The Random Comic Strip

The Random Comic Strip

Words to live by...

"How beautiful it is to do nothing, and to rest afterward."

[Spanish Proverb]

Ius luxuriae publice datum est

(The right to looseness has been officially given)

"Everyone carries a part of society on his shoulders," wrote Ludwig von Mises, "no one is relieved of his share of responsibility by others. And no one can find a safe way for himself if society is sweeping towards destruction. Therefore everyone, in his own interest, must thrust himself vigorously into the intellectual battle."

By the way... there's a crossword at the bottom of this page

Thursday, March 29, 2012

I hear it even today


You know how a song pops into your head for no particular reason and just festers there? The other day, I kept hearing the first line and the refrain to "Midnight Special" rattling around up there. I am not sure whose version. Probably this one by Credence Clearwater Revival...


CCR - The Midnight Special



I started wondering what it meant, what it referred to by the refrain:

Let the Midnight Special shine a light on me,
Let the Midnight Special shine a light on me,
Let the Midnight Special shine a light on me,
Let the Midnight Special shine a everlovin' light on me.


There are, I have read, two interpretations of those lines. In both, the "Midnight Special" is a train, but in one interpretation the prisoner is hoping for the train to take him away from prison, to freedom. In the second interpretation, it's a desire to walk in front of the train and be killed.

I had not thought of that song for many years and, in the past, never considered the meaning of the refrain. But when the song popped into my head recently, I immediately thought the second interpretation was the right one.

You see, prisoners are never released late at night. And hearing (and seeing the light from a train shining into your cell) a train while in prison is a reminder that you are not free, that you aren't going anywhere. I can much more easily see the train to be a metaphor for death, for eternal freedom from a hard life.

Trains are mournful things referenced in many folk songs and run throughout the Blues genre. Maybe Johnny Cash caught the feeling best in "Folsum Prison Blues"...

I hear the train a comin'
It's rollin' 'round the bend,
And I ain't seen the sunshine,
Since, I don't know when,
I'm stuck in Folsom Prison,
And time keeps draggin' on,
But that train keeps a-rollin',
On down to San Antone.


Johnny Cash - Folsom Prison Blues


Nothing like a train's mournful whistle (if you can go back to the old steam engine days, the diesel engine's horn is just not as sad) to signify loss and pain... and the promise of freedom from it all.



Maybe it's because I grew up near the tracks. My earliest years were spent in a house only a couple of blocks from the Long Island RR. And after we moved to Florida, we were no more than a mile from the Florida East Coast Railway line. In Florida, the trains were all diesel by the time we moved there but in the early morning, before dawn, even that horn sounded forlorn to me as I lay there in my bed.



2 comments:

Torggil said...

It's amazing what songs do rattle around in our heads from time to time.  For some reason, the sad ones seem to stay longer than the happy ones.  One of the artists that lives in my head through her words is Sarah McLaclan, From Drawn To the Rhythm (3rd verse):

In the still and the silent dawn another day is born,
Washed up by the tireless waves, Body bent and Torn,
In the face of the blinding sun, Awake only to find
That Heaven is a stranger place than the one I left Behind...

Also, from her song Good Enough opening:

Hey your glass is empty,
It's a hell of  along way home,
Why don't you let me take you,
Its no good to go alone.
Its not the wind that cracked your shoulder,
Or threw you to the ground,
What is it there that makes you so afraid,
Shaken to the ground...

Sometimes I like angry songs, one of the best is Gowan's "A Criminal Mind":

You see my hands are steady,
You've seen my face before.
Soon you can take a last look,
Then they'll close the door...
I stand accused before you,
I have no tears to cryyyy...
And you will never break me,
Until the day I die...

Its funny though.  I became obsessed with death when my first wife died.  I started collecting songs about death, songs like "One Headlight" by the Wallflowers, Drawn to the Rhythm, and Ben's Song (also Sarah Mclachlan).  I also collected songs about being left behind, "That Song", "Blown Wide Open (both by Big Wreck) and the Blue Rodeo classic "Hasn't Hit me Yet."

You say that you're leaving,
Well that comes as.. no surprise
Still I kinda like this feeling...
Of being left bee-hind....
This ain't nothing new to me,
It just like going home..
It's kinda like those sunsets
That leave you feeling so sto-o-oned...

I lived near tracks as kid, and always heard the trains, even if I never saw them.  Being out on the prairie meant we'd see trains of 80 or 90 cars sometimes.  Grain freights.  I still have a fascination with them.  The power of the locomotives and the simplicity of the general concept of the train.  But I always reckoned the most mournful sound of all was that of a single engine prop aircraft- something about it just seems to say lonely...

Douglas4517 said...

 I have a different take on single prop planes but I am from a different era. But maybe that's what WWII airfields and carrier crews would find sad... instead of the squadron, just a lone plane returning.