In “Walk the Line,” June Carter refers to Johnny Cash’s voice as “Steady like a train, sharp like a razor.”
Amen, sister. When I think of Johnny, without fail I’ll get an image in my head of an old steam train– big, black, strong & steady. And of course that classic Cash chicka-boom rhythm sounds just like a trusty ol’ train a rollin’ round the bend, and right on time– so reliable, you could set your watch to it. Yeah, Johnny Cash sang a lot about trains, prison and hard times– and we all know through his epic lyrics that the beauty of the train is that it represents the freedom of leaving the past behind. All that crap that you just need to separate yourself from with miles and miles of railroad track and dust. A new start, a second chance.
There’s also something lonely and soulful about a train ride– staring out as the barren landscape goes drifting by. It’s just you and that train. It holds you there firmly, with nothin’ to distract you from who and what you’re leaving behind– as the soothing click of the rails beneath your feet reminds you that soon it’ll all be long gone.
Well if they freed me from this prison,
If that railroad train was mine
I bet I’d move it on a little farther down the line
Far from Folsom prison, that’s where I want to stay
And I’d let that lonesome whistle blow my blues away…
I’m gonna climb aboard and ride until I learn to smile
I’ll be knockin’ out the blues while I’m knockin’ out the miles
With my guitar beatin’ rhythm to the click-clack of the wheels
I’m gonna sing the blues ’cause that’s the way that I feel
Conductor go and tell the man to shovel on the coal
It doesn’t seem as half as bad as long as I can roll
Give me another ticket and I’ll stay and ride with you
There’s nothin’ left to live for in the world we’re rollin’ through
Back in 1974, Johnny Cash narrated and starred in Ridin’ the Rails: The Great American Train Story where Johnny talks about trains– their importance in American history, and his own personal, nostalgic love for ‘em. Granted it’s the 70s, so you know that there’s a certain amount of hokiness to the production that you’ll have to bear– but for hardcore Johnny Cash fans it’s still a gem.
Johnny Cash covering The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down–