Monday, December 09, 2019

A Couple of Train Songs: Excerpts from Middling

I write an occasional newsletter (quarterly when I don't forget) to friends and family about my life: music, books, work, and getting older. I'd love to send it to you if you're game. What follows is an excerpt from the fall 2018 issue.


Kara’s parents are downsizing, which has meant, for us, a little bit of upsizing. They visited us this fall, bringing gifts, which for me included crates upon crates of records. This well-tended vinyl has become a portal to another time, a time when “Hang down your head, Tom Dooley” was a trailblazing lyric, a time just prior to the time when a lack of personal grooming was an act of virtue signaling. Working my way through these albums has been a tour of mid-century Americana, a regular ole hootenanny, so to speak.

Tucked in amongst the button-downs and khakis are some jazz and blues albums as well—a fair bit of Frank Sinatra, a dash of Ray Charles, a dollop of Dinah Washington. And the 1970s make an appearance as well, with a seemingly endless run of Linda Ronstadt records. It’s been fun to listen to the songs that my parents listened to when they were kids and later young adults. The times were not simpler but the tech sure was, and all the things we take for granted about popular music were still being teased out.

For whatever reason, a couple of train songs have stuck with me. Trains have a mythic quality to them in American culture, but our relationship to trains is different based on where and how we live. Neither of these examples was new to me, but they’ve been fun to rediscover: The legendary quality of the Wabash Cannonball, the legendary nuisance of the MTA.


Let me know if you'd like to be added to the Middling distribution list. Thanks for reading!

Both Inspiration and Cautionary Tale: Excerpts from Middling

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