March 22, 2005

The Midnight Special


"Let the Midnight Special
Shine her light on me.
Let the Midnight Special
Shine her ever-lovin' light on me."

Leadbelly's Midnight Special, one of the great American train songs, is given some biographical context here.

Posted by tgus at 9:45 AM

March 21, 2005

Wabash, Pt. 2: Life Imitates Art

Venerable folkie Utah Phillips has an informative post about how the song created the train.

Posted by tgus at 7:30 AM

March 20, 2005

The Wabash Cannonball

Train songs are ubiquitous in American folk music (though, judging from the number of car songs on MPR's Car Talk, car songs are uber-ubiquitous).

One of the most important is The Wabash Cannonball, that hymn to the hobo's life ridin' the rails "from New York to St. Louie, and Chicago by the way."

The verse that always gets my attention though, is the last one, a tribute to "Daddy Claxton," king of the rails, who'll get a funeral train, hobo style:

"When his earthly race is over, and the curtain 'round him falls,
We'll carry him home to victory on the Wabash Cannonball."

In American ideo-mythology, trains span the continent, their tracks joined by with a golden stake; they're an associated emblem of technological progress, driving the heroic John Henry to his death; they're vehicles fo the Robin Hoodish robberies of the James Gang--and for the dispossessed hobos, who own nothing and therfore everything, they're the ticket to Glory. That's a lot to sing about.

Posted by tgus at 9:44 PM