Sarah Gillespie on “The Ballad of Standing Rock”


For Thanksgiving the critically acclaimed singer-songwriter is launching video for her song ‘The Ballad of Standing Rock.’

The song is written in first person narrative. Why did you decide to do that?

I wanted to try find a way to evoke the ongoing barbarism in North Dakota that wasn’t merely a form of placard waving righteousness. I developed a frame story from the point of view of an unemployed engineer driving across the Midwest to find work on the North Dakota Access pipeline. He is only aware of his own need to make money and put food on the table.  But his confrontation with horrific scenes of riot dogs, tear gas, guns and tanks – induces a visceral ethical awakening.

The song is in 2 parts – why is this?

The story and the music is a metamorphosis. It wouldn’t be possible to shoehorn the shape of the narrative into a standard  verse/chorus structure. The song transcends from the anecdotal concerns of one man into a  ghost-dancing fantasia. The dead rise up and reclaim their land. The buffalos stampede. The extracted oil floods back into the soil. Ultimately this song is a love letter to the land. It is a story in which everything  is returned to where it belongs. And no matter what the United States government or members of the petroleum industry might imagine, this land is the land of the Native Americans.

The Ballad of Standing Rock from album Wishbones (2018). Sarah Gillespie – guitar and vocals, Kit Downes – piano, James Maddren – drums, Ruth Goller – bass, Laura Jurd – trumpet, Chris Montague – guitar, Emma Divine – vocals. 

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