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August 31, 2005

The City of New Orleans

Tonight I'm listening to City of New Orleans and thinking about Katrina. The song is about a train that runs between Chicago and New Orleans every day. Steve Goodman's lyrics make our latter day divisions between "Red" and "Blue" seem stupid.

In 1970, Goodman wrote a song which would eventually be called by many people "the best train song ever written." Steve pitched the song to Arlo Guthrie, and in 1972, Arlo included the song on his album Hobo's Lullaby. It was then released as a single and became a big-time hit record. Steve always thanked Arlo for recording the song, and for making it possible for Steve to do what he loved -- playing music for a living.

ABC News' morning show, Good Morning America, which started in the mid-70's, took its name and its original theme from the chorus of City of New Orleans. []

City of New Orleans is one of the songs that made me love the USA when I was still a kid living in Canada. Dad my tells the story of driving his in-laws' car back from San Francisco airport at daybreak and hearing Arlo Guthrie's newly-released recording on the radio. He pulled off the highway, parked at the nearest record store and waited for them to open. He just had to have that album. About 15 years later, it was waiting for me on audiocassette.

So far, I've collected three versions, and I never get tired of listening to any of them.

City of New Orleans is not only one of the greatest train songs ever written, it's one of the greatest songs ever written about America.


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Lindsay Beyerstein remembers Steve Goodman's "City of New Orleans", a small hit for Goodman, a bigger one for Arlo Guthrie, a great song about trains — and a great song... [Read More]


Funny, and here I was thinking City of New Orleans was written by Willie Nelson all this time.

Damn. I love that song. I've also been a big Arlo Guthrie fan since the 1970's...

Isn't "New Orleans Is Sinking" the song that comes to mind today?

At this point, I am still having trouble picturing the place under water. Seeing pictures of people fleeing on the bridge is bringing it home. Seriously, and especially when you're in the French Quarter, you know the ocean is right there, but everything is so ancient you don't believe it could really happen, you know?

Yeah. It's hard for me to wrap my mind around what happened, even though I've never set foot in New Orleans. But I've always wanted to go, and I just assumed it would always be there...

I was in NO in March. Its been, well...shocking, look at video and satellite images of the places we went and try to comprehend the distruction. Especially since many of the places appear to be fully under water or simply gone.

I'm listening to a great version by John Prine and Steve Goodman. Simple at the beginning, it revs to a real rouser.

David Craig Simpson did a lovely version; it's online here:

Yes. It's a patriotic song in a way that "ain't we perfect" anthems never can be.

It's also a country-western song that isn't depressing.

And we could use something non-depressing right now.

Lindsey, you have missed out on something wonderful that will never be the same.

The front of Antoines has washed away for god's sake!

Without intending to sound too dramatic, everyone should go see the places they always say they want to see, before the Bush family fucks everything up.

Me, I've been humming the opening number from "Oh Streetcar!"

Long before the Superdome,
Where the Saints of football play,
There's a city where the damned call home,
Hear their hellish rondelet:
New Orleans! Home of pirates, drunks, and whores...
New Orleans! Tacky, overpriced souvenir stores...
If you want to go to hell, you should take a trip
To the Sodom and Gomorrah of the Mississip':
New Orleans! Stinking, rotten, vomiting, vile...
New Orleans!Putrid, brackish, maggotty, foul...
New Orleans! Crummy, lousy, rancid and rank...
New Orleans!

God love 'em.

They won't be showing that Simpsons episode anytime soon.

A bit of train trivia:

There are actually two songs pertaining to that train.
The Illinois Central came rather late to the fad of giving mainline passenger trains names. Before being named "City of New Orleans" that train ran for many years as plain old Illinois Central #1.

It was that very train that John Luther "Casey" Jones was driving when he had his famous, and thoroughly avoidable accident.

It's so wonderful to hear people raving about the music that I love. I'm 61 and I grew up with Dylan, Phil Ochs, and all of the fabulous folk singers that hung around the Village in the 60's. What a time!
Music is the life blood that flows in my veins. It's what keeps me alive and sane. I lived in Brooklyn Heights in the 60's and walked (yes walked!) almost every day across the bridge to Washington Square College.
It's so great to hear that people are still listening to Ochs, Goodman, Prine...those who went before. But there's great music being made right now by people like Dan Bern and Lucinda Williams.
Oh, that only Sandy Denny and Gram Parsons were still with us.
I could go on for days....

Please take a look.

I've been to New Orleans on three different occasions for medical or science meetings. I really loved the French Quarter. There's nothing like it anywhere else in the U.S. I remember passing by a bar that advertised itself as the oldest continuously operating bar in the U.S., dating back to something like 1750. I can't for the life of me remember its name. As touristy as it is, it's still depressing to think of the Garden of Pat O'Brien's, where I've sipped a few Hurricanes (now a sadly ironic name for a drink) before. The Garden District, with its lovely odl mansions, is another beautiful part of the city. Even though I could never actually live there (I just can't tolerate its climate), it's still depressing to think that much of the French Quarter is underwater and that some if it may not even be salvageable, even though reports seem to indicate that the flooding isn't as bad there as it is in other parts of the city.

Another song for this particular moment is Randy Newman's "Louisiana 1927." The lyrics:

What has happened down here is the wind have changed
Clouds roll in from the north and it started to rain
Rained real hard for a real long time
Six feet of water in the streets of Evangeline

The river rose all day
The river rose all night
Some people got lost in the flood
Some people got away all right
The river have busted through clear down to Plaquemines
Six feet of water in the streets of Evangeline

Louisiana, Louisiana
They're tryin' to wash us away
They're tryin' to wash us away
Louisiana, Louisiana
They're tryin' to wash us away
They're tryin' to wash us away

President Coolidge came down in a railroad train
With a little fat man with a notepad in his hand
The President say, "Little fat man, isn't it a shame what the river has done
To this poor cracker's land"

Jazz was born in New Orleans. I wonder how Preservation Hall is holding up?

Most of the French Quarter is above water. I haven't heard anything about Preservation Hall specifically, but it's probably okay.

I haven't heard nething specific about Algiers Point? I wonder how it fared? It's an island,right? and not on Lake P.
so would that improve the flooding odds?Thanks.

Wow! We have more in common than I thought.

Arlo has done several concert series with Pete Seeger. On the 1974 tour "City of New Orleans" was played at every stop, and it made it to the double album that resulted from the tour, "Pete and Arlo - Together." It's one of my favorite versions of the tune.

When it was released, however, I think John Denver sold more records and made more money off of it. It's not a bad version, either.

Come to think of it, I don't think anyone's ever recorded a bad version of the song. I'll have to check to see if my limited Steve Goodman collection includes any of his own recordings. Oddly, I heard Goodman live, once, in Salt Lake City, opening for Bob Hope. Sometimes the really good die way, way too young.

I have 4 versions of "City of New Orleans" & the best IMO is by Sammi Smith, being the second version I heard after Arlo Guthrie.


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