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Oink Joint Road

Oink joint road

 

In central Minnesota, on US 10 between Verndale and Wadena, you'll see a sign for Oink Joint Road.

There must be a story there ... but I don't know what it is. Probably, a hog farm is up that road, and when the owner had a chance to name it, he experienced a flash of inspiration.

In any case, when I see the sign — and I pass it about twice a year on the way to a friend's cabin — I usually picture Tom Waits whipping out his note pad and jotting down ... Oink ... Joint ... Road.

Tom Waits has made a living by collecting colorful things people say and squeezing them into songs — he has said he's "in the salvage business":

Coulda been on Easy Street, coulda been a wheel
With irons in the fire and all them business deals
But the last of the big time losers shouted before he drove away
"I'll be right back, as soon as I crack the one that got away"
A lot of songwriters do that, of course — write lyrics by collage, basically. I happen to think of Waits because he's kind of obvious about it, and it usually works beautifully.

By contrast, Bob Dylan sometimes seems to collect phrases from the ordinary speech of ordinary people. Not the striking phrases that Waits might gather — Oink Joint Road, Little Red's Recovery Room, Beulah Land — but dull, dead things that come alive in Dylan's voice:

Someone's got it in for me
They're planting stories in the press
Whoever it is, I wish they'd cut it out quick
When they will, I can only guess
I'll always insist that Dylan learned his collage method from folk songs and the blues (and, in turn, everyone else mostly learned it from him). The "floating stanzas" that he found in those old songs act a lot like the cliches of everyday speech, in that they just hang in the air waiting to be snapped into place by a singer.
Who's a-gunna walk you side-by-side
And tell you everything's alright?
Who's a-gunna sing to you all day long
And not just in the night?
The result of stitching together a lot of floating stanzas can be, over the course of the song, a strange, nonlinear train of thought that begins to make a kind of sense only slowly, in the gradually accumulating mood of the song.

And, as it turns out, that's exactly the key to how Dylan modernized vernacular song, making it work as both pop culture and impressionist verse at the same time.

And ... well, anyway. It takes about four and half hours to get from Minneapolis to our friend's cabin, so you have plenty of time to over-think things ... and Oink Joint Road does present itself ...