Magazine article The New Yorker

Turnpike

Magazine article The New Yorker

Turnpike

Article excerpt

Darkness floods a space just as light does. This was a thought entertained the other night while riding in the back seat of Gillian Welch's Cadillac Escalade. Welch and David Rawlings, her partner in the modernist two-piece band Gillian Welch, were driving up I-95 to New York from Philadelphia. It was one o'clock. For a while, theirs was the only car on the highway. Tall and slim and standing beside each other like figures on a wedding cake, they had played a few hours earlier for a thousand people at a club in Philadelphia. A day later, they would play a sold-out show at the Beacon Theatre.

In Philadelphia, Rawlings set up an old portable turntable in their dressing room. On tour, he likes to look for old records in stores that still sell vinyl. "Most towns have a store, and some have two," he said. While he searches through the stacks, Welch walks around looking at buildings. "I don't have the patience for going through the bins that he does," she says. "He's fine for, like, two hours doing that. It hardly matters, because our tastes are identical. All that happens when I get back from walking around is he'll have his pile, and he'll drop the needle for ten seconds on a track, and we'll decide."

The first record Rawlings played was Hank Snow's "When Tragedy Struck." "I just got this in Kent, Ohio," he said. He had about thirty records altogether, including Ray Charles's "Genius + Soul = Jazz," Jim Reeves's "He'll Have to Go," and Lightnin' Hopkins's "Blues in My Bottle." "It's very difficult to find old blues," he said. "They're very expensive. There weren't that many made, and most are in the hands of collectors." Later, he played "Thelonious Himself," a solo record by Thelonious Monk. "It's a little warbly," he said apologetically. "It's a little bit warped."

Meanwhile, Welch sat on a sofa and signed posters for their merchandise table. "Dave did all his the other day," she said. "He was on a roll."

The other thing that Rawlings had brought to divert himself was a collected works of Shakespeare. "I've been reading the histories," he said. "I'm up to the third act of 'Henry V,' and when I'm done I might even start them again. …

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