Songblogging From the Train

I’m in New Orleans, stopping over for the night on my cross-country train trip to Arizona to see my brother. I left New York on Saturday afternoon on the Crescent, which runs down the Northeast Corridor to Atlanta and then goes across Alabama and Mississippi down to New Orleans — it is, I believe, a descendant of the train Chuck Berry wrote about in “Promised Land.”

I’ve been doing some reading and writing, taking lots of pictures, and playing some music. All of which put together means that I seem to be song-blogging my trip.

I wrote “The Northeast Corridor Blues” years ago, when I used to ride up and down that line on New Jersey Transit all the time, to my company’s location near Princeton. Here’s a brand-new version, actually recorded on the Northeast Corridor, with a slideshow of photos and video taken along the trip between New York and Washington.

The Northeast Corridor Blues

Pulling out of Penn leaving New York City behind
We get into Lynchburg at half-past nine
On the Crescent to New Orleans down that Northeast Corridor line

The train I ride don’t take no backsliders
All reserved, just ticketed riders
Riding in style in my Viewliner

Newark Elizabeth Linden Rahway
Metropark Metuchen Edison New Brunswick
Princeton Junction Hamilton, Trenton makes the world takes
And took and took and took and took and took enough to make you sick

You ride through the weeds and you ride through the rust
You ride by factories all gone bust
Theres nothing left but broken windows and faded signs
And old men in bars remembering better times

There was the Broadway Limited, the Cannon Ball
The Pennsylvania and the New York Central
Now its Amtrak running on whats left of the tracks
Airplanes are flying, industrys dying, and it aint never coming back

You built a railroad and you made it run
You made it race against time
But now we cant spare a dime; brother cant you just face facts
These days in your town there aint no right side to the tracks

Trenton Philadelphia DC Alexandria
Culpepper Lynchburg Charlotte Spartanburg
Greenville Clemson Gainseville Anniston
Birmingham Meridian Hattiesburg Picayune
Slidell and New Orleans

I slept basically from Virginia to Atlanta, and after breakfast this morning we started heading west. By lunchtime we were at Birmingham and I had started a new song, sparked by pulling into what used to be the heart of downtown years ago when train travel was the way to get around. Those hearts are barely beating now, and I think that’s sad. I recorded it during the day in between Birmingham and Meridian, and put together the video this evening as we went through Slidell.

Time Machine With a Broken Heart
By Ken Ficara (c) 2008

I’m traveling through the wrong side of towns
Seeing what they used to be
When you could cut hair down by the train station
Make enough to raise a family

But now the barber pole don’t spin anymore
And the stripes are faded away
The only guy who makes a living down here
Gives loans before payday

And the train don’t stop no more
They closed all the stores
Nobody lives down here
It’s been that way for years

And an old man shades his eyes
Waves at the train
Watches it go by
And knows it won’t ever stop there again

I wonder who Jack was
He used to make good burgers
But now the building’s falling down
And the sign has lost its letters

Jack had his name on a building
Everyone knew him in town
But they got old, the kids moved away
And everything ran down

And the train don’t stop no more
They closed all the stores
Nobody lives down here
It’s been that way for years

And an old man shades his eyes
Waves at the train
Watches it go by
And knows it won’t ever stop there again

This downtown once was full of dreams
They had it made or so it seemed
They worked so hard to build this place
Then watched it all just go to waste

And the train rolls by
Like a time machine with a broken heart
The past makes you want to cry
And the future just looks way too hard

And the train don’t stop no more
They closed all the stores
Nobody lives down here
It’s been that way for years

And the old man wipes his eyes
The whistle blows and the train is gone
The crossing gates rise
And he walks down the street alone

The audio quality is rough, the performances are single takes of brand new songs, and you can hear the train noise and the occasional whistle, but I’m very much enjoying writing and recording these along the line.

Tomorrow afternoon I board the Sunset Limited, which gets into Tucson, AZ, on Christmas Eve. More songs to come.

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4 Responses to Songblogging From the Train

  1. harrietbrown says:

    What a brilliant idea, to document your trip by songwriting! This is fantastic! I look forward to more.

    And the songs are great. Apparently riding the rails inspires you.

  2. trishalynn says:

    I think I like the second song better. The first one reminded me too much of “Route 66” lyrically.

  3. Have you ever heard that Tom Paxton (I think) song where he just says all these New Jersey town names?

    Well these two entries were quite different in mood from the Louisiana one. Instead of quibbling between raising taxes on the rich or giving tax holidays, I wish we could do more of a Keynesian, Depression-era strategy of putting people back to work. All those abandoned factories and all those people out of work! Why can’t we get them together? Well, I won’t launch into a discourse on economics at this time and place.

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