“Time (The Revelator)”

Standard

I was channel flipping the other morning, and I came across Gillian Welch on AXStv, a pretty good cable channel for music (and movie trailers); they play a lot of concert recordings, interviews, etc.  That morning it was an episode of Soundstage, I think, that featured Dar Williams and Gillian Welch.  I missed Dar but got Gillian.  And everything just kind of stopped.

There is something about this woman–her voice, her phrasing, her songs–that stops me in my tracks every single time.  I don’t know what it is; I don’t care.  I don’t want to name why she affects me so deeply.  That would take some of the wonder out of it.  And she is a wonder.  Along with her frequent collaborator David Rawlings, Welch weaves a web of sorrow, mystery, fear, and frustration that ensnares you with not just the sheer power of the ambiguous and mixed emotions, but in their utter inevitability.  There is no other way for the characters in her songs to see the world.  It is out of their control, and they are careening and caroming through their lives without a single clue as to what any of it means.

There is a distinct lack of context in her songs.  Like the stunning “Elvis Presley Blues,” (from the same album) this song drops you into a place where time simply doesn’t exist.  The story, as much as there is one, is of a woman who is profoundly disconnected from her lover, from herself, from the world.  There is no stated reason for the disconnect, no way to place her profound solitude in a world of action and reaction.  It simply is.  The only constant she sees is the fact that eventually time reveals everything.  There’s an irony there: that time is the one thing that moves and makes sense in this song that is in almost every other way essentially timeless.

The song ends on what I’d call an open note.  The last few seconds seem to be leading toward a concluding riff, but then it just stops.  There is no conclusion, not really.  And that’s about as good a metaphor for life and death as I think you’re ever going to get in art.

 

Repost: “Elvis Presley Blues”

Standard

Reposted only because I think this song needs to be heard.  I don’t really love this post.  I was striving for something unnameable in this song, a sense of history and ghosts.  I don’t think I quite got there, but I still don’t know how to articulate what I hear.

Gillian Welch is remarkable.  She writes songs that sound a hundred years old and sings songs that are a hundred years old like they’re brand new.  It’s like she exists in some kind of chronological vacuum, some kind of endless now.  It’s more than just the Buddhist concept of living in the now.  It seems as if time has stopped where she is, but keeps going forward.  With her regular collaborator, David Rawlings, Welch mines a deep musical history for the bits of gold left behind and melds them into music that feels timeless.

The moment of “Elvis Presley Blues” is the moment where one man changes the world.  But the acknowledgement here is that is wasn’t just the moment when Elvis walked onstage and “shook it like a chorus girl,”  but all the moments when everything stood still, and the world shifted to accommodate a new reality.  The moment Elvis appeared, the moment he died.  The moment when John Henry beat the steam drill (a legend, sure, but one that says a lot about America).  At the end of the verses, when Welch and Rawlings’ voices blend and build, there is desperation.  There is something big at stake here, but it’s hard to say what.  Elvis’ unique musical combination of white and black–rock and roll–becomes not just a style, but a matter of life and death: “He shook it like a holy roller, baby, with his soul at stake.”

Greil Marcus believes that there is more to rock music than just music.  He believes that Rock & Roll matters, that it carries with it the weight of American culture and history.  So do I.  And so does Welch, if “Elvis Presley Blues” is anything to go by.  Elvis himself is an example of this.  He was a white man influenced by the black musicians he lived around and was friends with; radio stations wouldn’t play him at the beginning because he sounded black.  He changed the face of American culture with a blending of race that was ahead of its time.  There are many African-Americans, some scholars, that believe Elvis stole black music and exploited it for his gain.  But I have trouble seeing how he stole something he lived with every day.  The music industry and Colonel Tom Parker did exploit the sound (and the man) for their own gain, but Elvis believed.  This song carries the weight of American race relations within a fable about the single biggest rock star, ever.  The America that comes into view when you hear “Elvis Presley Blues” is the Invisible Republic that Marcus wrote about so masterfully, an America that exists just beneath the surface of strip malls and mega churches.  An America that is filled with wonder and mystery and myth.  An American where time has stopped and Elvis is forever entering the building.

“Elvis Presley Blues”

Standard

Gillian Welch is remarkable.  She writes songs that sound a hundred years old and sings songs that are a hundred years old like they’re brand new.  It’s like she exists in some kind of chronological vacuum, some kind of endless now.  It’s more than just the Buddhist concept of living in the now.  It seems as if time has stopped where she is, but keeps going forward.  With her regular collaborator, David Rawlings, Welch mines a deep musical history for the bits of gold left behind and melds them into music that feels timeless.

The moment of “Elvis Presley Blues” is the moment where one man changes the world.  But the acknowledgement here is that is wasn’t just the moment when Elvis walked onstage and “shook it like a chorus girl,”  but all the moments when everything stood still, and the world shifted to accommodate a new reality.  The moment Elvis appeared, the moment he died.  The moment when John Henry beat the steam drill (a legend, sure, but one that says a lot about America).  At the end of the verses, when Welch and Rawlings’ voices blend and build, there is desperation.  There is something big at stake here, but it’s hard to say what.  Elvis’ unique musical combination of white and black–rock and roll–becomes not just a style, but a matter of life and death: “He shook it like a holy roller, baby, with his soul at stake.”

Greil Marcus believes that there is more to rock music than just music.  He believes that Rock & Roll matters, that it carries with it the weight of American culture and history.  So do I.  And so does Welch, if “Elvis Presley Blues” is anything to go by.  Elvis himself is an example of this.  He was a white man influenced by the black musicians he lived around and was friends with; radio stations wouldn’t play him at the beginning because he sounded black.  He changed the face of American culture with a blending of race that was ahead of its time.  There are many African-Americans, some scholars, that believe Elvis stole black music and exploited it for his gain.  But I have trouble seeing how he stole something he lived with every day.  The music industry and Colonel Tom Parker did exploit the sound (and the man) for their own gain, but Elvis believed.  This song carries the weight of American race relations within a fable about the single biggest rock star, ever.  The America that comes into view when you hear “Elvis Presley Blues” is the Invisible Republic that Marcus wrote about so masterfully, an America that exists just beneath the surface of strip malls and mega churches.  An America that is filled with wonder and mystery and myth.  An American where time has stopped and Elvis is forever entering the building.