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City Of New Orleans
by Steve Goodman

"I got married in February 1970, and that spring my wife Nancy and I went downstate to Mattoon, Illinois, to see her grandmother who was ninety-something years old  so she could say, 'Oh, that's who you married.' We were riding the City Of New Orleans on the Illinois Central Line. When I had been a student at the University of Illinois, I had ridden it once all the way to New Orleans. Nancy fell asleep, and I was just looking out the window, writing down everything I saw - junkyards, little towns that didn't even have a sign to say what they were. Just out of Chicago, there was a bunch of old men sitting around tin cans, warming themselves and waving and it was a cold morning in April. It was better journalism than it was song writing at the time. When I got back to Chicago, I showed it to a friend of mine, and he told me they were going to take the train off the line in six months if the passenger traffic didn't improve - that had been in the newspapers. 'You've got the future of the train and what you saw out the window, now you should describe what happened on the train.' So I sat down and wrote the second verse about the card game and the paper bag. That part about 'Memphis, Tennessee' is strictly from memory, but I figured I couldn't write a song about a train that went 900 miles through the centre of the country and stop the song in Mattoon because I was getting off."
—Steve Goodman

City Of New Orleans

Riding on the City of New Orleans,
Illinois Central Monday morning rail
Fifteen cars and fifteen restless riders,
Three conductors and twenty-five sacks of mail.
All along the southbound odyssey
The train pulls out at Kankakee
Rolls along past houses, farms and fields.
Passin' trains that have no names,
Freight yards full of old black men
And the graveyards of the rusted automobiles.

Good morning America how are you?
Don't you know me I'm your native son,
I'm the train they call The City of New Orleans,
I'll be gone five hundred miles when the day is done.

Dealin' card games with the old men in the club car.
Penny a point ain't no one keepin' score.
Pass the paper bag that holds the bottle
Feel the wheels rumblin' 'neath the floor.
And the sons of pullman porters
And the sons of engineers
Ride their father's magic carpets made of steel.
Mothers with their babes asleep,
Are rockin' to the gentle beat
And the rhythm of the rails is all they feel.

Nighttime on The City of New Orleans,
Changing cars in Memphis, Tennessee.
Half way home, we'll be there by morning
Through the Mississippi darkness
Rolling down to the sea.
And all the towns and people seem
To fade into a bad dream
And the steel rails still ain't heard the news.
The conductor sings his song again,
The passengers will please refrain
This train's got the disappearing railroad blues.

Buy the song City Of New Orleans
 


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