A View From Moving Windows writer John AD Fraser
asks where is the love for trains?
The last train outta Sydney’s almost gone.
Trains need love. We don’t sing about them enough. The last train we did love was Chisel’s last one outta Sydney in Khe Sanh, a lyric we were already too drunk to listen to properly, unless we mastered tunnel-free underwater rail engineering in the 70s and then forgot all about it.
It’s not just trains. We don’t sing about anything, at least in public. Or when we do, in London or Berlin or Koh Samui, we trail off from the oceans to the Silver City and mumble into our bundy and coke. Advance Australia Fair. Embarrassment central. Down Under. Tell us we’re dreaming.
Trains are for dreamers. You can write, you can think, you can fire up your mind or you can let it drift away with the passing clouds. Buses are too rigid and melancholy, cars blokey and functional. Paul Kelly chips in about buses, but he’s the exception to pretty much everything. On the Road swiped the literary space for cars, where they still reign supreme, handy mobile storage space for our homies. Gary Numan sang Cars, which tells you all you need to know.
In the US they have the right idea, or rather they did.
Woody Guthrie was Bound for Glory on his train. Elvis pondered a Mystery. The Band’s drove old Dixie down. And then we hit the buffers. The Grateful Dead were the last to sing about trains, on Casey Jones, ‘Driving that train, high on cocaine/ Casey Jones you’d better watch your speed’, the soaring railroad beauty of Jack Straw, ‘Catch the Detroit Lightning out of Santa Fe/the Great Northern, out of Cheyenne, from sea to shining sea’ to the clunkily metaphored Tons of Steel ‘I know these rails we’re on like I know my lady’s smile/ We see a dozen dreams in every passing mile’, mirroring their lyric cycle from adolescence through maturity to bitter old age.
Yeah, it was all a while ago. Time to bring back the love. Songwriters have given up, so it’s all ours. Fire that ole engine onto the stage. But where to start?
In the last eighteen months I’ve been on trains too often to Gosford (aagh), not enough to Seville, Grenada and Cordoba (aah), and from manic south London rehearsal studios to Lairg in northern Scotland (aw), where it dropped me in time to meet the wee postal van that is the only ‘public’ transport to the other coast of the country, to be welcomed by a charming local poet who lives on the shore. She’s lived on the land for two decades without a permanent house, shifting with the seasons. Happy journeys never end.
So welcome to the railhead of Parramatta playwriting. Maybe that’s where Barnesey’s mythical last train outta Sydney’s was always headed. Right here.
Who really cares if the words aren’t perfect? It’s the vibe of the thing.