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» RAILforum » Passenger Trains » Amtrak » Fountains of Wayne sings "Acela"

   
Author Topic: Fountains of Wayne sings "Acela"
JoeR
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Today on Sirius radio I heard for the first time the song "Acela" sung by Fountains of Wayne. I encourage anyone who enjoys music and trains, and especially music about trains, to listen to this ASAP. It basically recounts the singer's experience on Acela Express (the "Express" part is omitted) while trying to start a fling with a girl "leaning against the window reading People magazine". While the song isn't exactly about how great taking the train is, it's so encouraging to see a new generation of train riders be inspired while riding on the train. Who knows, maybe if this song gets more radio play it could be the next "City of New Orleans".

While I was unable to find a site to listen to this for free, anyone who has access to an online music service should be able to download it.

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Gilbert B Norman
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It appears a You Tube posting was yanked account a copyright claim, but, oh well, here are the lyrics:

http://www.lyricsfreak.com/f/fountains+of+wayne/acela_20976355.html

And here is fifteen seconds courtesy of Amazon:

http://www.amazon.com/Acela/dp/B00585N7KM

(think I have now heard quite enough)

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mpaulshore
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My impression of the song is that the part about the magazine-reading girl is just secondary. The song is mainly about how the protagonist has been stood up by his girlfriend on a trip to Boston that they'd planned to take together: she didn't show up at the station (presumably New York Penn Station, since if I'm not mistaken Fountains of Wayne is a New York-based band), he got on the train anyway, and now he's fretting and drinking on the train, and planning to take the next Acela back to New York once he arrives in Boston, so as to patch things up with her.

I get the impression from the song that, while its lyricist may have ridden the Acela once or twice, he doesn't really understand much about how train travel works. For one thing, if all the protagonist wants to do is to get back to New York, why is he riding all the way to Boston? Why didn't he just get off the train at Stamford, or New Haven, or wherever? It seems to me that the lyricist is making the common mistake of thinking of train travel as being like air travel, and forgetting that the train makes intermediate stops. Or maybe he's assuming that you're somehow not allowed to get off the train at a stop earlier than the one you're ticketed for.

It also doesn't make a whole lot of sense that the protagonist got on the train and left without his girlfriend. The only reason I can think of for that is that both of them expected to board in such a mad, last-minute rush that there wouldn't be time, even at the boarding gate and even using cell phones, for either one to verify that the other one was there. I also wonder, though, whether the lyricist might be thinking in terms of a false analogy with air travel, where if two people traveling together aren't able to meet well ahead of time at the ticket counters, there might be a justification--though a flimsy one--for each one going through the departure process separately, boarding, and just hoping the other person will show up, the justification being that each one ideally wants to get started on the departure process (waiting in line, getting a boarding pass, checking luggage, going through security) as early as possible so as not to be the one responsible for ruining the trip if he or she gets held up. (Even in that case, though, there'd be little justification for actually stepping onto the plane.)

Incidentally, the lyrics for this song posted at the "lyricsfreak.com" website are evidently not entirely accurate: for example, as Northeast Corridor train station frequenters will recognize, "huts and news" should read "Hudson News". That website is clearly one of those numerous sites that people have created, for reasons mysterious to me, to illegally post their own amateur lyrics transcriptions.

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Gilbert B Norman
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Mr. Paulshore, what else is new?

Johnny Mercer obviously did not know much about railroad schedules or railroad operations:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kF1JnbISh9Y

Oh and here's another:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=03jwHrO7ubI

I'm hardly as concerned regarding inaccuracies on the part of song lyricists as I am about those within the movie noted at your other topic.

(BTW, once did meet Ms. Langford circa 1983 at her Jensen Beach Outrigger restaurant; what in heaven's name CAN'T you find on the web?)

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mpaulshore
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Mr. B Norman: Just to give credit (or discredit) where it's due, the lyrics to "Chattanooga Choo Choo" are by Mack Gordon, not Johnny Mercer. (The music is by Harry Warren.) Perhaps the reason for your incorrect recollection is that Johnny Mercer and the original singer of "Chattanooga Choo Choo", Tex Beneke, had a certain vague physiognomical similarity in that both of them had faces that were in the "interesting rather than handsome" category. In addition, their singing voices were somewhat similar. So you may have misremembered the song as having originally been sung by Johnny Mercer, and therefore assumed that he wrote the lyrics (and perhaps the music as well).

I assume the principal inaccuracy you're referring to is the idea that a traveler could have left "the [New York?] Pennsylvania [S?]tation 'bout a quarter to four", and have been in "[North] Carolina" soon enough to have "dinner in the diner" there. (That's assuming, of course, that any rail routing actually in use connecting the Pennsylvania Railroad on the East Coast with Chattanooga would have passed through the Carolinas at all, as opposed to passing from Virginia directly into Tennessee.) That aspect of the lyrics has always bothered me too. A couple of possible excusing explanations:

(1) Even though popular culture in 1941 was if anything even more New York-centric than it is today, perhaps the boarding station referred to could be considered to be not New York Pennsylvania Station but some other station on the Pennsylvania Railroad's New York-to-Washington line north of "BaltiMORE": that is to say, "the Pennsylvania station" in a generic sense, with a preceding "the" and a small "s". The prime candidate would of course be 30th Street Station in Philadelphia, which in fact was originally named "Pennsylvania Station", and which, like New York Pennsylvania Station, comes close to having a "Track 29" even though neither actually has one. Departing from Philadelphia would make the dinner-in-North-Carolina scenario more plausible. It would also fit in better with the notion that the protagonist's very casual-sounding reading of a single magazine occupies him from boarding until "BaltiMORE".

(2) Alternatively, perhaps the "ham and eggs in Carolina" referred to is not the "dinner in the diner" referenced a few words earlier, but breakfast the following morning, served in far western North Carolina prior to arrival in Chattanooga. (After all, ham and eggs is more of a breakfast dish than a dinner dish.) So we'd be interpreting the lyrics as follows: "[You have] Dinner in the diner [somewhere in the lower Mid-Atlantic region]; [and furthermore] nothing could be finer than to have your ham and eggs [at breakfast, the following morning] in Carolina". Admittedly that's a pretty fast time-transition for the lyrics to make, but maybe it's not totally out of the question.

I've also wondered whether the train in the song would still have been steam-powered in 1941, as the "Shovel all the coal in" line implies, or whether in reality it would have been dieselized by that time.

I'm writing this post away from home, without the ability to check my Official Guides, so I'd welcome any contributions of hard facts that anybody on this board can make.

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notelvis
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I've always presumed that the 'Ham & Eggs' line refers to breakfast the following morning.

Of course had the rider in Chattanooga Choo Choo been making a direct trip (no mention of changing trains is made), he would most likely have been on 'The Birmingham Special' leaving New York in the early afternoon and operating via the Norfolk & Western from Lynchburg to Bristol never entering the Carolinas at all before arriving in Chattanooga shortly before 9:00am the following day.

As for steam - in 1941 the 'Birmingham Special' would have most certainly still been hauled by steam..... at least while it was on the N&W.

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David Pressley

Advocating for passenger trains since 1973!

Climbing toward 5,000 posts like the Southwest Chief ascending Raton Pass. Cautiously, not nearly as fast as in the old days, and hoping to avoid premature reroutes.

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Gilbert B Norman
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OK; I'll stand corrected with respect to the composer/lyricist of "Choo Choo...'

Possibly Mr. Haithcoat, indeed an expert on historical Southeast railroading, will choose to join this discussion. We (we know one another face to face; most recent meet-up last May) once attempted to establish what circa 1941 train the choo choo was trying to emulate. To leave Penn "quarter to four, read a magazine and you're in Baltimore, Dinner in the Diner...." all falls into place, but then that same train having "ham and eggs in (?) Carolina simply doesn't.

Anyone????

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George Harris
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If you were a Southern Railway pass rider, you would go through North Carolina so you could stay on Southern Railway rails. If course it would increase you time on the train. You would do it one of two ways, either via Asheville or via Atlanta.
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notelvis
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quote:
Originally posted by George Harris:
If you were a Southern Railway pass rider, you would go through North Carolina so you could stay on Southern Railway rails. If course it would increase you time on the train. You would do it one of two ways, either via Asheville or via Atlanta.

A good point -

If one were on-time into Knoxville off the Carolina Special, one might make the connection to the Tennessean and be in Chattanooga at midnight...... otherwise it's an overnight layover in Knoxville waiting for the 6:00am Birmingham Special!

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David Pressley

Advocating for passenger trains since 1973!

Climbing toward 5,000 posts like the Southwest Chief ascending Raton Pass. Cautiously, not nearly as fast as in the old days, and hoping to avoid premature reroutes.

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George Harris
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The Carolina Special / Tennessean connection both ways in Knoxvlle was scheduled up to end of their existance.
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notelvis
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Wish I could have been out riding about 7 or 8 years sooner...... that's a connection that I would have given a whirl.

As it stands, my recollection of the 'Carolina Special's' last remnant was seeing two FP7's, a baggage car, and a single coach hustle in and out of the Marshall, NC station while riding about on errands with my mother one morning in the fall of 1968....... just a few weeks before this little train wore the figurative 'adios' drumhead.

Being 6 years old at the time, this train was gone before I knew just exactly it was that I had seen.

--------------------
David Pressley

Advocating for passenger trains since 1973!

Climbing toward 5,000 posts like the Southwest Chief ascending Raton Pass. Cautiously, not nearly as fast as in the old days, and hoping to avoid premature reroutes.

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