It’s no secret I take a lot of inspiration for story ideas from music, and I’m sure I’m not the only writer. It’s not only the lyrics that call to me, but the music and how it fits with the words.
There’s a song I want to talk about today by a band most of you probably don’t know. The band is New Riders of the Purple Sage, and I guess if you have to classify their music, it might be labeled as “cowboy rock”. John Dawson,one of the founders of the group, wrote “Glendale Train” which appeared on their debut album in 1971. He has since retired from the group.
I’m not normally a country-type music fan, but what I love about this group is every one of their songs tells a story. A specific story. The fact Jerry Garcia from the Grateful Dead and Buddy Cage play a stellar steel guitar doesn’t hurt. As a matter of fact, the guitar work on the albums of NRPS is just amazing.
“Glendale Train” is the story of a train robbery. It starts off with the chorus…a man telling the story. When I hear this part, I can just see a man from a nearby town, belly-up to the bar, maybe cadging beers or a shot of liquor for his version of the events. He could be dusty and sweaty from a frantic ride to impart the news. The town sits in the middle of somewhere in the West, deep in the heart of nowhere. There could be tumbleweeds in the streets. The horses are tied up at a post out front and the bartender’s hair is slicked back with oil, and he keeps his handlebar moustache waxed and curled. The townspeople gather around, some gasping and some listening with their mouths wide open.
Somebody robbed the Glendale Train, this morning at half-past nine.
Somebody robbed the Glendale Train and I swear, I ain’t lyin!
They made clean off with sixteen Gs and left two men lying cold.
Somebody robbed the Glendale Train and they made off with the gold!
At this point people are looking at each other, and maybe one of the men swears right out loud because he works for the company waiting on that gold to pay their workers and now he knows he’s not going to get paid. Or a woman cries, wondering who the two dead men could be. The man telling the story tosses back a shot of whiskey courtesy of the bartender and continues:
Charlie Jones was the engineer—he had twenty years on the line.
He kissed his wife at the station gate, this morning at six thirty-five.
Now everything went fine ’til half-past nine then Charlie looked up and he saw—
There was men on horses, men with guns and no sign of the law!
At this point, everyone is hanging on his every word. This is the most exciting and probably terrifying news the town has heard in a dog’s age. Maybe one of them knew Charlie Jones. Someone buys our man a beer, and tells him to get on with it!
Amos White was the baggage man and he dearly loved his job.
The company, they rewarded him with a golden watch and a fob.
Well, Amos he was a’markin’ time when the door blew off his car.
They found Amos White in fifteen pieces fifteen miles apart!
The woman faints, the men look at each other in fear or maybe anger, and the bartender looks out the window, his hands shaking. Maybe one of the men says, “It don’t pay enough to work for the railroad,” and receives a murmur of agreement from his fellows. One man checks his gun to make sure it’s loaded, because Glendale isn’t all that far away. What if the bandits are headed their way?
“Glendale Train” is a fictional account of an actual robbery by Jesse James on a train in Glendale, Missouri in 1881. He got away with reports of $1000 -$6,000, depending on what report you believe, and the crime was termed “The Blue Cut Train Robbery”. It is said he thought there was a lot more money on the train, and it was his last train robbery, marking the beginning of the decline of the gang. No one was killed.
But what really fascinates me is the way this song reflects the oral tradition of history. And the fact there are so many ways you could spin this tidbit into endless story possibilities.
One of which I’m working on right now
So what music inspires you? Sound off in the comments!