Spoor of Desire: Selected Poems
is available for $16.00 from FootHills Publishing, P.O. Box 68, Kanona NY 14856 or see www.foothillspublishing.com.

Tourist Snapshots is available for $8.95 from Randy Fingland, CC Marimbo, P.O. Box 933, Berkeley CA 94701 or see www.ccmarimbo.com.

Dada Poetry: An Introduction was published by Nirala Publications. It may be ordered on Amazon.com for $25 plus shipping. American buyers may order a copy from me for $23 including shipping.

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Saturday, November 1, 2014

Truckin'

This essay is followed by the texts of Blind Boy Fuller’s "She's a Truckin' Little Baby," Ted Koehler’s “Truckin’,” Big Bill Broonzy’s “Truckin’ Little Woman,” Garcia, Lehr, Lesh, and Hunter’s “Truckin’, Hot Tuna’s” Keep On Truckin’,” and Eddie Kendricks’ “Keep on Truckin’.”


The Symbolist poets realized that images can be strengthened by underdetermination, that is, by giving the reader insufficient information to decode a term precisely, opening a route to associations and connotations that might otherwise be excluded. Furthermore, the implications of every image are conditioned by the tradition, such that a range of earlier usages may suggest allusive reference either strongly or weakly, expanding the semantic field in complex and subtle ways rather than limiting it as a definition would do. In addition, all figures of speech might be said to be imprecise in that the vehicle (in I.A. Richards’ term) applies only in part to the tenor. Paradoxically, what might seem inexactness provides the ability to formulate new significations, far more densely laden with information than ordinary discourse. Meaning becomes considerably more complex once the reader surveys a variety of texts by different authors. The use of the word “trucking” in American popular music indicates the vigor and elasticity of a term that gains in power with each novel turn in usage.

Thanks to R. Crumb and, in his wake, the Grateful Dead, “truckin’” has entered common vernacular usage, yet long before the fame of Mr. Natural and Jerry Garcia, the expression had a place in American song lyrics. In "She's a Truckin' Little Baby," recorded in 1936 by Blind Boy Fuller (Fulton Allen), [1] the word is nothing more than rhyming slang, a euphemism for fucking (like both “jazz” and “rock and roll”). The singer warns rivals, “Catch you truckin' with her, I'm gonna sure shoot you down,” and celebrates his beloved in familiar hyperbole.


Keep on truckin' mama, truckin' my blues away, yeah
Keep on truckin' baby, truckin' my blues away
Make a lame man run, make a blind man see
Sure gets good when she truckin' with me.


This usage is not surprising from Fuller, a Piedmont street musician whose repertoire included a number of outrageous hokum songs such as “I Want Some of Your Pie,” “ What’s That Smell like Fish,” and “Let Me Squeeze Your Lemon.” The genre, reveling in double entendre, arose from minstrel show comedy to popularity on “race” (black) and sometimes on “old-time” (white country) recordings as well in the 1930s.

A number of other artists further exploited this vein, including John Jackson, another Piedmont musician, who performed in the 1940s but never recorded until the 60s. Jackson’s “Trucking Little Baby” opens with the words, “That little girl, she's a-named Irene./ Got good jelly but she's stingy with me.” Bill Bill Broonzy recorded “Trucking Little Woman” in 1938 which notes that “She can look up as long as you can look down.” Decades later John Hammond used the same sort of ribald lyrics in his “Trucking Little Boy” as did Hot Tuna for their version of “Keep on Truckin’” on the Splashdown album in 1984.

The term trucking, however, doubtless due to an extension of the same euphemistic usage, was also familiar to Fuller’s audience as a dance step popular since the late 1920s. [2] Though much couple dancing may be seen as formalized sexual intercourse, and some dance moves are clearly erotic, this one is instead descended from the struts or cake-walks, conventionalized moves indicating confidence and ebullient joy. Considered by some a decorative elaboration on the Lindy Hop, the dancers lift and lower their shoulders while waggling a pointing forefinger in the air. The program of the 1935 Cotton Club Parade show includes a number titled “Truckin’” credited to Ted Koehler which is free from sexual innuendo. Like many other dance craze lyrics, the words simply announce the new vogue, saying everyone’s doing it.

From the dance usage, perhaps via marathon dance competitions, the term came to have the more common contemporary meaning of persisting or carrying on despite difficulties. The phrase “Keep on trucking” seems to have been unrecorded until Crumb’s images to accompany Fuller’s words in 1967, though some trace it plausibly to usage decades earlier among Pullman car porters or long-haul truckers. It can hardly surprise one that the phrase emerged in African-American vernacular to indicate persistence, “keeping on keeping on,” in a hostile racist world. In the three word phrase the erotic implications are often subdued though not out of place. Love-making was always a recreation and solace available to the poor as well as the rich.

In the Grateful Dead’s “Truckin’,” an account of the band’s road trips, the sense of restless traveling, of moving forward predominates. Against a background of poker imagery (a modern version of the wheel of fortune) and the evocation of Crumb’s “do-dah man” [4] The song opens with a collage of various cities, though to the singer they seem “all on the same street.” The theme of love is included in passing with these lines.


Most of the cast that you meet on the streets speak of true love,
Most of the time they're sittin' and cryin' at home.
One of these days they know they better get goin'
Out of the door and down on the streets all alone.


Eddie Kendricks, once of the Temptations, had a number one solo hit with “Keep On Truckin’.” Here the sexual metaphor returns with fierce intensity, while the propulsive, “traveling,” implications of the word are also exploited. With his incoherent moans and exclamations, the singer enacts sexual pleasure. His “love jones” has set him “on fire.” Though saying it’s a “double shame” to be so helplessly enraptured, he continues to “keep trucking” toward “good loving.” Kendricks then explicitly evokes the image of a truck on the highway with his references to “diesel-powered” and the “red ball express.” [3] Lines such as “Ain't nothin' holdin' me back nothin'/ I'll keep right on, right on truckin'” might refer equally to love-making or to life in general.

As T. S Eliot said in his immensely influential “Tradition and the Individual Talent,” tradition involves far more than “blind or timid adherence” to earlier models. According to Eliot the appreciation of any writer necessarily involves “the appreciation of his relation to the dead poets and artists.” Thus the addition of every new work requires the alteration “of the whole existing order.” The meaning of Kendricks’ song includes the previous meanings, not only of the word trucking, but indeed of every word in his lyrics. He depends as do all poets, on the competence of the reader (or listener) to understand his language in the context of his tradition. For the word trucking, this includes well-established implications of sexual desire and dogged determination, both associated with the energy of a fully loaded semi barreling down the road. In his song’s final word, “truckin’,” the listener can hear a symphony of allusions to generations of earlier poets.



1. Fuller also recorded “Long Time Trucker” which adds little to my analysis. The song is more concerned with his concern about his lover’s black cat bone.

2. The dance has been variously attributed to Dewey "Pigmeat" Markham and to Cora LaRedd of the Cotton Club, but most authorities agree that it was largely a renaming of previously existing moves, some of which had been featured in nineteenth century minstrel shows.

3. Soldiers on the historic Red Ball Express convoys following D-Day were mainly African-American.

4. Do-dah (or its variations) most readily alludes to the chorus of Stephen Foster’s “Camptown Races,” though baby boomers will think also of Disney’s “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah” from Song of the South. In fact the syllables occur as far back as the minstrel show favorite “Ole Zip Coon.” In Thomas Birch’s 1834 version the chorus is “O Zip a duden duden duden zip a duden day.” In fact, due to its jocular nonsense sound, doo-dah has been used as a slang term with such varied referents as cocaine, breasts, penis, and the city of Wichita as well, I suspect, as others of which I am unaware.


"She's a Truckin' Little Baby" Blind Boy Fuller (Fulton Allen)

I got a gal here in this town, she's the best lookin' brown around
I got a gal in this town, best lookin' brown around
She's a-strictly tailor-made, she ain't no hand-me-down
Catch you truckin' with her, I'm gonna sure shoot you down
Keep on truckin' mama, truckin' my blues away
Truckin' my blues away

Keep on truckin' mama, truckin' my blues away
Keep on truckin' mama, girl you truck my blues away
I got a gal she's little and neat
When she's starts to truckin', man it's so sweet
Keep on truckin' mama, truckin' my blues away
Truckin' my blues away

Keep on truckin' baby, truckin' my blues away, yeah
Keep on truckin' baby, truckin' my blues away
I know a gal she's long and tall
When she starts to truckin' make a little man squall
Keep on truckin' mama, truckin' my blues away
I mean, truckin' my blues away, yeah

do be dee be da....zee za za etc.

Keep on truckin' baby, truckin' my blues away
Keep on truckin' mama, truckin' my blues away
She has a dance she call biddle-um-bum
Sure missin' somethin' if you don't truck some
Keep on truckin' mama, truckin' my blues away
Truckin' my blues away

Keep on truckin' baby, truckin' my blues away
Keep on truckin' mama, truckin' my blues away, yeah
You don't have to hurry, don't have to go
Wait a little while you might wanna truck some more
Keep on truckin' baby, truckin' my blues away
Truckin' my blues away

Keep on truckin' mama, truckin' my blues away, yeah
Keep on truckin' baby, truckin' my blues away
Make a lame man run, make a blind man see
Sure gets good when she truckin' with me
Keep on truckin' baby, truckin' my blues away


“Truckin’” Ted Koehler

Listen you rhythm rounders,
Harlem is talking now
You know the truck bug got you,
But you never knew just how.

That’s what I want to tell you,
I’ve got it figured out.
Now if you want the lowdown,
Here’s how it came about.

We had to have something new,
a dance to do up here in Harlem,
so someone started Truckin’
as soon as the news got round.

The folks downtown came up to Harlem.
Everybody Truckin’. It didn’t take long
Before the High Hats were doin’ it,
Park Avenue nuin’ it, All over town,
You’ll see them Scufflin’, Shufflin’, Truckin’ along.
It spread like a forest blaze, became a craze
and thanks to Harlem now everybody’s Truckin’.


"Trucking Little Woman" William Lee Conley Broonzy (Big Bill Broonzy)

See that woman, her hands up over her head?
Did you hear me, what I said?

She's a truckin' little woman, don't you know.
She's a truckin' little woman, don't you know.
She's a truckin' little woman, here from Tennessee.

Wake up, boys. Don't you be no fool.
This little gal here, she's just from school.
She got plenty sense. She ain't no fool.
Got big eyes 'cause she's stubborn as a mule, but

She's a truckin' little woman, don't you know.
She's a truckin' little woman, don't you know.
She's a truckin' little woman, here from Tennessee.

This little gal that I'm singin' about
Is strictly tailor-made and it ain't no doubt.
She's built up round, right on the ground.
She can look up as long as you can look down, 'cause

She's a truckin' little woman, don't you know.
She's a truckin' little woman, don't you know.
She's a truckin' little woman, here from Tennessee.

I's just wonderin' what's that Annie got?
Where does she keep it, an' in what drawer?
Where did she get it? How much it cost?
Eyes like a big motor with a double exhaust, 'cause

She's a truckin' little woman, don't you know.
She's a truckin' little woman, don't you know.
She's a truckin' little woman, here from Tennessee.

See that woman goin' down the road,
Jumpin' an' jackin' like a model-T Fo'd.

She's a truckin' mother for you, don't you know.
She's a truckin' mother for you, don't you know.
She's a truckin' mother for you, here from Tennessee.


"Truckin'" Grateful Dead (Garcia,Weir, Lesh, and Hunter)

Truckin' got my chips cashed in. Keep truckin', like the do-dah man
Together, more or less in line, just keep truckin' on.

Arrows of neon and flashing marquees out on Main Street.
Chicago, New York, Detroit and it's all on the same street.
Your typical city involved in a typical daydream
Hang it up and see what tomorrow brings.

Dallas, got a soft machine; Houston, too close to New Orleans;
New York's got the ways and means; but just won't let you be, oh no.

Most of the cast that you meet on the streets speak of true love,
Most of the time they're sittin' and cryin' at home.
One of these days they know they better get goin'
Out of the door and down on the streets all alone.

Truckin', like the do-dah man. Once told me "You've got to play your hand"
Sometimes your cards ain't worth a dime, if you don't lay'em down,

Sometimes the light's all shinin' on me;
Other times I can barely see.
Lately it occurs to me What a long, strange trip it's been.

What in the world ever became of sweet Jane?
She lost her sparkle, you know she isn't the same
Livin' on reds, vitamin C, and cocaine,
All a friend can say is "Ain't it a shame?"

Truckin', up to Buffalo. Been thinkin', you got to mellow slow
Takes time, you pick a place to go, and just keep truckin' on.

Sittin' and starin' out of the hotel window.
Got a tip they're gonna kick the door in again
I'd like to get some sleep before I travel,
But if you got a warrant, I guess you're gonna come in.

Busted, down on Bourbon Street, Set up, like a bowlin' pin.
Knocked down, it gets to wearin' thin. They just won't let you be, oh no.

You're sick of hangin' around and you'd like to travel;
Get tired of travelin' and you want to settle down.
I guess they can't revoke your soul for tryin',
Get out of the door and light out and look all around.

Sometimes the light's all shinin' on me;
Other times I can barely see.
Lately it occurs to me What a long, strange trip it's been.

Truckin', I'm a goin' home. Whoa whoa baby, back where I belong,
Back home, sit down and patch my bones, and get back truckin' on.
Hey now get back truckin' home.


“Keep on Truckin’” Hot Tuna


Well, now keep on truckin' mama
Truck my blues away

Well I say, keep on truckin' mama
Truck my blues away

Here you come baby big as sin
Tell what you been doin' by the shape you're in

So keep on truckin' mama
Now truck my blues away

If you been doin' like I think you been doin'
I can't do that 'round here
I said, you been doin' like I think you been doin'
I can't do that 'round here

Here you come mama big as hell
Tell you knew by way you smell

So keep on truckin' mama
Truck my blues away

Now what's that smell like fish oh babe
I really would like to know
And tell me, what's that smell like fish pretty mama
I really would like to know

That ain't puddin' baby, that ain't no pie
It's the stuff that I got you by

So keep on truckin' mama
Truck my blues away

Now yes you gotta leave my house this mornin'
Get your yas yas outta my door
Well I said, yes you gotta leave my house this mornin'
Get your yas yas outta my door

Ashes to ashes baby, dust to dust
Whatcha gonna do when that damn thing rusts

So keep on truckin' mama
Truck my blues away


“Keep on Truckin’” Eddie Kendricks


Ooh...
Ooh...
Ooh...

Keep on truckin', baby
I got to keep on truckin'
Got to get to your good lovin'
Huh...huh...huh...huh...huh...

Shame
A double shame on me, yeah
Love
Love, I let it control me, yeah

From just one kiss I am inspired
To lovers in time there's a fire

And I'll keep on truckin', baby
I got to keep on truckin'
I got to get to your good lovin'
Huh...huh...huh...huh...

Baby, its bad
It's so hard to bear
Yes, babe
You're hard to bear

I've got a fever rising with desire
It's my love jones and I feel like I'm on fire

And I'll keep on keep on truckin', baby
I got to keep on truckin'
Got to get to your good lovin'
Huh...huh...huh...huh...

Feelin' good
No, you can't stop the feelin'
No, you can't stop the feelin'
No, not now

Ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh

Keep on truckin' on
Keep on truckin' on
Keep on truckin'

Keep on truckin' on
Keep on truckin'

Yes, I've got a fever rising with desire
It's my love jones and I feel like I'm on fire

And I'll keep on keep on truckin', baby

I'm the red ball express of lovin'
Diesel-powered straight to you, I'm truckin'
In old Temptation's rain, I'm duckin'
For your love through sleet and snow, I'm truckin', ooh

I'm the red ball express of lovin'
Diesel-powered straight to you, I'm truckin'
In old Temptation's rain, I'm duckin'
For your love through sleet and snow, I'm truckin'

Ain't nothin' holdin' me back nothin'
I'll keep right on, right on truckin'
Ain't nothin' holdin' me back nothin'
I'll keep right on, right on truckin'

Ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh, truckin'
Ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh, truckin'

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