Midnight Plane To Houston
Today I gathered blackberries, two bowls full, from the bushes behind our house. While picking I thought of Missouri, of blueberries, of apples, of my mother, of growing up, of listening to the radio, of Gladys Knight all alone on her midnight train to Georgia. Time, as time will, went slippery.
I remember, when I was 12 years old, buying Gladys Knight’s album Imagination and realising that all my favourite tracks were written by the same person, Jim Weatherly. Midnight Train To Georgia, Best Thing That Ever Happened To Me, Once In A Lifetime Thing. I knew another song of hers, Neither One Of Us (Wants To Be The First To Say Goodbye) was also written by him. I kept that name in my head for years.
In 1973 Jim Weatherly recorded the first version of Midnight Plane To Houston. By the time Gladys Knight recorded it a year later both the destination and mode of transport had changed. As great a writer as Weatherly was, he didn’t understand two things: that going to Georgia was in all ways superior to going to a hell hole like Houston; and that trains, especially at midnight, were in all ways superior to planes.
And yet there’s a wistfulness, a fragile uncertainty about Weatherly’s version that suits the song, that keeps me returning to it, particularly on autumn days like this. Days when time goes slippery.