My wife frequently
complains that I often perform songs without
fully understanding the meaning of the lyrics.
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, youve got
no idea what its like to walk south, out of
Roanoke, she observed. How can you
possibly sing about it?
Maybe shes got a
point, I thought as I consulted Google Earth.
A few seconds later, I
began to virtually wander south along the leafy
Its quite nice there,
I remarked, apart from that huge quarry.
There are lots of trees too, I added,
but there dont appear to be many
pines. Maybe Im 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 hed got
out of the truck on Interstate 81 and after
hed 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
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?
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.
Theres no need to go anywhere near it if
youre travelling from Roanoke to Johnson
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 hed 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
I dont know
what she saw in him, stated my wife.
Who are you talking
about? I asked.
in Raleigh, she answered. If he hadnt
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, hes
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 hed
done during the previous twenty-four hours, and
hed absolutely no sense of direction.
Even if he did make
it to Raleigh, my wife concluded, I
doubt if their relationship would have lasted
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