Interpretations:Mrs. Train

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When I first heard this song I didn't think much of it. I equated the "Mrs. Train" character to a threatening elementary school teacher slowly leading her students around. I saw significance in the relation between the slow tempo and the line "Patiently taking your time." Because she is not liked by her students, none are willing to be the one at the head of the line and therefor be the closest to Mrs. Train. After listening to it many more times however, it seemed more likely and logically relating to a feared marriage. The slow theme related to the slow walk the bride takes up to the alter. The line "I'll be happy when I finally take its hand" is a reassurance that the narrator will indeed be happy with this marriage but until then, he is clearly terrified. But maybe it's just me.

I don't think this song has anything to do with holocaust, marriage, drugs, or even trains. Who or what "Mrs. Train" is is irrelevant to the song. The song is about being afraid of standing out.

Here's this great and wonderful thing, this new train that just got made. John really wants to see it, but he doesn't want to stand out by being the first to go stand in line to look at it. Since nobody else wants to be the first one either, nobody heads the line and the line never forms.

Nobody even wants to be caught being the first one to notice that there's nobody in line to see "Mrs. Train," so the whole situation is ignored completely. John never gets to do what he wants to do (go see the train), because he's too afraid to be the first one to do it. Kind of interesting commentary on human nature if you ask me.

As near as I can tell, the only reason the song is "Mrs. Train" instead of "Mrs. Boat" or something is that it's easy to write music that sounds like a train and the Johns enjoy themed music.

-skoink (November 07, 2006)

I seem to be on my own in thinking that the song is about the holocaust. The narrator being on his way to a concentration camp. Regardless of whether this is true or not, this is what the song means to me. Yet another example of Linnell personalising an object, this song remains obscure due to being on the Back to Skull EP that preceded John Henry. Much better than many of the aforementioned album tracks, and indeed Snailshell, the dismal lead track of the EP, this is classic Linnell Giants. (Mr Tuck)

This song makes me think of some sort of paradoxical queue that contains at least one person, but somehow doesn't have a first person.

I think this song is about a kid who`s reluctant to visit his grandma because she`s old, slow, and is patient and takes her time[really it could represent any old woman named Mrs. Train.] The kid doesn`t have time for that; he`s hyperactive and wants to do stuff. None of his siblings want to see her either, so the line doesn`t have a first person in line, thus the missing head. Someone has to go first, but no one wants to be first[the ``missing head``]. Just my take, though.

Hey, that sounds pretty good.

I never really thought about what this song was about, but a friend of mine used to have it as his wake-up song on his cd alarm clock. It is a perfect song to wake up to...starts s-l-o-w, picks up speed as it goes along, and ends up rockin'. By the time the song's over, you are out of bed and your toes are tapping.

That's a good idea. My current alarm clock either doesn't wake me up at all, or wakes me up at a random time like 3:52 am. That's when it woke me up this morning, and I couldn't get back to sleep. I need a new alarm clock, and I might buy one of those cd alarm clocks just so I'll get out of bed (for once) and not just hit the snooze button twenty thousand million times. Mrs. Train would be the perfect wake-up song. Aurora Hawthorne

(In fact, several alarm clocks have a beeping pattern that starts slow and gradually increases tempo, just like this song does.) -anon

It's a train starting up and leaving the station.

When I listen to this song, I think about a freak show. Everyone is in line to see a woman without a head. I don't know about the thing about the train. Maybe she's as large as a train? ---Checkers Piece Face

Not so much an interpretation, but the song reminds me of "Rock Island" from "The Music Man" by Meredith Wilson -- another song (actually it's spoken rather than sung, but in a definite rhythm) that starts out slow but picks up the cadance of a speeding train as it goes along.

My intial thoughts when i first heard this song was that it's about a female psychologist, and it's being sung by possibly a male patient who really isn't ready to open up to her and Mrs. Train is fine with that because she is just doing her job and knows how its hard for some people "being comfortable with yourself, and being patient and taking your time are the things that Mrs. Train can understandand." The Patient of course would rather not have the session, even though he knows he'll be "happy when [he] finally take its hand."

I'm probably wrong though, so whatever...

I love this song. For a long time I assumed it was another strange TMBG song. However, while listening to it several months ago, a new idea suddenly struck me. While it may not be standard TMBG fare, goto and lookup the slang meaning for the word "train". Then listen to the song or read the lyrics and tell me it doesn't fit darn near perfectly. That said the increasing speed of the song reminds me of Sparkle by Phish. --The Great Puma - 16:54, 25 Aug 2005 (EDT)

Let's not be coy. "Running a train" on someone means to gang bang them. That's what I immediately thought of when I first heard this song and thought to myself, well, here's yet another TMBG song with perky music and a scary dark lyric. Train also used to be drug slang, for cocaine. Cocaine makes sense with the tempo speeding up.

~ Christina Miller, September 2005

I would excercise caution applying the gang-band definition to this song. The entries for "train" are all very recent and give no indication of how long that usage has been employed. This song was written in 1994 by a band not well known for their use of urban slang. Although it's possible that's what this song is about, I don't think it's likely. The cocaine reference may be valid, however; after all, these guys were part of the '80's NY club scene, and They must have at least been aware of a certain magic white powder.
The interp I find more likely -- btw, this is largely taken from the now-defunct interpretation archive -- is that the song is about someone who is reluctant to get married. He doesn't "want to be first in line" -- as in standing at the center aisle next to the line of groomsmen -- "to see Mrs. Train" -- his bride-to-be, wearing a bridal gown with a long train. However, as she's walking down the aisle, he tries to talk himself into it: he's never seen anyone like her, and he knows that he'll "be happy when [he] finally take[s] her hand," i.e., take her hand in marriage. The "missing head" choruses that follow don't fit into this interp, but I think that those are just John and John excercising their typical, surreal writing style.
But hey, what do I know? Maybe it is about a gang-bang. Tutt 15:40, 17 Oct 2005 (EDT)MasterChivo

Well, I like the idea that the author was unaware of the slang meaning of "train" although the meaning is pretty old.

The marriage interp has the advantage of it employs the TMBG dream-like sliding around between visual and verbal - of course a bride is Mrs. Train, because she wears one, and "take her hand" is a set phrase for marriage. Much nicer than imagining Messrs Flansburgh and Linnell nervously waiting in line to for group sex. Also, the missing head could be the bride, because "head" subs for "Mrs. Train" as the song progresses. Head of the processional.

~Christina Miller October 2005

I just thought about the marriage thing this morning. I think you're right.

~The Walrus

If Mrs. Train and Mr. Narrator are possibly about to be married, then would it not seem strange that the title character is specifically called, from out of millions of possibilities, "Mrs." (indicating already-wife status)? I guess the interpretation could work, but most of the applications of the lyrics to specific situations only sort-of hinted at by the song usually just hover around the more thematic intention of the lyricist. Instead of marriage, I think it's about reluctance and unwillingness to take charge in general, whether it's to look at a shiny cool new train rolling by or to walk down the aisle to marry your lover. Although on the "Mrs." deal, you could use the word in the title character's name to argue either way; either you could say it signifies that she cannot go through marriage again in her current state and thus probably isn't related to a wedding, or that the lyricists inclusion in a seemingly important part of the song makes the issue of marriage stand out.
So, in conclusion, I don't think my response has a point. ~ magbatz 00:45, 6 September 2007 (UTC)

I think it's what happens when you play the telephone game considering it goes from Mrs. Train to a missing head. -bubso

I think it's about a carnival. The music reminds me of a carnival or circus, and maybe Mrs. Train is a little train ride, or possibly, as someone else mentioned, a freak show attraction. ~Anna Ng hears your words.

I always got the idea that this song was about like a line at a book signing or autograph session. So I always thought off Mrs. Train, and Missing Head, as possibly being band names. John could be worried to talk to the band and what not. The taking the hand line could refer to handshake. The patient and taking your time stuff could also be saying bands are more likely to like someone who is not a obsessed freak.

The wedding interpretation could be right too, in any case is about a worried individual who doesn't want to be the first one to do something.


Encouraging risk-taking in a roundabout way[edit]

I agree with the person above who said that the exact nature of Mrs. Train isn't important compared to the narrator's reaction to her. I think the message can be read into a little further, though: more than just not wanting to stand out, it's warning the listener against being too cautious about new things and becoming too entrenched in a stagnant lifestyle.

Mrs. Train could be anything in this scenario. The juxtaposition of a very human honorific and an everyday, typically inanimate object is a characteristically TMBG idea anyway, but the main point is that it's an unusual phrase which would be new to the listener as well as the people in the song. Like it says, there's never been anything like her before. There's clearly something desirable about her, as the narrator is looking forward to getting acquainted with her... except, being a new concept to him, she's outside his comfort zone. Not wanting to be too hasty about embracing Mrs. Train, perhaps because he isn't completely certain about the risks involved, he rationalises his procrastination as being patient and taking his time before a major undertaking. He reassures himself that it doesn't matter for the time being; he'll definitely join the line when enough other people decide to see her as well.

The problem here rapidly escalates as more people start to think like the narrator, and that's why the music keeps speeding up. If nobody wants to be the first in line and fill in that missing head, then the result is a large number of people all passively waiting for somebody else to step forward, and if everyone is waiting then no steps actually happen. Mrs. Train, while still acknowledged as a good thing, is effectively ignored. In fact, since everyone is so focused on the missing head, they've lost sight of what they were supposed to be acting on in the first place, and Mrs. Train drops out of the song altogether - after all, she's a train, and trains don't wait around forever if nobody is about to get on. In the end, something new and progressive that could potentially have changed lives for the better is lost, all because the narrator and people like him weren't willing to head the line straight away.

The moral of this story: be bold! It's better than being so comfortable with yourself that you never move at all.

Also - for a person who has been raised on "mainstream" music, much of TMBG's own work would definitely count as new and unfamiliar territory. Whether that's worth noting in the context of this interpretation is an exercise left to the reader. ;) ~ blitzente (talk) 23:41, 20 July 2009 (UTC)

Just to add a little thought to that, I've always thought Linnell was hinting at "Mrs. Train" being at least tangential to a train of thought, which can connect with your interpretation to be kind of an anti-"We Want A Rock"; this is the case of no accumulated mass of action (due to procrastination or passiveness) to bring about momentum in a vaguely social or political sense. You never catch the train of thought because you don't feel like you particularly should and someone else will be at the head, and the result en masse is stagnation, and everybody mrs. the train of thought which could have led to who-knows-where for everybody. ~ magbatz 02:44, 21 July 2009 (UTC)

Ha ha Magbatz I actually got so happy and hopeful for several hours seeing FA, JW, & KI with millions of views being music and fashion & I'm getting flooded with job offers then trying like the dickens to decrypt a clue then it dawned on me wait a minute here I'm being f'd with again. Shrunken amygdalas, lucky bastards.

UPDATE (pretty sure this will never post) - Duh, totally about Monarch slave programming. It's called being thrown from the "Freedom Train." I've personally had this train thing come up in horrible ways a couple other times in my life but suppose I can't go into detail about that. I'll just say its either to cause suicidal tendencies or to place so much fear in the target they become more programmable. If you aren't a trillionaire we're all of us on this planet enslaved but the level of abuse for some would be too much for most people to even hear about. Slavery ALWAYS is and has been a very psychological phenomenon, a tearing down so slave feels hopeless and believes there is no escape and there really is no escape when psycho control types always have and always will run the world with hands in not only government but every service industry you can think of and of course in entertainment. This past year and a half I've had police harrassment at least 20 times (tried getting in my pad 3 days ago insisting I had dialed 911 when I would NEVER), don't want to talk about beatings & rapes because don't want to cause paranoia in anyone else, but what hurts the most is the psychological warfare. All friends and family villainizing me (must ALWAYS be done to victims) now total isolation. I would never hurt myself or anyone else but I'd take a whole lot more beatings rapes incarcerations if I could have my friends and family back. Zero clue what's gonna happen, never given instruction, I'm like just tell me what I need to do to have a little piece of freedom and of course I see now there's no chance of getting my children out I just pray I will be allowed back in their lives. I'm not a bad dog I am a human I've always had work ethic I am disciplined just fighting to stay alive to be around for them. "When her people fell into the hand of the enemy, with no one to help her, the adversaries saw her and mocked at her downfall." L7 bible verse

Oh, the risk taking thing is pretty much a joke because when absolutely everything's taken I'm pretty sure the only options are illegal. Another method of blaming and shaming the victim.


I was listening to this recently and it struck me that it might be about committing suicide in front of a train.

The person has some reluctance to do it, but justifies it by saying it doesn't matter to the train, it's just a train.

The "missing head" might be a reference to 'losing his head', ie he is being driven to undertake the act of committing suicide, and is thus not thinking straight.

A song about a female train[edit]

The lyrics are interesting because TMBG tend to write about male characters, and if the characters are female they are not motherly like Mrs Train. This calm, accepting persona is practically unique in the work of the Johns! There is also an interesting contrast between the feminine quality of the train's personality, and the brutal, indeed phallic nature of its form.

On a more mundane level, I wonder if the song was inspired by Linnell recalling the 1978 song "Mrs the Train" by Marshall Hain? The music is forgettable boogie blues rock, and the most interesting thing about the song is its title:

-- Thread Bomb (talk) 00:17, 21 April 2020 (EDT)

Way out there[edit]

I've read all of this thread and TMBG can be dark so my spin on it could be the people in line during the French revolution, (guillotine) they didn't want to be the first in line to see Mrs. Train or a missing head. Well that's what I get out of it and I'm sure I'm way off but, well think about it.