"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." Steve Goodman "City Of New Orleans" 1970
That above is the first verse of what I consider the best contemporary train song written, if not one of the best train songs period. Simple words that evoke a whole lot more then what appears on the page, spelling the end of an era. The airplane and people's desire to get from one place to another with no thought but the destination in mind was the death knell of train as a means of mass public transportation.
But our romantic love affair with the train hasn't ended. Arlo Guthrie has convinced Amtrak to run the City of New Orleans along its old route one more time for a benefit tour of concerts he's doing to raise money for the post hurricane relief. The pity of it is that the man who wrote this song, Steve Goodman, isn't around to see her take another run.
Mr. Goodman died of Leukemia September 20th 1984 after struggling to beat it for years. I was fortunate enough to have seen him in concert in the late 1970's at the Mariposa Folk Festival on the Toronto Islands during one of his remissions. My memories of that show are of a strong clear voice ringing out across a lawn covered with people, singing about subjects as diverse as sexual preferences and towing companies:
" There are men who love women who love men, there are women who love women now and then there are men who love men because they cannot pretend to be men who love women who love men." Steve Goodman "Men Who Love Women Who Love Men" 1977
It's funny because Mr. Goodman has been on my mind somewhat lately, what with the above mentioned tour by Arlo Guthrie, and the fact that I just finished reviewing Arlo's latest concert disc where he of course performed "City of New Orleans". Somehow or other the universe seems to have been reading my mind because I opened the inbox on my email this morning and staring back up at me from the subject line of one letter were the words Steve Goodman biography.