Song Stories

“Casey Jones”

The Grateful Dead | 1970

The real-life Casey Jones, a conductor with the Illinois Central Railroad, crashed his passenger train into a stalled freight locomotive on a foggy night in 1900. But drugs had nothing to do with it. In fact, Jones — the wreck’s lone fatality — became a legend for refusing to bail when he saw trouble ahead. But in his fictionalized account, Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter’s rail accident had a Sixties twist: a coked-up conductor. “I always thought it’s a pretty good musical picture of what cocaine is like,” Jerry Garcia told Rolling Stone. “A little bit evil. And hard-edged.”

Song Stories Main Next

Song Stories

“Madame George”

Van Morrison | 1968

One of the first stream-of-consciousness epics to make it onto a Van Morrison record, his drawn-out farewell to the eccentric "Madame George" lasted nearly 10 minutes, combining ingredients from folk, jazz and classical music. The character that gave the song its title provoked speculation that it was about a drag queen, though Morrison denied this in Rolling Stone. "If you see it as a male or a female or whatever, it's your trip," he remarked. "I see it as a ... a Swiss cheese sandwich. Something like that."

More Song Stories entries »