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Josh Turner rides the long black train

By Brian Baker, December 2003

Nothing like a little bit of controversy to jump-start your musical career. In the case of Josh Turner, the controversy stemmed from his video of the title track and first single from his debut, "Long Black Train."

The video depicts people with serious problems, like a pregnant teen, a gambler and a homeless down and outer, standing in the middle of a train track. At the end of the video, a long black train goes through each of them, but they are still standing after the train passes.

The depiction managed to draw the ire of train industry groups. The American Public Transportation Association, the Association of American Railroads and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers were none too happy that the train was involved. They wrote CMT and GAC, asking them to stop airing the video.

And Operation Lifesaver, which works to prevent accidents between trains and vehicles, did not like the video because of it supposedly showing suicide as a potential way out of problems.

Turner clearly took issue with the negative views towards his video. "If you have a brain at all, you know that's impossible to do," he says of the video's depiction of the train. "You know there's no way you can stand on a track and have a train go through you and not get hurt. If anybody knows Josh Turner and what he's about, they know he's against suicide."

"(Neither) the song, nor the video, is about a real train. I feel that's the point they're missing. It's a metaphor. They have to see through the surface. There's a real train in the video, but it goes deeper than that. These people are not faced with a real train. They're faced with temptation."

The negative reaction caught Turner by surprise. "I was surprised to be honest," he says. "My initial reaction to these letters was I laughed. I could not believe that someone actually spoke out in that fashion. I was really appalled by it because they missed the whole point. This video is portraying a good moral message. It doesn't compare to what is on TV today."

"There are so many sinful things you could watch on TV. To think people can complain about my video is shocking to me."

"I didn't get mad at all. I'm confused by it to some extent. I had somebody call up my publishing company not too long ago protesting the video (but hadn't seen it). I really feel that people need to do their research first."

Turner says he never considered asking that the video be pulled.

"That never crossed our mind. I stand up for the song and video, and I'll defend it until the day I die. I believe in it."

"I wasn't going to let this stop me."

"I didn't try to capitalize on this. There are two different kinds of controversies. There are controversies started by an artist, and there are controversies that happen naturally. This happened naturally."

Just how Turner came to write the song has to do with college, Hank Williams and an evening walk back to his room.

"I came to Nashville to finish up college," says Turner in a phone interview about going to Belmont College where he graduated in 2001 with a degree in vocal performance. "There's a music library there on campus, and they have all kinds of different music on file there for educational purposes."

"I knew there was a complete Hank Williams box set that was about to come out. I was dying to hear the thing. It was a 10-CD set put out by Mercury. It was a great collection of songs. Listening made me feel like I was in the same room with him with my headphones on. I was really engulfed in the songs."

"That was the night I had to walk all across the campus, which was a pretty good walk. It was unusually dark. About half way home, I had this vision of this wide open space with this train track coming down the middle and out of the darkness came this long black, dark shiny train. I could see people standing on the side watching the train go by. I asked myself what was this vision of people standing by. I knew this was a metaphor of temptation. It was really powerful."

"That night I got home," he says. "I got my guitar out. I sat down on the bed, and the song just poured out of me."

"I had never experienced a vision like that, but I had songs inspired by a certain something, something someone said, different experiences, but I had never had the inspiration come to me that way, and I had never had a song that good come to me."

Turner, who practices his Christian faith, looks at the song from a good versus evil perspective.

"Temptation is not something that happens once a week. It's something that is constantly at our door. It's something that's constantly at our door. The devil hates anything that's good or moral. He loves to see us fail. 'Long Black Train' is about those everyday decisions that we make. It's about situations we're faced that we really have to think through."

"It wasn't written for that purpose, but now that it's out there in the public eye, I've been an instrument and a tool to make people think. The video out there is making people sit up."

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