You got your carbide in my fuel oil! No, you got your fuel oil on my carbide!
October 18, 2012 10:15 PM   Subscribe

In 1980 Mark Knopfler watched the object of his desire turn and walk away in a roar of dust and diesel. Was that a reference? If so, to what?

I ask because in 1983 UFO made contact and told the story of a man who wouldn't back down dying amid the smell of diesel in the dust. Bruce Cockburn also invoked dust and diesel that year to paint a picture of the Interamerican Highway in Nicaragua. By 1987 Midnight Oil didn't leave and, instead, released an entire album titled Diesel and Dust.

This has got to be more than just alliteration, right? Are there more dust and diesel references out there that I haven't run into?
posted by Kid Charlemagne to Media & Arts (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Note that the phrase is also used in the lyrics of Warakurna, a track on that same Midnight Oil album.
posted by Chrysostom at 10:31 PM on October 18, 2012

A Google Books search constrained to 1900-1980 suggests the association was fairly widespread. There are a couple of extremely minor literary sources that could be on point, but if it's an allusion to something captured in print at the time, perhaps it's one of the government studies/hearings, which might well have been mentioned in the news.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 11:17 PM on October 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

Random guess, but the first Mad Max came out in 1979.
posted by mannequito at 12:16 AM on October 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

And the first Paris-Dakar rally was in 1978. And a lot more people had switched to diesel in the wake of the oil crisis, so talking about diesel was quite of the moment.

I think it is just alliteration and the strength of the image. Diesel fumes are unpleasant are unpleasant to stand in. The person left by the roadside in diesel and dust is an enduring visual trope.
posted by MuffinMan at 12:36 AM on October 19, 2012

The dust and diesel was probably related to the fact that the song "Tunnel of Love" is set in the "Spanish City", a rundown funfair in Whitley Bay.

Mark Knopfler is more than a decade older than me, but I remember dust and diesel as essentail parts of the whole "Spanish City" experience - although there was no Ghost Train in my time hanging around the park.
posted by muckybob at 3:04 AM on October 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

American prior to the paving of most roads, and particularly in the west, was very dusty. America's roads are filled with large semi-trucks and buses that run on diesel. Disappearing in a roar of diesel and dust conjurs in my mind that his love got on a bus (or hitched a ride on a semi) and left his small town.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 6:39 AM on October 19, 2012

what about "diamonds and rust"?
posted by incandissonance at 7:28 AM on October 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

It's so interesting that a phrase so evocative to USA listeners might be rooted in local details of NE England.
posted by glasseyes at 10:46 AM on October 19, 2012

It doesn't seem any stranger to me than a bunch of poor black sharecroppers in NW Mississippi influencing the musical expressions of some kids in NE England years after many of them had died.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 11:05 AM on October 19, 2012

Well, "dust and diesel" certainly has an ngram presence whereas "diesel and dust" is an order of magnitude less significant. The former really begins to appear beginning in the 1960s, but it picks up around the time of the Knopfler/Cockburn usages ca. 1980 with a notable -- but not even necessarily significant -- jump with the Midnight Oil album.

No smoking gun here, but I suspect all these particular musicians do know each other's work and may even be deliberately snagging the reference. That may explain why it's primarily a musical phrase rather than something appearing in a major influential literary work.
posted by dhartung at 2:40 PM on October 19, 2012

« Older Why were airplanes flying the wrong way over LA...   |   Do I need to see a doc for plantar fasciitis... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.