Whenever I’m walking and I cross a set of railroad tracks, I get an incredible urge to follow them.
It doesn’t matter how important my original destination was; the lure of parallel steel lines stretching into the mysterious distance is undeniable. And if it’s clear that the tracks have been abandoned for some time, the pull is even stronger.
I’m not sure why this is. It might be the echoes of a boyhood fascination with trains. It might be an interest in the decaying remnants of industry. It might just be curiosity to see what’s around the corner.
But mostly, it’s that my city, like most North American cities, is laid out on a grid. The advantage is that it’s hard to get lost, but the disadvantage is…that it’s hard to get lost. When you feel like walking aimlessly, it’s hard to conjure a feeling of spontaneity or mystery when you’re surrounded by right angles.
Railroads, however, couldn’t care less about the grid. They cut brazenly across the city with industrial-age confidence, leaving a trail of hypotenuses in their wake. Follow them and you won’t exactly get lost, but you’ll experience the wonderful disorientation of following a path that’s impossible to trace on the streets. Familiar intersections appear unexpectedly. Familiar roads pass over your head or under your feet as you realize, “oh, so that’s where I am.”
What makes this a beautiful song:
1. There’s a distinctly sneaky feeling to it; the mischievous joy of a bit of harmless trespassing.
2. The percussion has a wonderful steam train rhythm to it.
3. The horns appear, quietly at first, around 3:40, like the distant whine of a diesel train’s horn.
Recommended listening activity:
Making origami out of graph paper.