are train songs losing their relevance?
Over the last few days I have heard several songs about trains.
You know, the kind that used to move things besides freight. One of the songs was from Lil Ed on Wait, Wait, don’t tell me NPR news quiz show. Another is from Ryan Adams’ Jacksonville City Lights, and yet another is from the radio, however I don’t know who that was.
While listening to these songs I realized that I had never really seen a true “American” steam train that makes the chuga-chuga sound. All of my experience with trains has been through other people’s interpretation of trains.
I have ridden many subway trains, commuter trains, and European trains. These are all electric trains though, and therefore do not make the destinctive sound that I am so familiar with but can’t say whether I have heard first hand. Perhaps when I was under ten years old I saw one once but it wasn’t a train that was actually in use. I suppose there is the train scene in Stand by Me.
The point of this post is to raise the question, “are train songs still appropriate?” They seem so outdated. When Lil Ed sings “Hold that train…” I have no personal experience to relate to those words. People don’t hold trains these days. When I hear him sing that, I see scenes, like from a movie in my head. I see a young black kid with a bolo hat, high socks, short baggy pants, and suspenders. Not only that, but the film has the yellowish tinge to it and there is a lot of brown-red dirt. Perhaps he’s in Kentucky or something.
Anyway, it’s not my reality, it is a borrowed reality.
Even though I am sure there are fewer songs about trains today, I think that, unless the song is about a subway train, the song should not focus on the train. Even using the train in a metaphor might be losing touch with modern day listeners. If the metaphor refers to a train chugging through the night, I see the train scene from Dumbo in my head. I don’t have first hand experience to relate it to.
To contrast, when John Mayer sings about playing chess with the salt and pepper shakers, I can see that. Even though I have never played chess with the shakers, I have played chess and I have experienced, first hand, the shakers. When Ryan Adams sings “trains moan in my head….” I have no connection to that.
Does anyone have any first hand experience with non-electric trains, the trains that evoke a sense of nostalgic mystery and romance?
If so, please share it with me so that I can enjoy the train songs more and maybe even write my own.