Sunday, March 24, 2013

"Life Is Like a Mountain Railroad" - Jerry Lee Lewis (1983)

Jerry Lee Lewis grew up in a religious atmosphere. His two cousins; the legendary Mickey Gilley and Jimmy Swaggart,  also made their fortunes entertaining people using the gospel; Mickey as a performer, and  Jimmy as a preacher; entertaining people in his own unique way. But  Jerry Lee took a slightly different path, and wound up entertaining people by playing rock and roll, with gospel music, also making a fortune in the bargain. See the difference? Neither do I.

This recording of the iconic country ballad “Life Is Like a Mountain Railroad” was evidently inspired by Mr. Lewis knowing the song; which was written in 1890; coupled with his having just recently seen the TV movie “Mr. Horn”, with David Carradine and Richard Widmark. That film was made for TV and later remade into the feature film “Tom Horn” with Steve McQueen. It’s the story of an overly idealistic frontiersman, cavalry scout and bounty hunter who takes things too far, and is hung for his excesses in 1903.

The book was originally written as a novel by William Goldman and found its way to television in the late 1970’s. Apparently, Mr. Lewis had seen the film and remembered the old gospel song from his youth. The song was written by a Baptist Minister named M.E. Abbey as a hymn, with the only written part being the chorus. The other lyrics were added later by Eliza R. Snow. Curiously the song was copyrighted in 1890 by Abbey and Tillman, with no mention of Ms. Snow’s contribution. The song has been a staple in country music for almost a century now, with recordings by just about everybody from the Carter Family to Linda Ronstadt.

The message in the song is pretty clear; life is like a mountain railway, with cliffs on one side and a steep wall of rock on the other. That’s the path of the “straight and narrow”. No room for error. The engineer is all of us, who must work hard at keeping the train on the track against the overwhelming obstacles which life constantly heaps in our path. And of course, there is always someone who watches over us, lending an unseen hand when the going gets too rough for us to handle.

"Life Is Like A Mountain Railroad"

Life is like a mountain railroad
With an engineer so brave
We must make this run successful
From the cradle to the grave
Watch the curves, the fills the tunnels
Never falter, never fail
Keep your hand upon the throttle
And your eye upon the rail.

Oh, blessed Savior, thou wilt guide us
Til we reach that blissful shore
Where the angels wait to join us
In God's grace forever more.

As you roll across the trestle
Spanning Jordan's swelling tide
You behold the union depot
Into which your train will glide
There you'll meet the superintendent
God the Father, God the Son
With a hearty, joyous greeting
Weary pilgrim, welcome home.

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