I always thought it was autobiographical - more about touring life as a band in the 70/80’s back when they’d play 6/7 shows a week. It sounds like a lament of somebody fed-up after yet another long, laborious tour to make ends meet (the chorus being a play on the old country songs ‘I’ve got those blues). Back before music-tv saturation, you sold albums on the back of live shows, rather than TV appearances, especially if you weren’t mainstream. As I understand it, as each town on the east coast was only 30 minutes or so, each band member in the early days would take a piece of equipment and hitchhike to the next venue, with a truck taking any other equipment. This would save vital costs in the days when each member was struggling for even 1 meal a day (‘dodge the waitress…’). ‘hump that coffin up round one more bend’ would seem to refer to carrying an instrument case (called a coffin due to its shape – cases for cricket equipment are also called coffins for similar reasons) up around the next bend of the pacific highway, as would ‘asphalt on my shoes’. The 2nd verse then lists the other forms of transport and why they weren’t possible, hence why they were almost forced into hitching, expensive flights (East-West was a very old domestic carrier), refusal of service, dislike of buses, and hire cars being a nightmare. Then also complaining about only having ‘remaining change’ from a tour due to the transport costs. I’d imagine they would’ve done Sydney shows form their home base, then hit the road by starting in Gosford and made their way north, hence ‘ride the line to Hornsby station’. References to Nambucca Heads and ‘up the coast’ would suggest them going up the east coast and back again (‘50 miles to go then I’ll be home’). Similarly, listing the characters ( ‘I’ve had petrolheads, country hicks, bible freaks, and lunatics’) would suggest the type of people that would pick them up on the way – and would certainly fit the mould of the type of person who would bother picking up hikers, eg do-gooders, car-show-offs, people with a cause etc.
also a verse in there where you can clearly hear them wondering if they’re following the best path (Bali, Bangkok, overland, Asian highway, Amsterdam, always some town unexplored). Should they be touring somewhere else? Is this the right path? Then settling on what’s happening now (the motion is its own reward) because it’s getting them to the next stop, which is the immediate priority.
I love the way the song builds and builds to that massive crescendo at the end, topped off with that primal scream of ‘just having had enough’. As you can see, I’ve put a bit of thought into this as it’s one of my favourite songs.
In saying all the above, this is merely my opinion. If the song works better for you as being about Hornsby or whatever, then stick with that. That’s the point of lyrics, it’s for each persons interpretation and for them to find relevance in it. That’s why you’ll rarely hear songwriters disucssing the meaning of their own songs. Either that or, in Carly Simon’s case, keeping schtum kept her song being played on the radio for 40 years.