Train Song

Album: Frank's Wild Years (1987)
Play Video

Songfacts®:

  • Frank's Wild Years, Tom Waits' ninth studio album, was written as the soundtrack for a play of the same name. Each song on the album tells one part of a broader story about Frank, with Frank being a guy who left "without botherin' to pack" to go chase big entertainment industry dreams... and failed utterly. Frank is the shadow side of the feel-good Hollywood rags-to-riches story.
  • "Train Song" is the second-to-last song on the album, but in some ways it's really the one that closes the narrative, and that closing is not a happy one. "Train Song" has Frank stranded in East St. Louis, drunk and broke, a life of unfulfilled dreams behind him, facing the realization that he can never really go home again. He's too beaten up now.

    As novelist Thomas Wolfe said, "You can't go home again," but in this case Frank takes it to another level. He's blown it, big time. There is no returning to the hopeful, unblemished place from which he started.
  • An interesting detail not included in the lyrics is that Frank is singing this song while sitting on a park bench. In 1987, Waits told Rip Rense of the New York Post that "Train Song" is "kind of a gospel number. Frank is on the bench, really on his knees and can't go any further. At the end of his rope on a park bench with an advertisement that says 'Palladin Funeral Home.'"

    The insinuation here is that he's looking at death. In Frank's Wild Years, we ultimately get the anti-Hero's Journey. Rather than answering the call of adventure and returning home a hero, Frank is a stranded failure with no way to get home.
  • This is one of four songs in his catalog where Tom Waits mentions St. Louis. The others are "I Bet Your Pardon," "Hold On," and "Time."

    East St. Louis is a rough part of the city, possibly a metaphor for the worst part of any city.

Comments

Be the first to comment...

Editor's Picks

Scott Stapp

Scott StappSongwriter Interviews

The Creed lead singer reveals the "ego and self-fulfillment" he now sees in one of the band's biggest hits.

Dar Williams

Dar WilliamsSongwriter Interviews

A popular contemporary folk singer, Williams still remembers the sticky note that changed her life in college.

Jack Tempchin - "Peaceful Easy Feeling"

Jack Tempchin - "Peaceful Easy Feeling"They're Playing My Song

When a waitress wouldn't take him home, Jack wrote what would become one of the Eagles most enduring hits.

Rock Stars of Horror

Rock Stars of HorrorMusic Quiz

Rock Stars - especially those in the metal realm - are often enlisted for horror movies. See if you know can match the rocker to the role.

Actors With Hit Songs

Actors With Hit SongsMusic Quiz

Many actors have attempted music, but only a few have managed a hit. Do you know which of these thespians charted?

Steve Cropper (Booker T & the MG's, Blues Brothers)

Steve Cropper (Booker T & the MG's, Blues Brothers)Songwriter Interviews

Steve Cropper on the making of "In the Midnight Hour," the chicken-wire scene in The Blues Brothers, and his 2021 album, Fire It Up.