Expresso 2222

Lyrics from “Expresso 2222” by Gilberto Gil
Album: Expresso 2222 LP (Philips, 1972)

Good Audio Version

The Express 2222 started running
It runs direct from Bonsucesso to the hereafter
The Express 2222 started running
From Brazil Central Station
It runs direct from Bonsucesso
To after the year 2000

They say there are a lot of people from now
Getting ahead, leaving to go there
To 2001, and 2, and  times beyond
To wherever that highway of time will end up
Of time will end up
Of time will end up, little girl, of time goes

According to those who already rode the Express
Round about the year 2000 is that
Final station of the life-path
On mother earth, conceived
Of wind, of fire, of water and salt
Of water and salt
Of water and salt
Oh, little girl, of water and salt

They say it looks like the tram on Mount Corcovado
Except that you don’t catch it, get on, sit down and ride
The track has become a glow that has no end

Hey, that has no end
That has no end
Oh, little girl, that has no end

You never get to the concrete Christ
Of material, or anything real
After 2001 and 2 and times beyond
Christ is like someone who was seen
Rising to heaven
Rising to heaven
On the veil of a shining cloud rising to heaven

— Interpretation —

Gilberto Gil and Caetano Veloso in Trafalgar Square, London, 1969.

I’ve noticed a lot of people being directed to this site looking for “Expresso 2222.” The song is the title track for Gilberto Gil‘s 1972 LP ( No. 26 on Rolling Stone Magazine’s ranking of the 100 best Brazilian albums of all time), which includes a number of songs that Gil wrote while in exile in London during the most repressive years of Brazil’s military regime.

Gil says the first verse of the song — in Portuguese, “Começou a circular o Expresso 2222/Que parte direto de Bonsucesso pra depois” — came to him one day in London; he wrote it in a notebook, but the last part – “to the hereafter” – gave him a block and he couldn’t write any more.  He decided to let the verse sit, “like wine in a barrel, to age.” Nearly a year later he re-opened the notebook, which he had also used for messages and notes to his wife, and picked up where he’d left off, quickly finishing the lyrics and putting the words to music.

Gil explains that his childhood and adolescence were marked by train travel, “one of the most fundamental modes of transportation for us in Bahia.” The Leste Brasileiro trains that ran into and out of the central stations in Ituaçu, Nazaré das Farinhas, and Salvador – the towns in Bahia, Brazil, where Gil grew up – had  made a lasting impression on him, and for some reason the image of a train with the number 222 stuck in his head; he says it was the first image that came to mind when he began writing the song.

The Express 2222 is a metaphor for a drug trip, according to Gil, who relates, “It was a time of a lot of marijuana, LSD, and mescaline; this culture was at its height in London, and the train was a literal allegory of all of this.” Bonsucesso, a neighborhood in Rio de Janeiro, made its way into the song most importantly because it rhymed, but also because it represented to Gil a place where he came from and where the journey could have started — “Brazil, Rio de Janeiro, that neighborhood — going from there to the hereafter.”

The train to Christ the Redeemer on Mt. Corcovado, Rio de Janeiro.

The tram of Corcovado that Gil mentions in the song is the train that ends up at Rio de Janeiro’s Christ the Redeemer statue. The little girl addressed in the song only made it in because Gil needed a word, in this case “menina,” to make the “rhythmic transition between one line and the next, like the hitch between two train cars.”  After including her, however, Gil brought her back in the next verse, saying “I felt the need to bring her back in the next scene, to see her again at the next station… Those crazy things:  The pattern for a song is craziness!”

I’ve seen translations beginning with “Here comes the Express 2222,” which I think this sounds better than “The Express 2222 started running,” but I’ve left the latter since it’s the most literal translation.  Lyrics in Portuguese:

Começou a circular o Expresso 2222
Que parte direto de Bonsucesso pra depois
Começou a circular o Expresso 2222
Da Central do Brasil
Que parte direto de Bonsucesso
Pra depois do ano 2000
Dizem que tem muita gente de agora
Se adiantando, partindo pra lá
Pra 2001 e 2 e tempo afora
Até onde essa estrada do tempo vai dar
Do tempo vai dar
Do tempo vai dar, menina, do tempo vai
Segundo quem já andou no Expresso
Lá pelo ano 2000 fica a tal
Estação final do percurso-vida
Na terra-mãe concebida
De vento, de fogo, de água e sal
De água e sal, de água e sal
Ô, menina, de água e sal
Dizem que parece o bonde do morro
Do Corcovado daqui
Só que não se pega e entra e senta e anda
O trilho é feito um brilho que não tem fim
Oi, que não tem fim
Que não tem fim
Ô, menina, que não tem fim
Nunca se chega no Cristo concreto
De matéria ou qualquer coisa real
Depois de 2001 e 2 e tempo afora
O Cristo é como quem foi visto subindo ao céu
Subindo ao céu
Num véu de nuvem brilhante subindo ao céu

Main source for this post: Gilberto Gil: Todas as Letrased. Carlos Rennó, 2003

3 thoughts on “Expresso 2222”

  1. Thank you. I discovered this song only a few weeks ago, and in fact – I discovered Gilberto Gil like this. He is scheduled to perform in my town in a month or so – I am so lucky!

    Brazilian music is new to me, as in two years in Latin America I did not spend any time in Brazil. I’ve submerged myself in Colombian and Argentinian culture, but only now (happily) I am discovering Brazil.

    Thank you for this website!

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