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Further Writing by Swan Morrison

Wagon Wheel

My wife frequently complains that I often perform songs without fully understanding the meaning of the lyrics.

‘Where’s Roanoke?’ she asked as soon as I had finished my first complete rendition of the newly learned Wagon Wheel by Bob Dylan/Ketch Secor.

Google informed me that it was in Virginia, USA.

‘So, you’ve got no idea what it’s like to walk south, out of Roanoke,’ she observed. ‘How can you possibly sing about it?’

Maybe she’s got a point, I thought as I consulted Google Earth.

A few seconds later, I began to virtually wander south along the leafy Highway 220.

It’s quite nice there,’ I remarked, ‘apart from that huge quarry. There are lots of trees too,’ I added, ‘but there don’t appear to be many pines. Maybe I’m not far enough south yet to have reached “the land of the pines”.’

I glanced at the larger scale map. ‘Hang on a minute,’ I said. ‘Why would a trucker who was heading from Philadelphia to Johnson City, Tennessee be travelling south, out of Roanoke? He should be on Interstate 81. That road passes north of Roanoke, going south west.’

My wife sang the song in her own head until she reached the relevant lines.

‘I agree,’ she said. ‘The words: “Walkin' to the south out of Roanoke, I caught a trucker out of Philly - had a nice long toke” imply that the protagonist got a lift from a trucker who had come from Philadelphia but who was now leaving Roanoke and heading south.’ She glanced at the map. ‘That makes no sense at all unless the trucker had misprogrammed his satnav.’ She thought for a moment. ‘Maybe it means that this guy had previously got the lift in Philadelphia and had then been dropped off at Roanoke. Perhaps he wrote the whole song while he was walking south after he’d got out of the truck on Interstate 81 and after he’d hiked through Roanoke.’

‘So,’ I concluded, ‘it would have been clearer if the lyrics had said: “Walkin' to the south out of Roanoke, I had previously caught a trucker out of Philly - had a nice long toke”.

‘Mind you,’ my wife noted, looking more closely at the map, ‘there is evidence that the trucker may well have had a problem with his satnav.’

‘Why do you say that?’ I asked.

‘Because,’ she replied, ‘if he was “a-heading west from the Cumberland Gap to Johnson City, Tennessee”, he was taking a very odd route. The Cumberland Gap is north west of Johnson City. There’s no need to go anywhere near it if you’re travelling from Roanoke to Johnson City.’

‘Perhaps the lyrics mean that he was aiming for a destination between Johnson City and the Cumberland Gap,’ I said, pointing to the map. ‘It would then make sense to take Interstate 81 past Johnson City and then turn north along Highway 25.’

‘In that case the lyrics should say: “but he's intending to head west towards the Cumberland Gap via Johnson City, Tennessee,’ my wife noted.

I glanced at the location of Raleigh on the map. ‘Why was this guy so far west, anyway,’ I asked. ‘He “made it down the coast in seventeen hours”, so we can presume that he’d reached Philadelphia.’ I pointed to the east coast highway. ‘He should have looked for a truck that was leaving Philadelphia on Interstate 95. That highway passes pretty close to Raleigh. He would have then just needed a ride along Highway 64, from somewhere near Dorches, for the last hour of his trip.’

‘I don’t know what she saw in him,’ stated my wife.

‘Who are you talking about?’ I asked.

‘His “baby” in Raleigh,’ she answered. ‘If he hadn’t lost all his money playing poker in New England, he could have taken a plane to visit her.

‘When he does eventually get there,’ she continued, shaking her head in despair, ‘he’s planning to present this poor girl with a “bunch of dogwood flowers” that he would have picked at least eight hours previously on his way from New England to Philadelphia - they would have been, at best, wilted and, at worst, crushed during the journey.’

‘In any case,’ I said, ‘he certainly seems to have been incapable of accurately describing what he’d done during the previous twenty-four hours, and he’d absolutely no sense of direction.’

‘Even if he did make it to Raleigh,’ my wife concluded, ‘I doubt if their relationship would have lasted very long.’

I picked up the piece of paper that contained the words and music of Wagon Wheel and began to make the necessary corrections to the text.

I had to agree that it had added a new dimension to the song when I had understood what the words really meant.

I resolved that tomorrow I would begin some research into the experience of being “busted flat in Baton Rouge” and the complications that might arise during an attempt to undertake a budget cost journey from there to Selinas.

I soon realised that this was going to take some time, however, when Google informed me that Baton Rouge is in Louisiana whilst Selinas is over two thousand miles away in California.