runs the alltime loser headlong to his death.
Oh, he feels the piston scraping
steam breaking on his brow.
Old Charlie stole the handle
and the train it won't stop going
no way to slow down.
It's no secret to those who know me that music speaks to me. It frames those things in my mind that I can not wrap with words. The metaphor of a well written lyric helps me to encapsulate and understand fragments of the wild torrent of thoughts and emotions that rush through my mind.
Locomotive Breath by Jethro Tull has been quite meaningful to me for years now. I seem to see more and more of myself and my fears in it with each hearing. The pulsing feel and gritty, visceral metaphor feels very familiar. It feels like my fear.
At the center of the song is a Viet Nam vet. His life and his very being have been damaged and rendered out of control by "Charlie". "Charlie" being the faceless enemy that he was faced to fight, and who has now renedered him unable to function in his life. "Charlie stole the handle" renders this poor fellow powerless to regain control of his circumstances.
Many times I feel the pistons scraping, steam breaking on my brow. I feel the wild torrent of obsession, compulsion, and the raging emotions of depression as "the shuffling madness of the locomotive breath". Like the vet in the song, I find that the handle has been stolen.
I know I'm not alone in this. All parents of "special kids" feel this. As a "special person", I feel it both for myself and for my son. Simply put, I fear that the damage will win. Either my damage, my sons damage, or both will be our undoing. For my son, the fear is that someday he won't be self-sufficient. I fear that he won't be loved and appreciated outside our family, particularly after I'm gone. I fear for his happiness.
The song later states "He sees his children jumping off, at stations one by one". This fear is mine. I've watch folks bail at stations along the course of my life, driven away by things I can not control. My damage becomes more than they can overlook. "He hears the silence howling..." Here is my greatest fear, both for my son and myself. The damage wins. We hear the howling silence known only to the discarded refuse of humanity. Despite our desperate search for "the handle", we "run.....headlong to his death".