As you know, almost all of the songs we write tell stories. We want to share those stories with you. Just as we did for the songs on our first CD 13, we’ll post the story behind each song on our new CD Again here for you to read. The plan is to feature one song each week for the next 11 weeks.
Here is the story behind Train Above Miami as related by Clark Hansbarger.
The song “Train Above Miami”
I wrote the first draft of Train Above Miami on a train above Miami.
Ginger and I were in that lovely, exotic city last winter to do the The Beaux Art Show, and care for Ginger’s mother, who was recovering from surgery. Each day, while I tended the booth, Ginger sat with her mom in the hospital. And at each day’s end, I’d travel across town on the train to join her.
As they are in Chicago, the trains in Miami are elevated, and because Miami is a city of low buildings, one rides high across the rooftops. The vista is stunning and—at evening—strikingly stunning.
I was traveling along, mesmerized by the soft colors of the city, when I noticed the headlines of the newspaper that the uniformed woman across from me was reading—more bad news about the Newtown shootings. I looked back out the window at the evening sky and the “red roofs,” took out my IPad and wrote a rough draft of the first verse and the chorus.
As usual, I fictionalized some of the details, though a majority of this song is autobiographical. In Train Above Miami, a few things are happening at once. The narrator is traveling to a hospital to visit an old friend who is in a “blue room” dying of cancer. As the narrator rides, he thinks of a “cousin in Atlanta” he has neglected and of his mother “and the other ones” he loves. But woven through his nostalgic reverie is the unsettling news of yet another mass shooting.
Soon before I was born, my mother’s brother was killed on Seven Mile Bridge, that “elevated highway” in the Florida Keys. I know a day has not passed since that she doesn’t grieve his loss, and she is now 85 years old. That is the depth of our love and our sense of loss. That is what we are. Our ability to feel with such magnitude is both our curse and our greatest gift.
So, first and foremost, Train Above Miami is about the grace and magic of our world, how we are all just “trying to scrape along,” seeking to absorb as much love and beauty as we can before it’s all over.
But the song also is about loss and madness—the baffling fact that as we tuck our children into bed, as we kiss our spouses, as we tend to our aging parents, “somewhere there’s a young man who is dreaming of a gun.” And I don’t mean just that one insane young man in Newtown. I also mean a very well-educated man in a suit or uniform, for these guys bring immeasurably more hurt to this world than all the Newtowns and Columbines combined.
This is the paradox. But it points to a solution: Though we can’t avoid loss and grief—and though we certainly can’t control this world—we can love. And this might, in the end, be enough.