I really wanted to title this post "Native Son" but that would have led to confusion, and I really didn't think the title "Native Son: No, Not That Native Son, I'm Referring To Something Else" would have worked very well. Which is too bad, since today's post is about the different points of view two different "native sons" had of their country and their times.
"Good mornin' 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 500 miles when the day is done"
The City of New Orleans was written by Steve Goodman and (in case you have never turned on a radio) captures a slice of life observed by the songwriter as he traveled from Illinois to New Orleans.
"All along the southbound odyssey the train pulls out of Kankakee
Rolls along past houses, farms and fields
Passin' graves that have no name, freight yards full of old black men
And the graveyards of rusted automobiles"
I can't hear this song without thinking about Walt Whitman's "I Hear America Singing" from his poetry collection, Leaves of Grass.
"I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear,
Those of mechanics, each one singing his as it should be blithe and strong,
The carpenter singing his as he measures his plank or beam,
The mason singing his as he makes ready for work, or leaves off work,
The boatman singing what belongs to him in his boat, the deckhand singing on the steamboat deck,
... The delicious singing of the mother, or of the young wife at work, or of the girl sewing or washing,
Each singing what belongs to him or her and to none else..."
Compare that to this verse from "The City of New Orleans":
"And the sons of Pullman porters and the sons of engineers
Ride their fathers' magic carpets made of steel
Mothers with their babes asleep, rockin' to the gentle beat
And the rhythm of the rails is all they feel"
Whitman's poem is more of a statement about America as he thought it should be, whereas Goodman's poem is more of a observation and has a gentler feel, I think. Both poets, however, are celebrating the beauty they see in their native land, expressing their love for the people, and the familiar trappings of their daily lives.
Personally, as much as I love Walt Whitman's poetry, I find I prefer "The City of New Orleans" to "I Hear America Singing." I'm interested in hearing what you all think, though! Go read the lyrics of "The City of New Orleans" and the full text of "I Hear America Singing" and come back and share your thoughts. Which one do you prefer? Or do you like them equally?
Books: Leaves of Grass, Walt Whitman
Music: The City of New Orleans, Steve Goodman