What Music And Model Trains Have In Common


This is Neil Young’s model railway layout. Yes THAT Neil Young.

My job is fairly straight-forward: I write about and do scholarly research on people who make music.

But do you know what has helped me with my work almost as much as playing in bands and going to school for a decade? A: Being around people who are passionate about things. It obvious to me, that my passion for music is inherited.

My Dad always has projects (businesses and hobbies).

For my Mother and my Grandmother, gardening and plants are like breathing air, a daily necessity.

My aunt collects things and makes home crafts.

And in other parts of my extended family, railway modelling is a huge pursuit, straddling the worlds of both business and leisure. That’s why I often contrast music-making with model railway building: not because I think it’s a cheap laugh but it’s close to hand.

And because they compare well. It works.

It is not as flippant or as exaggerated a comparison as one might think.

(Or like to think.)


Now I completely acknowledge that model railroading isn’t as direct a communication form as music, nor are there any global superstars in the field but it does do all the other things that music does:

  • it draws together a community,
  • gives said community a currency,
  • helps individual people combat the mundanity of everyday life.

So railway modelling gets the core business of music done.

To some people I know and love, model railroading is music.

And to be honest, is it really that far from your own experiences?

Think about it.

Is constructing a beautiful, physical recreation of the world like this:

Really that much different from constructing this minimalist, virtual re-creation of the world:


How did that happen?


Think a moment about model railroading and know that this is exactly how a lot of people see your band. Grim.

To Joe and Joesphine Public, you are involved in a strange, fairly unproductive hobby that has no bearing in the realities of real life ™. Sure, everyone loves music. But everyone does not love your music or is ever likely to. Quite the opposite probably. In reality, your band is about as far away from the lived experience of U2 as the average model train enthusiast.

This can be a bitter pill for some.

And I only hand it over so casually because in my older age (36) I know there is so much to gain from winding back the rhetoric of music as vocationalism.

A huge part of my job is about highlighting other parts of the music experience. That’s what I write about. Why people do this thing that most people think is madness and a sure road to the poorhouse. Hint: the answer is broader than, ‘It’s really fun’.

There’s so much to write about.

It’s more than fun.


Because you don’t need to be U2 or anything like U2 to live a good and beneficial life if you have music.

Do you really think we need another U2? Or a different one?

(I don’t really want the one we have. Sorry Alex.)

Instead, there’s a much more hands-on way to make a difference in the world and it’s something that model trains, music, kite-making, pottery classes, amateur theatre and book clubs all have in common:

“What should young people do with their lives today? Many things, obviously. But the most daring thing is to create stable communities in which the terrible disease of loneliness can be cured.” – Kurt Vonnegut

You might be able to quibble with me but you’d be a fool to argue with Kurt.

Take his advice. In the grand scheme of things, whether you made it or not – or whether you’re going to (or not) – is just the fine print.


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