Thursday, November 12, 2020

Certain Songs #1955: Robyn Hitchcock – “I Often Dream of Trains” | Medialoper

Album: I Often Dream of Trains
Year: 1984

. . .

Framed by an interlocking pair of ghostly electric guitars, the title track of I Often Dream of Trains is a weird will o’ the wisp of a song, so understated in it’s presentation that you don’t even realize how funny it is.

Obviously, there are a lot of funny songs in Robyn Hitchcock’s oeuvre — that’s part of his appeal, of course — but what I love about “I Often Dream of Trains” is that unlike, say “Uncorrected Personality Traits,” which signaled its intent from the moment he sang the opening phrase.

I often dream of trains when I’m alone
I ride on them into another zone
I dream of them constantly
Heading for paradise
Or Basingstoke
Or Reading

Look, I’m sure that Basingstoke and Reading are perfectly lovely places — I don’t think I’ve been to either one, though I know that Reading has a festival or did back when we could do things like that — but they aren’t you know, paradise.

I often dream of trains when I’m awake
They ride along beside a frozen lake
And there in the buffet car
I wait for eternity
Or Basingstoke
Or Reading

Unlike a lot of the songs on I Often Dream of Trains, “I Often Dream of Trains” is relatively static, musically: it doesn’t really have any choruses — unless you consider the listing of “Or Basingstoke/ Or Reading” to be a chorus more than it is a Dylanesque verse-ender, though its long gone after the second verse.

I often dream of trains till it gets light
The summer turns to winter overnight
The leaves fall so suddenly
The sun sets at four o’clock
Exactly what
I’m dreading

I wish I remember exactly when it was that “I Often Dream of Trains” entered my life. I think it was in the mid-1980s, after Fegmamia! and Gotta Let This Hen Out! Probably 1986, when it was first released in the U.S. In any event, I wasn’t even remotely prepared for how much this whole album would affect me, especially since I’m pretty sure my first exposure was the video on The Cutting Edge or maybe Night Flight, and at first I was underwhelmed.

That said, eventually I got overwhelmed by I Often Dream of Trains, which sounds like it was recorded in the first week of January, when all of the holidays have passed, the sun is still ineffective, and the “new” in “Happy Year” seems like a cheat. And nowhere more does it have that feeling than on that title track, which ends with Hitchcock fading off into the distance, pleading “baby” to someone who might be gone forever, or maybe even didn’t ever exist.

“I Often Dream of Trains”

“I Often Dream of Trains” official video

“I Often Dream of Trains” live in 2008

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