From sweet and smooth classics, to new names, to old names with new music...the focus here, is to shine a little light on some damn fine music.

I'll find it. You can listen, review, or tell me I wouldn't know good music if it kicked me in the ass. I personally don't give a shit.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Got It Covered: The City of New Orleans

New Orleans has been on my mind a lot lately. It's also been in the news. In 2005, Katrina left a scar so severe, the years since have only started the healing process. And just last week, exactly seven years from that disaster, Isaac, another uninvited guest arrived.

No other city in the United States has so rich a culture. Nor has any other city been forced to continually grasp onto the the roots found on the riverbanks in order to survive. The Roots: family, food and music.

While I could spend months featuring the music of New Orleans and in fact many past blogs do, today we will talk about one song. And while it's title is "The City of New Orleans," the song is about a ride through the heartland on a train by the name of  "The City of New Orleans."

Written in 1970 by folk singer Steve Goodman, it became a hit when Steve convinced Arlo Guthrie to play and eventually record it. Just as John Mellencamp has so poignantly described the loss of America's farmlands, in "The City of New Orleans," Goodman paints a sad reflection of the diminishing use of train travel as a means of transportation.

The song has been covered by Guthrie, a Grammy winning version by Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Judy Collins, Chet Atkins, Jerry Reed and many others.

First up is the late composer with his version. Take a listen, read the lyrics and think of when travel included hours of looking out of a window and seeing nameless towns, farmlands and views of nature's delights.

Steve Goodman and "The City of New Orleans"

"Riding on the City of New Orleans
Illinois Central Monday morning rail
Fifteen cars and fifteen restless riders
Three conductors and twenty-five sacks of mail
All along the southbound odyssey
The train pulls out at Kankakee
Rolls along past houses, farms and fields
Passin' towns that have no names
Freight yards full of old black men
And the graveyards of the rusted automobiles

Good morning, America, how are you
Don't you know me, I'm your native son
I'm the train they call The City of New Orleans
I'll be gone five hundred miles when the day is done"

As travel has evolved from trains, to cars, to planes, we have lost touch with what was the backbone of this land. Everyday people with everyday lives, just contributing their portion of blood, sweat and tears. When was the last time kids in the backseat even picked up their heads from whatever electronic device they were using, to see the remnants from where this country came, in order to get an appreciation of all we have today.

"Dealin' cards with the old men in the club car
Penny a point, ain't no one keepin' score
Won't you pass the paper bag that holds the bottle
Feel the wheels rumblin' 'neath the floor
And the sons of pullman porters
And the sons of engineers
Ride their father's magic carpet made of steam
Mothers with their babes asleep
Are rockin' to the gentle beat
And the rhythm of the rails is all they dream"

The romantic view of an overnight train ride disguises the reality that the riders for this journey are slowly fading to black.

"Night time on The City of New Orleans
Changing cars in Memphis, Tennessee
Half way home, and we'll be there by morning
Through the Mississippi darkness
Rolling down to the sea
And all the towns and people seem
To fade into a bad dream
And the steel rails still ain't heard the news
The conductor sings his song again
The passengers will please refrain
This train's got the disappearing railroad blues"

And there it is. Only a matter of time before another piece of Americana disappears into obsolescence.

"Good night, America, how are you
Don't you know me, I'm your native son
I'm the train they call The City of New Orleans
I'll be gone five hundred miles when the day is done"

Bittersweet, haunting and simple. Wonderful imagery and a melody you can't get out of your head.

A few other versions of this wonderful song:

The version most people remember...Arlo Guthrie
The Highwaymen ...Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson
Jimmy Buffett

Joyful to hear and hard to believe such a beautiful song is an anthem to a train. That's just good writing.



  1. wow!i remember back in old country taking train from Oradea to Bucharest&back.Old steam engines,it was awesome for a kid.thanks for bringing back forgotten fond memories

    1. glad i could trigger a good old memory. funny how that happens.

  2. Great read, Kat, thanks! I was in New Orleans on vacation about a month ago. It's the kind of city you can feel its soul rising up from the pavement & cobblestones the a shimmer of heat on a summer day. I feels real, and a song like this captures the spirit well.

  3. ...soul rising up from the pavement. i love a writer's tongue. touche. and thanks.