Bob Dylan’s “It Takes a Lot To Laugh, It Takes a Train To Cry”



When I was a boy, everyone in Rockland heard freight trains at night, travelling on the far side of the Ottawa River. The trains followed the Thurso, Mason-Angers, Gatineau line, the far-away mournful cries of their whistles reverberating in the dark. There is no other sound like it.

When I started playing music at the age of 13, everyone had a train song. Johnny Cash had several, like “Folsom Prison Blues” and “Hey Porter.” Train songs ranged from the deep dark chugging of Junior Parker’s “Mystery Train”, the mournful lament of “Waiting For A Train” by Jimmie Rodgers, the irresistible funk of James Brown’s “Night Train”, to the lilting happy melodies of Elizabeth Cotton’s “Freight Train.”

South Indian 1907

South Indian 1907

In the early 20th century, the lines of the Grand Trunk Railway crossed eastern Ontario between Ottawa and Montreal. South Indian was one of the stations and its location is now the village of Limoges. There was also a station in North Indian, which became the village of Hammond, not far from Rockland.

My personal all-time favourite train song is “Click Clack” by Don Van Vliet (1941-2010), Captain Beefheart himself, the man with a beef in his heart against this society. “Click Clack” is all motion, trains coming and going, and a girl “threatening to go down to N’Orleans, get herself lost and found.”

The most impressive train song I’ve ever witnessed is “The Rail Song” by Adrian Belew (b. 1949), a beautifully nostalgic song about his life-long love of trains released in 1983 on the album “Twang Bar King.” Adrian Belew worked with some of the biggest names in the business, including Frank Zappa, David Bowie, Talking Heads and King Crimson. Belew’s guitar sounds like everything in the world, including a guitar. He is a master of instrument design and multimedia, collaborating with the Parker Guitars company to help design his Parker Fly signature guitar. No one has a repertoire of astounding guitar sounds like Adrian Belew.



I saw Belew with his band, The Bears, in the late 1980s in a small club in Hull, Qc. At the end of one of their songs, the whole club went pitch black, like there was a power outage, all except for a tiny speck of light coming from the stage. Then, a distant feint rustling could be heard. Slowly, the speck of light grew closer and the rustling gradually became louder, train wheels on distant tracks. A far off whistle could be heard as the club began to shake from the oncoming train, the rustling now deafening, lights flashing on and off as the train leapt a crossing and swept through the club, the patrons ducking for cover under tables as the whole place shook and rattled. Seamlessly, the house lights went on and Belew and The Bears launched into “The Rail Song.” It was the kind of intro you never forget.

“It Takes a Lot To Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry” was written by Bob Dylan in 1965, for the album “Highway 61 Revisited” and it has always been one of my favourite songs. It has also been interpreted by Steven Stills, Leon Russell, Taj Mahal and Lucinda Williams, among others.

Richard Séguin – voice, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, electric bass
Roch Tassé – drums

To hear the song, click on the title below.

It Takes a Lot To Laugh, It Takes a Train To Cry

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