FLIGHT FROM THE
2 January, 2001
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Rod in action at The Riverton Rendezvous, July 2001.
Photograph courtesy Jay Hagan.
A Thought for Today
Railroad trains are like a train of
thought, not easily set out of mind.
Rod is on the road for a
couple of weeks and will be back with you at the beginning of September.
I'm grateful that some of my
newer unpublished poems are getting some attention; ""Age is Better," "I
Always Knew" and "Gods Were Going By" seem to generate a lot of mail.
I've had a lot of feedback on the new poem I wrote and published here on
December 12th to celebrate what would have been Frank Sinatra's 85th
birthday. Frank was indeed a railroad aficionado and as I wrote that day,
in his Palm Springs compound he had one of the most elaborate toy train
sets I'd ever seen. I spent many a happy day and night playing with Frank
and his Lionel's.
Whenever I traveled to someplace new I tried to pick up something to add
to his collection. A boxcar from England, a clubcar from France and the
complete down to the last detail (including Baccarat glass Panels) Orient
Express I got from a dealer in Geneva.
Johnny Mercer loved trains too. Look at all the train motif songs he gave
us; "The Atchiston, Topeka and The Santa Fe," "Blues in the Night" with
it's 'clickety-clack, echoing back' chorus and its oh so blue line 'now
the rain's a-fallin, hear the train a-callin' whooee, hear that lonesome
whistle blowin' cross the trestle, whooee.'
"I Thought About" you starts out 'I took a trip on the train and I thought
about you' and "PS I Love You" contains the memorable almost matter of
fact line 'Was it dusty on the train?'
Even "Hit the Road to Dreamland," from the film "Star Spangled Rhythm" was
sung on a train by Dick Powell, Mary Martin and The Golden Gate Quartet
dressed up as Pullman Porters. While there are no train lyrics in it the
decision to film it in a coach car was Johnny's idea and not the
directors. Harold Arlen, the songs composer has a wonderful rail-like
rhythm moving in the background. Taken in this context "Travlin' Light"
can be added to Johnny's train cannon as can "Anyplace I Hang My Hat is
'And you see Laura on the train that is passing thru' could only have come
from the pen of Mercer. I've left out more examples of Johnny's
fascination with trains that I've included.
It was Sinatra who told me that "Johnny always carries a train schedule in
his breast pocket" and sure enough shortly after "Lonesome Cities" (for
which Sinatra took the cover photograph) was published Johnny called and
said "Hey Kid, we have to write a train song together." He had just read
"The Art of Catching Trains" and said it 'knocked him out.'
We started our train song but never completed it because I was on the road
so much and Johnny went off to England to work on "The Good Companions"
musical with Andre Previn. I'll finish it one day, as I'll finish our
Christmas songs. Who know, maybe even in time to include it in the
Mercer/McKuen "Good Companions" album.
By the by, one of the more delicious treats around is Capitol's CD (80326)
"Frank Sinatra sings the select Johnny Mercer."
Here's some of the feedback on the poem I dedicated to FS.
Funny - I know about your hobo days and your
fascination with trains -certainly expressed in detail I haven't heard
before, but I didn't know about your playing with toy train sets. That
must've come after your more affluent days! That all reminded me of
grammar school days when I used to walk the railroad tracks from the
Berkeley Station to Page or 10th - can't remember
which went which way now - but it was six blocks. The trick was to balance
walking on the track itself for the whole six blocks without loosing my
balance, or having to get off because of an oncoming train. I didn't make
it all the way very often. That's an old memory I'd forgotten about that
your poem triggered, and a nice tribute to Frank too. Thanks. Love 'n
prayers, Sister Mark
You captured the longing and the sadness that seems to accompany train
travel beautifully. Thanks, Paul Upland
poem about trains is just gorgeous.....Mind you... I am a train freak. So
many memories of being on tour with my Mum and dad...... a different
station every Sunday morning.... Half my childhood was spent catching
trains, moving into new digs every week, standing in the wings while my
folks took band call on a Monday morning, sleeping with my brother in a
double bed so they only had to rent one room for us....
Trains are so wonderful..... I took Andrea from the board for a ride on
puffing billy... a hundred year old steam train... with a transvestite
station master called Sue!!! truly....thank you for the new poem....You
truly do, like vintage wine or fine cognac, get better with age. Love,
For 26 years I was an engineer on the B.&O. No other poet or songwriter
writes so tellingly about the romance of the rails as you do. Phil
Hi Rod, The new poem is great - I love it. Another reason to dance.......
(I'm starting to feel like Ginger Rogers.) Love, Ann
write about trains I always feel sorry that they are no longer part of
most of our daily lives. Ted Pool
Rod: What a beautiful poem for Frank and the world. I can just picture you
and Frank playing with the choo-choos. Maybe I could take one of my
wonderful pictures. I Loved your FP for Frank. Love, Nan
"This about Trains": What a beautiful, beautiful, gorgeous poem and a
wonderful tribute to your friend. I know you will receive a lot of
positive email . . .Susan
What is it about trains? While I certainly haven't had as much experience
with them as your poems and songs tell me you have I too feel nostalgia
for everything to do with trains. It could be all of us are longing for a
simpler time without crowded highways and not so friendly skies. Kerwin
Rod, Just a quick type to say thank you for sharing your beautiful poem of
today's FP. Frank would still be very proud of you and your words, Sonja
At fifteen I don't know much about trains but you make me want to know
more about them and what my generation has missed by not having much
exposure to them. Bill Sauerweinn, Tulsa
As Webmaster Ken pointed out in his September 22, 1999 "This One Does It
For Me" feature, I often perform "The Art of Catching Trains" and "To
Watch the Trains" together in concert. While I'm still putting the March
concert program together I'm definitely thinking about doing them in the
show, or I might substitute "This About Trains" and do Hedy West's "500
Miles" instead. Anyway, below are both "The Art of Catching Trains" and
"To Watch the Trains."
Details of Rod's next
appearance can be obtained by following the link below.
Your Troubles Away" - the music of Jerry Herman