Nightly Song
Musings on Songs that Strike a Chord Tonight

Fourth of July – X

Fourth of July – X

Originally performed by the band X and written by Dave Alvin. You can listen to a version by X here. You can buy the song from iTunes here.

In the relationships that matter, sometimes we need only the slightest glimmer of hope to keep trying. That glimmer can come in the oddest of ways – an off-hand conversation or the stirring of a memory. In this song, the epiphany arrives on the Fourth of July with the spark and sparkle of the Mexican kids shooting off fireworks. In that moment, which the chorus of this song captures, love becomes possible.

For us to understand the rejoicing in the glimmer of hope, we need to understand the sense of loss, the drifting apart and the failure of the relationship. Dave Alvin captures the poignancy of fading love in exquisite detail. The narrator makes it through another long, hot, dreary day, another day of lifelessness and he arrives home full to face another hopeless night:

She’s waiting for me when I get home from work
But things just ain’t the same
She turns out the light and cries in the dark
Won’t answer when I call her name

Where once there was joy, once there was the ongoing conversation that is love, now there is loneliness. You can imagine him climbing the stairs of their walk up apartment, his legs heavy, replaying the conversation that ran in his head all day, swearing that this time, this time, he’ll tell her, this time he’ll hold her and kiss her hard until the feeling comes back. Listen to how Alvin captures the moment of defeat when he loses hope, energy and ambition:

She gives me her cheek when I want her lips
And I don’t have the strength to go
On the lost side of town in a dark apartment
We gave up trying so long ago

He trudges off to the stairway, hunched over with his cigarette, looking out over the hot, sweaty city, the same dull scene he saw the night before and the night before that. Only tonight’s different:

On the stairs I smoke a cigarette alone
The Mexican kids are shooting fireworks below
Hey, baby, it’s the Fourth of July
Hey, baby, it’s the Fourth of July

Here the song rises from the depths of defeat, the band playing hard, the singing trying hard to hold onto the whisper of hope in the face of desperation, that last conviction that love is possible. He goes back upstairs, back into the darkness and implores her:

Whatever happened, I apologize
So dry your tears and baby, walk outside
It’s the Fourth of July

How can she not rise, take his hand and head outside to see the fireworks exploding against the black sky? What triumph! What exuberance! No wonder Dave Alvin, John Doe and the band X keep playing and recording this song.

You can catch a Dave Alvin video here and a live Dave Alvin version here and a version by Dave Alvin and the Guilty Women here. You can listen to John Doe (guitarist and singer from X) do a live version here. You can buy Dave Alvin’s recorded from iTunes here.

Once upon a time, X may have been the best band in the country combining the talents of husband and wife duo Exene Cervenka and John Doe, Billy Zoom and DJ Bonebrake with Dave Alvin joining them on occasion. Their music defied simple slotting as they stirred in influences from country, rock, punk and singer-songwriter sensibilities.You can find more at the band’s website. Dave Keller makes an argument that X is overdue for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  No Depression has a few reviews and article you can find here. You can find a heartbreaking acoustic version of “See How We Are” here.

Each of the members have gone their own way and recorded solo work or worked with others, though from time to time they have assayed a reunion, including a tour in 2009. There is bad news on the health front as revealed in this statement from Exene Cervenka’s website:

June 2, 2009

After some months of not feeling 100% healthy, I recently had some medical tests run
and the prognosis is that I am suffering from Multiple Sclerosis.
Apparently, it has been affecting me for quite some time.

Although this is obviously unfortunate news, I am choosing to see the positive in it.
I, and X as a band, have supported the Sweet Relief charity since the mid-1990’s;
the irony of this is not lost on any of us. Sweet Relief was started as an aide to uninsured artists by musician Victoria Williams when she herself was diagnosed with MS in 1992.

While this diagnosis will most certainly mean some changes for me, personally, it will not affect my commitments to the current X U.S. tour, nor will it affect my solo album that is slated for release this fall on Bloodshot Records.

My focus will certainly be on maintaining my health–many people remain strong and continue to live their lives as productively as they had before an MS diagnosis and I plan to be one of those people.

To find out more about Sweet Relief please visit:

Exene Cervenka is still performing. She recently played a flood relief benefit in Nashville and can be seen in New York City on July 12 as part of a collaborative show with the Blind Boys of Alabama. You can learn more here.


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