Hey, Baby, It’s the Fourth of July

We have been obsessed with Dave Alvin since we first saw him in a little bar in downtown Reno, probably eight years ago. Our friend, Tim, knows that we like good music and said, “You’re gonna love this guy. If you don’t, I’ll pay for your ticket.” So the three of us settled in for the show. When Dave cranked it up, we hit Nirvana. I had goosebumps, glancing left at Brad to see how he was reacting, he literally had his mouth open in awe. Looking right, Tim was laughing hysterically ‘cause he knew that we got it at that moment. Now we follow him all over Northern California and Nevada. Where he plays, we go.

In the early years, he was guitarist for The Blasters, while his older brother, Phil, sang. They had a tumultuous relationship and Dave went out on his own. Now, Dave was a English major and a poet, he understands how to make words work together and he knows music from years of playing it. That is what makes him the best songwriter in the world. He never sang in The Blasters, in spite of this lush deep baritone voice, perfect for the heart wrenching songs he sings. And believe me, I mean heart wrenching. Almost all of his songs are dark: desperation, death, and desertion.

So, why would we want to see him so feverishly? He has the perfect combination of song craftsmanship, voice, musical talent, and stage presence. He refers to himself as a simple barroom guitarist, but he’s being humble. It is not fair that a talent like his can struggle through life, while Justin Timberlake lives in mansions and parties around the world.

A Dave Alvin show, either solo or with his group, The Guilty Men, will take you through an incredible range of emotions. He’ll do the fun songs, like the Cajun “Marie, Marie,” or the song recorded by Dwight Youkum, “Long White Cadillac” or the Blaster’s hit, “So Long Baby, Goodbye.” And take you down with “Mary Brown,” about a guy who hangs for shooting his lover's husband or "California Snow” about a border patrolman who finds dying immigrants in the mountains of California. My favorite used to be "Abilene," about an abused girl, desperate to make it, dancing on tables, living on the edge. But when I heard "Out of Control" from the Ashgrove CD, I knew that he had achieved the ideal song of misery, if there is such a thing. We played his songs at both my father’s and father-in-law’s memorials recently.

What does this have to do with the Fourth of July? One of his best songs, his only holiday song, is called, “The Fourth of July.” Totally paraphrasing: She cries in the dark, while he smokes a cigarette on the stairs alone, the Mexican kids are shooting fireworks below…Hey, baby, dry your tears and walk outside, whatever happened, I apologize. Hey, baby, it’s the Fourth of July.


k1w said...

Nice stuff - a few notes:

I believe it's 'California Snow', not 'Snows of California'. And give Dave credit for writing the great range of songs, from Marie to Cadillac to So Long, and so many others.

It would also be a good idea to link to his (relatively new) personal site.

Dave's own site

Cathy said...

You're so right, k1w. Thanks for keeping me straight. I changed the song title. And I assumed people would realize that Dave wrote every song that I mentioned. I appreciate your knowledge. Maybe I'll see you at a show sometime.

paddyvalentine said...


Thanks for posting your link on the American Music pages. Love to find folks who appreciate Dave's music as much as I do. So raw, so much passion and emotion.

Hope he comes around these parts again very soon.