Who are the rockstar railfans? Besides you, of course

on Thursday, July 4, 2019

Before I had a mortgage, I went to A LOT of concerts. It was and still is one of my favorite activities. In my top 10 performances is Paul Simon and Bob Dylan when they toured together in 1999. I scored tickets for their July 4 show at the former Marcus Amphitheater (now American Family Insurance Amphitheater) in Milwaukee. (I can't believe that was 20 years ago!) Their performance felt American, spiritual, appropriate for the holiday. I felt privileged to be breathing their same air. This was two years before I worked for this magazine, before I knew what this poster would mean to me someday. It adorns my office. I think I bought it for $10. Probably my best Hamilton ever spent! It was designed by Michael Schwab, who has a studio based out of Northern California, and has also created multiple posters and advertising for Amtrak and the National Parks, among other brands (Apple, Coke, Nike, to name a few). I love the simplicity and duplicity of this illustration. The symbolism of two diverging E units suited these two powerhouse musicians. One has to wonder if Simon and Dylan are railfans. Simon & Garfunkel’s “Homeward Bound” comes to mind, and Dylan’s “Slow Train.”  References to trains abound in both musicians’ lyrics throughout the years. So are they railfans or is the railroad just a muse? 

Our friends at Classic Toy Trains boast of their famous collector Neil Young , and our friends at Model Railroader get a little swagger when they talk about modeler Rod Stewart. But who are the rockstar railfans? Kevin P. Keefe’s story “Rhythm of the Rails“ in the September 2017 issue of Trains gives light to several well-known blues musicians who sang about trains or the railroad. One could argue Johnny Cash was a railfan. Cash released albums of songs all inspired by trains. “Folsom Prison Blues,” anyone? In so many words, he has a song called “I’ve Got a Thing About Trains!” Well, I guess there's my answer. 

Railroad songs is a topic people love to debate. So, what do you like? Share in the comments, anything old school to contemporary. I’m all ears!

Happy Fourth!

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