Friday, January 7, 2011

Papa Hobo

Mostly, we hear about people wanting to escape small towns (as in "My Little Town"). Our speaker here wants to escape the major city of Detroit.

The speaker seems to be a janitor, perhaps in a restaurant: "Sweep up! I've been sweeping up the tips I've made." He's "dressed like a schoolboy," but perhaps is not one any longer, having graduated or dropped out; he simply cannot afford newer, adult clothes.

But he also has aspirations, is seems, to be an athlete: "I've been living on Gatorade." Even though Detroit is a "basketball town," with "a hell of a hockey team," he is not looking to be discovered by a hometown team; "I've been planning my getaway... I'm in the road."

The other thing Detroit is, of course, is a "car town," and the song starts off by discussing the town's major paradox-- the very "carbon...monoxide" that is the town's "perfume" is also killing the people of the town: "it lays you down by noon."

Likewise, the car industry can lure people to their doom: "Got a left-handed way of making a man/ Sign up on that automotive dream." But it remains a dream-- not many make it from the factory floor to the executive suite.

This is the "natural reaction" one learns, being treating this "left-handed" way (the term seems to mean something different here than in "Phillipic," which contains the line, "I'm a Communist 'cause I'm left-handed.")

Sports becomes the escape route, either as a distraction or possible alternate career. But basketball and hockey are both marked by quick changes in a player's status from offense to defense-- one's fortune's change too quickly, and are affected by both one's own team and one's opponents, both out of a player's control.

Our speaker is left feeling like a "clown," disillusioned by the left-handedness of the auto industry and disappointed by sports.

Even science offers no certainty. In "The Only Living Boy," we find the line, "I get the news I need on the weather report." Here, we find, "the weatherman lied," and our speaker finds himself in need of a "ride" out of town.

Enter Papa Hobo. A "hobo" is a drifter, a transient, in older parlance. Today, we would use the word "homeless," but while many homeless are stuck in one city, a hobo would hop on passing train cars and ride to another town on a regular basis.

Papa Hobo is not necessarily anyone's father, but is some sort of father figure among the local or hobo population. Our speaker sees in him one last hope-- self sufficiency. Complete self-reliance, even in poverty.

So he finally, we presume, makes it out Detroit for parts unknown. The final irony? His escape is made in a car, the very reason he is leaving altogether.

Next Song: Paranoia Blues

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