Train Songs No. 6: Guttersnipe
Guttersnipe kicks off with a simple acoustic guitar figure, before Bhi Bhiman’s aching vocal kicks in:
I jumped the first train I saw, it’ll surely take me home
If I had a mama, at least I’d have a place to go
But I’m just a guttersnipe, I got no place to wipe my nose…
The son of Sri Lankan immigrants to the US, Bhiman was raised in St Louis and is now based in San Francisco. American through and through, as likely to talk about his love of sports as rock and roll in interviews, he remains connected to his south asian heritage. His parents grew up poor; his mother didn’t have a pair of shoes until she was 12 years old. Perhaps this back-story has helped him imagine himself inside a hobo’s head, from where he has crafted this twenty-first century addition to the long American tradition of train-jumping ballads. For the purposes of the song he is just a vagabond, hoping the lawmen don’t catch him a second time:
A buzzard riding the rails
I steal my meals when all else fails…
All he has, out there on the tracks, hidden in a wagon pulled by a long, slow freight train, is time. Despite his hunger and apparent misfortune, he is seduced by the sounds that surround him.
The train beats a rhythm, and I love to sing along
A music video can’t take us back to the historical moment in North America when the greatest such songs were written. Instead, its footage comes from Sri Lanka, where trains are still as central to the national infrastructure as they once were in the United States, and where the same, universal longing to escape to a better life is played out every day.
Even though it speaks of straightened times, Guttersnipe comes fully loaded with optimism. The train will carry its resident hobo home, whenever he can work out where ‘home’ is, fulfilling its age-old function in service of the American Dream. Wherever he’s headed, until that Dream rolls up, he’ll just keep riding and singing. He is, after all, ‘well on the way to feeling fine’. As I hope you will be after you hear this song.
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