>Lyrically Speaking: April the 14th, Part 1


Pity us poor Gillian Welch fans!  We keep tapping our toes, checking our watches, paging through our calendars waiting for the next album to drop. I mean, she’s got plenty of time to help her partner David Rawlings put out a nifty album, fly ‘cross country to Portland to sing back-up on nearly every song on the new Decemberists album… But she can’t piece together enough songs over the past, whatever, seven years for her own new album? We’ve even heard some of the new songs — “Throw Me a Rope,” “Knuckleball Catcher” — and we love them. So please, Gillian…
In the meantime, here’s an old song of hers I love.
Off of the still-amazing “Time (The Revelator)” album, from 2001, “April the 14th, Part 1” is part history lesson, part story of a band on the run.
Gillian details what she terms “Ruination Day,” April 14th, a day in history that includes the Lincoln assassination (1865), the sinking of the Titanic (1912) and “Black Sunday,” one of the worst Dust Bowl storms in Oklahoma (1935).
Over haunting minor-chord acoustic guitars, the first lines of the song set the tone: “When the iceberg hit/Oh they must have known/God moves on the water/Like Casey Jones.”
Gillian sings about an anonymous young band playing a nowheresville Idaho festival presumably on that same grave April Day: “They looked sick and stoned/And strangely dressed/No one showed/From the local press.”
Is she comparing the band’s experience to the date’s other tragic events? The lyrics do read like a disaster: “And the girl passed out/In the backseat trash/There were no way they’d make/Even a half a tank of gas.”
The bleakness of the lyrics, sung in Gillian’s aching yet beautiful voice meld beautifully with her strummed chords and Rawlings haunting plucked notes.
A second part to the song, “Ruination Day, Part 2” is a two-minute, 37-second epilogue repeating the same disaster themes and bringing the whole thing to a close, counting down the miles, like counting down the years: “That’s the day…/The day that is ruination day./They were one/They were two/They were three/They were four/They were five hundred miles from their home…”

April the 14th, Part 1
When the iceberg hit,
Oh they must have known,
God moves on the water
Like Casey Jones.

So I walked downtown
On my telephone,
And took a lazy turn
Through the redeye zone.

It was a five-band bill,
A two-dollar show.
I saw the van out in front
From Idaho,

And the girl passed out
In the backseat trash.
There were no way they’d make
Even a half a tank of gas.

They looked sick and stoned
And strangely dressed.
No one showed
From the local press.

But I watched them walk
Through the bottom land,
And I wished that I played
In a rock & roll band.

Hey, hey,
It was the fourteenth day of April.

Well they closed it down,
With the sails in rags.
And I swept up the fags
And the local mags.

I threw the plastic cups
In the plastic bags,
And the cooks cleaned the kitchen
With the staggers and the jags.

Ruination day,
And the sky was red.
I went back to work,
And back to bed.

And the iceberg broke,
And the Okies fled,
And the Great Emancipator
Took a bullet in the back of the head…

Filed Under: Bloglyrically speaking


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