Some of my research for 31 Days of Halloween has led me to Clarksville, Tennessee, the nearest town to the military installation at Fort Campbell, home base of the 101st Airborne.
The story I’m researching, oddly enough, has nothing much to do with the military, although it does have its origins in the Civil War era. It’s the mere mention of Clarksville itself that put this song going on the soundtrack in my head:
The Monkees released “Last Train to Clarksville” in 1966, during the Vietnam War. I was a small child then. What I know now sticks in my mind: there were people coming in on that last train to Clarksville (although there never was any such) who literally did not know if they, or their soldiers assigned to the 101st, would ever be coming home.
The song was recorded as an instrumental by the bluegrass brother act Jim and Jesse in the mid-1970s. Not even the banjo track, nor yet Jesse’s blazing mandolin, which can shove you back in your seat and take your breath with its brilliance, can quite silence those melancholy words:
. . .and I don’t know if I’m ever comin’ home.
Sad and a bit eerie on a bright hot humid August day.