PEOPLE KEEP A-COMIN’

The musical origin of People Keep A-Comin’ was me messing around on my mother’s guitar.  It was on this small lovely instrument I first learned to play. I was eleven and resilient; it was old and fragile. It was made by Raphael Ciani, the mentor and maternal uncle of the famous luthier Johnny D’Angelico.

The words have many origins and may have more than one meaning. The phrase “people keep a-comin’ and the train done gone” is a “floater” that has attached itself to various sacred and secular songs in the sea islands of South Carolina and Georgia. When in my teens I heard Willis Proctor sing those words it struck me as a multi-purpose metaphor.  Its appearance in the first verse refers, in part, to societal and personal formats that were once vital and effective but have outlived their original purpose and effectiveness. This seems to be the case with some religious and spiritual practices, with social customs, with laws, with personal behavior.

The second verse reflects a vivid memory. I was about 15 years old, emerging from a subway ride in the late afternoon along Manhattan’s upper west side. I climbed up the stairs to Broadway and was met by a river of people in a hurry to get home from work.  Each was isolated, intent on an individual purpose but they were also each part of a collective flow of humanity.

The remaining verses are mostly self-explanatory. As for “the line keeps hummin’ ”, my memory is foggy. I knew what I meant when I wrote it.

 

PEOPLE KEEP A-COMIN’ 
(Jody Stecher/ Vegetiboy Music, BMI)

People keep a comin' to the station
People keep a comin' every day
Station’s got no heat or power and they’re comin' every hour
People keep a comin' anyway
People keep a comin' and the train done gone
The county tore up the track 
They turned off the plumbin' and it really is some’in’ 
That they’re comin' and they never go back

People keep a comin' down Broadway
Like someone turned on a spout
People keep a comin', to-in' and a from-in'
They keep on pourin' out
People keep a comin' in a hurry
They scurry by and then they disappear 
People keep a comin' like they’re marchin' to the drummin'
Of a drummer that I never did hear

People keep a comin' to the border 
Fleein' and flyin' from their homes
People keep a comin' and the line keeps hummin'
But they all got freedom in their bones
If they stayed at home another minute
They wouldn’t live another day
People keep a comin' and the line keeps hummin'
People keep a comin' anyway

People keep a comin' to the airport
To their high school reunion
People keep a headin' to Henrietta’s weddin'
They’re fillin' up the stadium
They all go home with Covid
People keep a comin' to the church
People keep a comin' a walkin' and a runnin'
And they all get left in the lurch

 

People keep a comin' to the station
People keep a comin' every day
Station’s got no heat or power and they’re comin' every hour
People keep a comin' anyway
People keep a comin' and the train done gone
The county tore up the track 
They turned off the plumbin' and it really is some-in’ 
That they’re comin' and they never go back