Another dose of nostalgie de la boue from Tom Paxton. I loved this song as a kid, but can’t help noticing that Paxton himself got married back when he was writing these songs, and the marriage lasted, and he moved out to the country and raised a family, and all in all has had one of the most settled and stable lives of anyone on the folk scene.
It’s as if he actually meant the last verse, where he sings that anyone who sees the ramblin’ boy goin’ by and wants to be like him should just “nail your shoes to the kitchen floor, lace ’em up and bar the door/Thank your stars for the roof that’s over you.”
Of course, none of us took that verse seriously. It was like the end of the gangster movie or outlaw ballad, where the guy dies and someone intones that his fate should be a warning to us all not to follow the bad road… but we all know the real message is “Live fast, die young, and leave a good-looking corpse.”
I loved this song and as soon as I was old enough I hit the road with my guitar slung over my shoulder, like Woody and Cisco and Jack and, I imagined, Tom. And although I eventually got married, part of the attraction was that I found someone who is also pretty mobile and unrooted (and does weird art and plays nice clarinet), and right now we’re trying to figure out where we’re going to live and what we’ll be when we grow up. I’ve even kept hitchhiking, though the last cross-country trip was ten years ago.
So, in retrospect, I’m amused by the romanticism of this song and the young me who fell for it, but I did… and for better or worse, I’m still pretty regularly wondering where I’m bound, and sometimes that feels scary, but who the hell doesn’t wonder where they’re headed or get scared sometimes?
And I think it’s a nice touch that the singer keeps bemoaning his sad ‘n’ ramblin’ ways, but it’s the girl, rather than him, who leaves on the morning train.