Because I grew up in Minnesota – where winter is actually a thing – I have almost no Southern/stereotypically “country” association with Christmas. “Country” music is now mostly about trucks, beer, and girls who are virginal but still somehow expected to be slutty, but the best “country” music is layered in nostalgia and simplicity. Hank Williams’s “Log Train” is a return to simplicity. Gone are the steel guitars, warbling voice and (mostly) religious overtones that are present for most of Williams’s canon. It’s just Hank and his guitar singing about his “daddy / who ran a log train.”
“Log train” is reminder that life is relation. Things happen. You experience them. You reflect on them. You are (at least partially) the end product of experience and reflection. There’s a reason that Williams’s ode to his father is an ode to the train his father ran – it’s impossible to talk about a person without talking about the world they existed in. And what a fine job Williams does creating this world. Hank proves an able poet linking couplets throughout the song including this gem – “And late in the evenin’ when the sun was low / way off in the distance you could hear the train blow,” which connects nicely with the last couplet “when I get to heaven to always remain / I’ll listen for the whistle of the old log train.” Williams makes the three-way relationship (son-father-train) simple. The same chords strum evenly through the duration of the song. The lyrics conjure beautiful, simple images and Williams hardly even dares to raise his voice beyond a single octave. We don’t need a backing band, a slide guitar, strings. We just need Hank, his voice and a story. It might be Hank Williams’ greatest song. It was also one of his last.
Most of the time, our experience with Christmas is either horrifyingly commercial, or horrifyingly banal. If we aren’t having Hallmark card moments we are failing, and if we are having Hallmark card moments, something is probably going terribly wrong because what sane family actually has those? “Log train” gets to the cliched but true heart of what actually matters now and always – the lighting of an advent wreath, the crunch of snow under your tires, the whistle of a train.