Friday, September 07, 2007

on a rail

on a rail
Originally uploaded by rod lewis
Of course train tracks are a photo cliché, but how can someone walk past a set of tracks without pressing the shutter button? I dare you. Try it.
Train tracks are fascinating. They raise questions, fantasies, possibilities. They have inspired many references that have become cliché as well. We strive to keep ourselves on track, some of us need to get our lives back on track. Many of us travel life so precariously that it is easy to get derailed. When a stockcar driver finds his groove and runs well, we say he’s on a rail.
They are a metaphor for just about any aspect of life – good or bad. Often, when life gets tough and it seems as if responsibilities, stress, and busyness accumulates, we feel we’re on a runaway freight train. A particularly cumbersome responsibility, especially when others are involved feels like we’re driving a train. Life on a rail can be a good thing or a bad thing depending on where you’re headed and how fast.
I used to listen to an 8-track tape compilation of Johnny Cash songs about trains and rivers. I always thought it was cute when there was a quick-fade in the middle of “Blue Train” for the cassette to “switch tracks.”

I find it interesting that particular genres of music have predictable subject matter. Usually, one can tell the style of popular music simply by reading the lyric. Country music and country-rock have always relied heavily on transportation, not only to get from concert to concert, but also as lyric fodder. The mode of transportation changes with the decades, but regardless of how, the songs are about moving, getting back to you, getting away from you, or simply starting over.
After trains became less fashionable, tractor-trailers were the preferred mode of country music travel. Six days on the road and I’m gonna make it home tonight. I just can’t wait to get on the road again. Of course technology makes all things smaller, so these days, the preferred country music mode is the pickup truck. I’m dreading the day that it becomes the motorcycle, because that will really torque off a lot of thrash and speed metal enthusiasts. But there is no doubt, it will always be about moving. It’s enough to be on your way. It’s ironic then that a few other genres of music seem to be about stagnation. But that’s all I’m going to say about that!
It seems that it may be enough to be moving on, because movement stands a better chance of revealing whether the tracks are heading in the right direction or to the right destination. Of course it is very difficult to change directions when too much momentum is gathered in the wrong direction. But it can be done. It may be next to impossible to stop a train and reverse direction, but there are such things as switches and switchbacks, and connector lines that can bring one back to the right track.
So I realize that long, straight tracks and gentle bends in the distance are photographic clichés and overused metaphor, but switches aren’t. So I’m posting a cliché tonight, but tomorrow I’m going after switches. It’s never too late to switch tracks. Better to save all the cars you’re pulling than to save face.