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Gillian Welch: Ruination Day



It’s April 14th. Ruination Day.

I like a bit of mystery in a song. That’s why I go back, over and over again, to Gillian Welch’s Time (The Revelator). It came out 19 years ago, and it still hits me like Casey Jones’ hammer.

Especially the strange pairing at the heart of the album: April the 14th Part I and Ruination Day Part II. Two separated facets of the same story that connect like a meditation on disaster. A punk band from Idaho, out of gas with a van full of trash. The Titanic, struck by an iceberg. Okies fleeing the Black Sunday dust storm. And the Great Emancipator, taking a bullet in the back of his head.

They don’t immediately join up, these disasters. It’s only when you get to the second of the pair, three tracks later, where the rhythm becomes more ponderous, and everyone involved is five hundred miles from home, that you realise they loop: the first song opens with the same verse that closes the second.

And for a generation of admirers April 14th will always be a harbinger of ruination. It’s funny how a song (or two) can do that…

‘When the iceberg hit Oh, they must have known God moves on the water Like Casey Jones...’

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