Oct 01

Big Joe and Phantom 309

This time of year when leaves rustle in the wind and tumble down from the trees, when shadows, cast from the glimmer of Autumn sunshine, dance in odd ways. The season is alive with change. Animals spook and scurry! Strange sounds emit from the forest….

In times past, Halloween was a day of remembrance for those souls who have passed from this mortal plane. It evolved into a religious observation based on pagan seasonal celebrations.

In the spirit of ghosties and ghoulies and all other spooky things, I offer the lyrics from an old Tommy Faile song. The country singer, Red Sovine made the tune popular long ago and you can hear it here. On his “Nighthawks at the Diner” album, Tom Waits delivers a favorite version of the ballad in his sultry narrative style, a rambling reflective monologue…as only Tom Waits can deliver. It is unfortunate that I am not able to locate and link to a live performance by Waits.

For someone who has done a fair amount of hitch-hiking this song always strikes a nerve. The lyrics, like, “that cold lonely crossroad”, impart some of that sense of being out on the road –sometimes facing circumstances of great inconvenience or even tragedy, yet finding compassion and kindness in odd or mysterious places. Many people get a chill when they hear this old song. I know I do!

The lyrics are also filled with idioms, collocations and interesting slang that give greater meaning to the song in the context of culture.

“Big Joe And Phantom 309”

Well you see, I happened to be back on the east coast
a few years back tryin’ to make me a buck,
like everybody else.
Well you know, times get hard and well, I got down on my luck
and I got tired of just roamin’ and bummin’
around, so I started thumbin’ my way
back to my old hometown.
You know, I made quite a few miles
in the first couple of days, and I
figured I’d be home in a week if my
luck held out this way,
but you know it was the third night.
I got stranded.
It was out at a cold lonely crossroads
and as the rain came pouring down,
I was hungry, tired, freezin’…
Caught myself a chill,
but it was just about that time that
the lights of an old semi topped the hill.
You should of seen me smile when I
heard them air brakes come on, and
I climbed up in that cab where I
knew it’d be warm.
At the wheel, well, at the wheel sat a big man
I’d have to say he must of weighed 210
the way he stuck out a big hand and
said with a grin “Big Joe’s the name
and this here rig’s called Phantom 309”.
Well, I asked him why he called his rig such a name,
but he just turned to me
and said “Why son don’t you know this here
rig’ll be puttin’ ’em all to shame?
Why there ain’t a driver on this or any other line for that matter
that’s seen nothin’ but the taillights of Big Joe and Phantom 309″!
So we rode and talked the better part of the night
and I told my stories and Joe told his and
I smoked up all his Viceroys as we rolled along
he pushed her ahead with 10 forward gears.
Man that dashboard was lit-up like the old
Madam La Rue pinball.
A serious semi truck!
…until almost mysteriously, well, it was the
lights of a truck stop that rolled into sight.
Joe turned to me and said “I’m sorry son but I’m afraid this is just as far as you go.
You see I kinda gotta be makin’ a turn just up the road a piece,”
but I’ll be damned if he didn’t throw me a dime,
as he threw her in low
and said “Go on in there son, and get yourself a hot cup of coffee
on Big Joe”
and when Joe and his rig pulled off into
the night,
man in nothing flat they was
clean outa sight.
So,I walked into the old stop
and ordered me up a cup of mud sayin’
“Big Joe’s settin’ this dude up” but
it got so deathly quiet in that
place, you could of heard a pin drop.
As the waiter’s face turned kinda pale,
I said “What’s the matter did I say somethin’ wrong?”
I kinda said with a half way grin.
He said “No son, you see It’ll happen every now and then.
You see, every driver in here knows Big Joe, but let me
tell you what happened just 10 years ago,
yea, it was 10 years ago.
Out there at that cold lonely crossroads
where you flagged Joe down.
There was a whole bus load of kids
and they were just comin’ from school
and they were right in the middle when
Joe topped the hill, and could
have been slaughtered except
Joe turned his wheels, and
he jacknifed, and went
into a skid.
Folks around here say he gave his life to save that bunch of kids.
…and out there at that cold lonely crossroads,
well, they say it was the end of the line for Big Joe and Phantom 309,
…but it’s funny you know, cause every now and then,
yea, every now and then,
when the moon’s holdin’ water,
they say old Joe will stop and give you a ride, and
just like you, some hitchhiker will be comin’ by”…
“So, here son,” he said to me,
“get yourself another cup of coffee, it’s on the house,
you see I want you to hang on to that dime.
Yea you hang on to that dime as a kind of souvenir,
a souvenir of Big Joe and Phantom 309″.


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1 comment

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