Venus Stopped The Train (solo acoustic)
That’s the title I always preferred, but this song is often referred to as "Venus Stop the Train". Go figure.
This song didn’t end up on YHF. At the time, I felt it was too personal and that some details of this song were recognizably true events from my hometown. I wrote this song about some very specific people in my childhood. Some “there but for the grace of god” characters that still fill me with overflowing oceans of survivor's guilt. One was a friend whose parents dealt drugs, which he would sometimes steal so we could take speed and go hang out at the library. He’d get caught taking his mom’s stash and get beat up, and I would feel helpless about how I could help him. Eventually the dark undertow of his life pulled him deep into his own habit, and into his own franchise of the family business.
And I, honestly, hid from him, and it. Fearful, I suppose, of the chaos he had grown accustomed to. I felt awful about turning my back on him even then, as it was happening. He was a really sweet kid, and he’d always be friendly to me, even when we’d really stopped being friends. I can still picture his incredibly expressive, sad eyes and how they so clearly said “I get it. You need to save yourself” when we’d cross paths in the hallways at high school.
But I owe him a lot. If it wasn’t for his grandmother’s easily pilfered mason jars full of quarters, I wouldn’t have had the money to buy a bunch of records that changed my life… X's Wild Gift, for example. I got that and a Ramones record (can’t remember which one, probably Rocket to a Russia) on the same day he bought Bruce Springsteen’s The River. He always divided up the stolen coins evenly, so one Boss double LP equaled two regular LPs for me.
So that’s where the “taking Christmas trees” part of this song comes from. Christmas Trees, back in the day, was slang for a type of amphetamine that looked like the colorful candy capsules that would come with a toy doctor's bag. I mean they really looked like they were FOR kids, which is probably how I got on board with taking any at the time. It was fun for a while. But lying awake with your heart racing at 4am, convinced you can feel your hair growing, on a school night in the 7th grade was way too much for me to handle more than a couple of times. But my pal Josh* was great. And I wish we could have stayed close. But, again, his world was perched on a cliff I knew instinctively to back away from.
As for Venus?
Well, Venus was a real person named Tina*. I knew her from the time we were in kindergarten together up to her death, a few years after we graduated high school. I think she was a genius. I’m not sure. I honestly never got that close to her, but she was always nice to me. But the energy around her made what scared me about Josh’s* family look like Happy Days. I say I think she was a genius because she was the kind of kid that would be utterly disrespectful and disruptive in every class, yet somehow ace every test and assignment. Teachers loathed her. She made a mockery of the whole idea of school. And yes she was very “grown up”. She’s definitely the first person I believed when they said they had had sex.
The rumors surrounding her death were hard to hear. Apparently, she had given up and laid down on some train tracks near our high school, and ended her own life. There was talk of abuse in her household. Everything about it was tragic. Some part of me felt connected to her, connected enough to feel like I should have known how to help her out of whatever corner she was in. But the truth is, by the time she died, I was probably barely on her radar at all. It was just a weird personalizing impulse I had, and still have to some degree. I guess when you have a certain amount of alcoholism and struggle in your own house, wanting to fix people doesn’t go away just because it’s too late.
The idea of Venus being her name is in reference to the stories I’d heard about train engineers stopping and backing up their trains when the planet Venus is low on the horizon, looking like an oncoming train on the same set of tracks. I wish that’s what had happened and I wish Tina had lived long enough to use her brilliance in a way that brought her the peace and love she deserved.
Anyway, that’s where the images in the song come from. Here it is. I’m sorry if I’ve undermined any of your own interpretations. OxO
* names changed
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