Watch this fan video of Gillian Welch’s “I Dream a Highway,” the rambling, apocalyptic conclusion to her masterpiece of postmodern country and folk, Time (The Revelator):

This is what a fan video should be. Simple but powerful concept, well-executed. No still photos of Gillian, no random footage of somebody’s high school reunion, none of the typical stuff that makes other fan vids so cringeworthy. The highway footage is endlessly watchable – as hypnotic as the song is. I imagine it would be even better projected on a large screen in a dark room. It’s just an unexpectedly brilliant piece of minimalism. About the only bad thing I can say is that edit of the 14-minute song is slightly awkward. (And now that the time limit on Youtube videos has been increased to 15 minutes, it’s also unnecessary.)

Here’s another outstanding fan video of another haunting tune by another alt-country queen, Emmylou Harris (who, by the way, is mentioned by way of tribute in the lyrics to Welch’s tune). I found these two videos on the same day and they make great companion pieces. This is the title track of Emmylou’s 1995 album Wrecking Ball, a Neil Young cover with hazy, shimmering production by Daniel Lanois.

The footage was shot in New Orleans’ Ninth Ward after Hurricane Katrina. Again, the element of restraint is very important – no voiceovers or clips from news footage, no explanations, nothing to break up the spare, elegant construction of the film. And the complete lack of human subjects lends an awful, apocalyptic undertone to the scenes of this calamity. That Young’s lyrics are vaguely (if darkly) romantic, and quite abstract in any case is actually perfect. If there was a more literal interface between word and image – say if it was a blues song about a flood – it wouldn’t work quite as well; it wouldn’t have the same aching atmosphere.

We’ve got nowhere to hide
We’ve got nowhere to go
But if you still decide you want to take a ride
Meet me at the Wrecking Ball

But wait. The really cool thing about this video is the “fan” in question is Cinqué Lee, Spike’s brother! No wonder it’s so spot-on! I looked, and could not find any link or any other reference to this project online. I’m pretty sure he just made a great short film and decided to set Emmylou’s music to it and put it up on Youtube. Even better, his user name is Jedi26. I love the internet!

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