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   Author  Thread: Thief in the Night  (Read 6267 times)
Andrew_Curry
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Thief in the Night
« : 14.05.08 at 11:26 »
Quote

Being something of an intermittent MVer, I noticed that there might be some additions to be made to Richard Bleksley's annotation of Thief in the Night, but have little idea of how to suggest them. So I thought I would open up a thread and see if people thought the additions were worth adding, as it were:
 
"The guitar reminds me of death and taxes": a reference to the famous quote by the American revolutionary Benjamin Franklin (1706-90), "'In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes." (From a letter to in a letter to Jean-Baptiste Leroy, 1789).  
 
The English writer Daniel Defoe said something similar a little earlier:
    "Things as certain as death and taxes, can be more firmly believed." (The Political History of the Devil, 1726).
 
"A truck going north". More contentious this, but it is possibly a reference to "the great Migration" from the American south to Chicago, in the first half of the 20th century, in which many black people moved north - by whatever means of transport was affordable. One - guitar-related - outcome (as country blues players from the south arrived in the city) was the development of Chicago's urban blues sound, which brought the electric guitar into the blues line-up.  
 
"A cab to the Festival Hall": Well, of course it doesn't need its own reference, unless we're being completists; but I always loved the juxtaposition here with the previous phrase, of truck and cab, of poor and rich, of city and country, of player and audience.  
 
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S J Birkill
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Re: Thief in the Night
« Reply #1: 14.05.08 at 15:52 »
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on 14.05.08 at 11:26, Andrew_Curry wrote:
"A truck going north". More contentious this, but it is possibly a reference to "the great Migration" from the American south to Chicago, in the first half of the 20th century, in which many black people moved north - by whatever means of transport was affordable. One - guitar-related - outcome (as country blues players from the south arrived in the city) was the development of Chicago's urban blues sound, which brought the electric guitar into the blues line-up.

That interpretation had escaped me, but it makes good sense and a better contrast with the line that follows. I'd imagined one of Edwin Shirley's pantechnicons packed with the stage kit of some mighty 70s supergroup, en route to the Free Trade Hall, or maybe an old Ford Transit bound for some provincial polytechnic. I like the idea of hopping a Chicago-bound railroad truck, though it might then have been a boxcar or a freight car rather than a 'truck'. Still, I guess they had the predecessors of the 'big rigs' on the highway even then, so that'd be an alternative.
 
Steve
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Kevin Cryan
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Re: Thief in the Night
« Reply #2: 14.05.08 at 18:01 »
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on 14.05.08 at 11:26, Andrew_Curry wrote:
.......
 
"A truck going north". More contentious this, but it is possibly a reference to "the great Migration" from the American south to Chicago, in the first half of the 20th century, in which many black people moved north - by whatever means of transport was affordable. One - guitar-related - outcome (as country blues players from the south arrived in the city) was the development of Chicago's urban blues sound, which brought the electric guitar into the blues line-up.  
............
 

 
Might it be that Clive was (also?) thinking of the freight car (truck) on to which many itenerant American musicians of the thirties and forties - the likes of Woody Guthrie - used to freighthop when they wanted to travel around the country?
 
Kevin Cryan
 
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Andrew_Curry
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Re: Thief in the Night
« Reply #3: 14.05.08 at 16:55 »
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Well, mention of Woody Guthrie and the boxcars takes us into the realm (and quickly off-topic) of the Wobblies - the Industrial Workers of the World [http://www.iww.org/] whom I find top my surprise are still a functioning organisation.
 
One musical link which may be of interest to MVers - some of the Wobbly stories (and other tales from the old American left) are told on the two fine Utah Phillips records produced by Ani di Franco, "Fellow Workers" and "The Past Didn't Go Anywhere" (and indeed many of his other records) [http://www.utahphillips.org/tapecd.html].
 
Andrew
 
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Pete Atkin
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Re: Thief in the Night
« Reply #4: 14.05.08 at 16:43 »
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a truck going north  - a good thought, except that (Steve's right, I think) railroad cars have never been known as 'trucks' in the U.S.  Now I think of it, of course, 'truck' is American for 'lorry'.  'Truck' is used fairly commonly now in the U.K. but it wasn't when the song was written in 1970 or -71, so if it does indeed refer to a lorry maybe it's a small giveaway Australianism.
 
Keep on truckin'
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Andrew_Curry
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Re: Thief in the Night
« Reply #5: 14.05.08 at 17:28 »
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I had in mind people hitchhiking or riding on the back of pickups, rather than travelling by railroad - Pete's post sent me to check definitions, and 'truck' - in the rail sense - is principally a British usage.
 
Andrew
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Richard Bleksley
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Re: Thief in the Night
« Reply #6: 14.05.08 at 21:15 »
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Australianism or not, the line always called a lorry to my mind.
 
As Pete points out, "truck" has never been used in a railway context in the U.S. - all vehicles, passenger or freight, are always called "cars," and as a bit of a railway buff (ahem!) I've always known this.  Come to think of it, actually it is: in America (anoraks on!) "truck" means the pivoted wheeled frame under the vehicle, what in Britain is called a bogie.  But I'm sure that's not what Clive meant!
 
I very much like Andrew's interpretation of the line as referring to the Black migration North. Feel free, Mr. Birkill, to add his ideas to my annotation.  
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Kevin Cryan
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Re: Thief in the Night
« Reply #7: 14.05.08 at 21:37 »
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on 14.05.08 at 16:43, Pete Atkin wrote:
a truck going north  - a good thought, except that (Steve's right, I think) railroad cars have never been known as 'trucks' in the U.S.  .....
 
Keep on truckin'

 
Pete is quite right about "railroad cars have never been known as 'trucks' in the U.S". However, the 'trucks' which itenerants and hpbos rode,  and which I had in mind, looked something like this,  and how they were used was neatly described by Jack London in his writing about the experiance of "riding the rods" .  
 
>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>.
 
But to "ride the rods" requires nerve, and skill, and daring. And, by the way, there is but one rod, and it occurs on passenger coaches. Idiomatically, it becomes "rods," just as idiomatically we speak of "riding trains." .... A four-wheel truck is oblong in shape and is divided into halves by a cross-partition. What is true of one-half is true of the other half. Between this cross-partition and the axle is a small lateral rod, three to four feet in length, running parallel with both the partition and the axle. This is the rod. There is more often than not another rod, running longitudinally, the air-brake rod. These rods cross each other; but woe to the tyro who takes his seat on the brake-rod! It is not the rod, and the chance is large that the tyro's remains will worry and puzzle the county coroner.
 
>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
Jack London on the Road: The Tramp Diary and Other Writings. Etulain, Richard, ed.  (Logan: Utah State University Press, 1979)
 
"Riding the rods". incidentally,  could refer either this particular experience,  or, more broadly, to the experience of riding the railroad.  
 
Kevin Cryan
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S J Birkill
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Re: Thief in the Night
« Reply #8: 15.05.08 at 00:15 »
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on 14.05.08 at 21:15, Richard Bleksley wrote:
I very much like Andrew's interpretation of the line as referring to the Black migration North. Feel free, Mr. Birkill, to add his ideas to my annotation.

Done.
 
SJB
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Ian Ashleigh
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Re: Thief in the Night
« Reply #9: 15.05.08 at 09:27 »
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Somewhat late to this thread but I'll throw my hat into the ring.
 
I had always imagined the truck as being on an American Freeway.  This image was brought to life when I bought a copy of the LP (on vynil back in the day) of  The Way It Is by Bruce Hornsby & The Range, the sleeve photograph is of a lone American Truck crossing a bridge - from memory, the annoataion gives the location - which I cannot remember - and the direction as eatbound rather than north but the image is there.  That, for me, was the truck that Clive saw when writing Theif in the Night.
 
The passengers in the cab to the Festival Hall were dressed in evening wear, tall and the lady's ball gown was red.
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Rob Spence
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Re: Thief in the Night
« Reply #10: 15.05.08 at 11:10 »
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on 14.05.08 at 16:43, Pete Atkin wrote:
a truck going north  - a good thought, except that (Steve's right, I think) railroad cars have never been known as 'trucks' in the U.S.  Now I think of it, of course, 'truck' is American for 'lorry'.  'Truck' is used fairly commonly now in the U.K. but it wasn't when the song was written in 1970 or -71, so if it does indeed refer to a lorry maybe it's a small giveaway Australianism.
 
Keep on truckin'

I always had an image of a Transit van carrying a standard beat combo, as a kind of pop music balance to the Festival Hall reference. Both about going to guitar based gigs, but illustrating the musical range of the instrument - and underlining it by the geographical extremes.
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Pete Atkin
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Re: Thief in the Night
« Reply #11: 15.05.08 at 09:54 »
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I think Rob's probably right.  After all, the images, while they are inevitably personal associations, are meant to be things that might remind you of a guitar.
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