Gillian Welch’s April the 14th

A while ago, a writing group I am part of, gave ourselves the assignment of making a mix-cd of “writerly” songs. I included in my mix, this song by Gillian Welch and David Rawlings, two of my favorite songwriters.  I wrote a bit about what I found interesting about the song.  I’m seeing her tonight at the Vancouver Folk Festival so I thought I’d share what I had written.

lyrics here
What could be a sad little song about wandering around a city and catching an Idaho punk band play some small fruitless show, is lifted into a much larger and deeper context by what frames it. On April the 14th, 1865, Abraham Lincoln (The Great Emancipator) was assassinated. On that same date in 1912, the Titanic struck an iceberg. And in 1935 (April 14th again) one of the worst dust bowl storms (Black Sunday) ever sent residents (“Okies” from Oklahoma) fleeing for other areas. It’s hard to see how these events relate to this  story about seeing a punk show, other than it possibly occurring on that same date too. There are other connections I can make…but that it would just be my personal connections; the song generously allows a lot of space for that.

Gillian places herself very much in an old-timey folk tradition and makes the most of it within her lyrics by referencing the work of older musicians and historical events from different times. As well, many phrases connect to other songs on the album: “the staggers and the jags” appears in the album’s sprawling closer “I Dream A Highway”, and “I wish I played in a rock n’ roll band”  are from “I Want to Sing that Rock N’ Roll.” I love that idea of stitching songs on a album together this way and wish more songwriters did it.

Other trivia: Casey Jones was a train driver who famously saved the lives of many passengers by remaining on his train as it crashed in order to slow it down, thus killing himself. He has been referenced in plenty of songs. The line “God Moves on the Water” comes from the old song by Blind Willie Johnson, which is about the Titanic.


Concerts reviewed in 2010

These are the concert reviews I’ve done so far for a local online magazine Guttersnipe News. Much thanks to Shawn Conner for giving me the chance to geek out over music.

The Books at the Vogue Theatre, December 5th, 2010

Grinderman at the Commodore, November, 26th, 2010

Bonnie “Prince” Billy and the Cairo Gang at the Vogue, August 14th, 2010

Vancouver Folk Music Festival (day 1) at Jericho Beach, July 16th, 2010

Kid Koala presents The Slew at the Commodore, June 29th, 2010

Matmos with So Percussion at the Biltmore, June 19th, 2010

The Mountain Goats at the Rickshaw, June 2nd, 2010