Larry Lime (Real name: Larry Lime Beacon of Time Reckoning Breathe on Me Nolan) was a teenager from a small town in North Carolina called Starke. He was one of “those Nolans, the ones with the names”. He wanted to play jazz piano like Thelonious Monk. He had taken a few lessons at the Liberty Day A.M.E. Church, and he could play “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” perfectly. But he wanted it to sound like it did when the Bleeder played it. The Bleeder played guitar regularly on Friday Jazz Night at The Frog.

“The Bleeder started in on something, tapping his heel and playing guitar, and                 on top of it he started singing ‘What a friend we have in Jesus’. Larry Lime had never heard the likes. It didn’t just move up and down; it moved out and back”.

 

Larry’s friend Dwayne had a five-piece rock and roll band. When he was seventeen years old, he heard James Brown’s album “Live at the Apollo” for the first time. From that time on, he wanted nothing more than to be James Brown.

Larry worked in a furniture refinishing store owned by Mr. Hallston who was Dwayne’s daddy. The two boys were good friends, but their friendship was not encouraged, in fact, it was frowned upon by most of the people in the town. Larry was black, and Dwayne was white. The year was 1963.

Starke was a town divided down the middle by a railroad track. The black community lived on the west side of the tracks and the white community lived on the east side. They were for the most part middle class people who weren’t all that different from one another. But they were divided by the railroad track and all that history of racial bigotry, inequality, and misunderstanding.

 

In spite of the old prejudices and the old hatreds, Larry and Dwayne were friends. This book tells the story of their friendship and how their common love of music broke down barriers and opened up big new horizons.

 

Clyde Edgerton is a Southern writer with a true ear for the voice of the South. He does a fantastic job of evoking the spirit of the time and place. Through the experiences of these two unlikely friends, he paints a vivid picture of the things that all the people shared, the ways they were alike as well as the things that divided them.

“People from both sides of the track in Starke ate about the same amount—per capita—of corn bread, chicken, vegetables, pork, pies, cakes, stews. More chitterlings on the west side. About even on chicken necks, per capita…We could accurately say that the railroad divided a community of corn bread, vegetable, and chicken eaters; or a community of pet lovers; or a community of rural dialects…”

Edgerton demonstrates how music became a driving force in the Civil Rights Era and how it helped to unite the young people with a new vision of the way things could be. Black kids and white kids alike were carried away by the music that they all shared and loved and the music became a unifying force

I really enjoyed reading this book. It is funny and sad. The characters are believable and real. The racial component is even-handed. Edgerton doesn’t beat the reader over the head with the obvious. He doesn’t preach. He just tells an entertaining story. The Night Train is a short book, a very quick read, but one that is filled with joy and hope.