I rode a train alone from St. Paul to Boston this year to visit some family and attend a bachelor party and I spent much of that time jotting down observations, images, feelings, etc., to be turned into music or poetry later. It was a twenty-one-hour train ride altogether (with a six-hour layover in Chicago).
This song started out as a few lines from there:
here the fog clings to the ditches. for now,
we ride along the line. But the tracks dip low,
and who knows what is waiting down there in the shadows?
It might be that I had recently watched Stranger Things again, it might be my slight obsession with Sci-Fi & suspense, but when I woke up to a foggy morning in New York state my mind immediately jumped to some kind of monster hiding in the fog. The train tracks had been laid on a small hill, so we weren’t in the fog for the first twenty minutes or so after I woke up. But then there was a moment when the train groaned like some great beast pulling a plow and then the train darkened as we plunged into the thick fog.
Then later these lyrics were combined with some lines about a choir teacher I had in high school who (unknowingly) helped me through one of the darkest times of my life, her willingness to listen to and critique my earliest efforts at music kept me interested in it when a lot of other things might have had me abandoning it.
And o the fear that cradles my soul
O the agony that drove me to the wall
I might have jumped off but you’d break my fall
I might have been lost but you heard my song
From there I decided it would function really well as a song about an old country music trope, a man who is in love but knows somehow that he’s dangerous. Maybe he's a bank robber, maybe he frequently steps on the heel of people's shoe by accident. Who knows.
Feeling the tension between wanting intimacy and affection but worrying about whether or not things will work out can feel a little like madness, and so the song feels a little that way. The verses have this Johnny-B-Goode vibe, and the choruses drop down from that intensity to a quiet, almost Django Reinhardt-meets-mariachi-music sound before leaping back up into the breakneck blues again.
As I've written elsewhere, it doesn't particularly matter how a song begins. Most of the art is found in the editing.
David, our violinist, talks a lot about how good Americana music flirts with cheesiness or stereotypical expressions of a genre of music, but never quite gets there. This song gets as close as I’m comfortable with.