of seven consecutive nightly shows each featuring three different CBS artists. Springsteen and the band flew to Los Angeles on 20 Apr 1973 and stayed at the Hilton Hotel, performed on 01 May, and returned east on 03 May.
All seven nights from the "A Week To Remember" event were filmed in color by Arnold Levine Productions on behalf of CBS, whose intention was to have material to show to representatives at the CBS Sales Convention in July 1973. Springsteen's complete performance was shown several times at the Convention, but has never been shown anywhere else since, and now remains in CBS's vaults. Springsteen's set was 40-minute long and comprised of five songs:
Audio recording of WILD BILLY'S CIRCUS STORY from this show was released promotionally (under the early title "Circus Song") on 07 Jul 1973 as part of Columbia/Epic Records' "Play:Back" EP series. Brief video snippets of WILD BILLY'S CIRCUS STORY and THUNDERCRACK were utilized in mid-1974 as part of a promo-only video clip created by CBS to promote Springsteen's second album. This video clip readily circulated and was shown in the VH-1 Rockumentary. A brief video excerpt of SPIRIT IN THE NIGHT was shown in the 1998 Bruce Springsteen: A Secret History BBC documentary.
Videos for SPIRIT IN THE NIGHT, WILD BILLY'S CIRCUS STORY, and an incomplete THUNDERCRACK were restored and officially released in November 2005 as bonus footage on the Wings For Wheels: The Making Of Born To Run documentary DVD, as part of the "30th Anniversary Edition" of the Born To Run album.
Long before its video was released on the Wings For Wheels: The Making Of Born To Run DVD, audio for the live 01 May 1973 performance of WILD BILLY'S CIRCUS STORY was included (under the early title "Circus Song") in July 1973 on a promotional USA-only EP.
Thanks Jake (ol'catfishinthelake at BTX and Greasy Lake) for the lyrics help. Much of the above information is taken from Brucebase.
List of available versions of WILD BILLY'S CIRCUS STORY on this website:WILD BILLY'S CIRCUS STORY [Album version]