Monday, August 29, 2011

Dating Jeff Tweedy

My first taste of Wilco was a couple of songs from Being There. I don't remember which songs they were because shortly after that, I found, and was overwhelmed by, the bootlegged Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (can you call it a bootleg if the band themselves releases it?). From there I dug back into Being There and to a lesser extent, Summerteeth. And then the Mermaid Avenue albums. In my world, until the release of A Ghost Is Born, this was Wilco. These albums had a long time to sink in and wear a groove into my soul. They were all part of the same idea from my perspective. To me, those will always be the albums that make up the heart of Wilco, no matter what else comes along. Those albums are my reference point, my Wilco Polaris.

My story likely mirrors that of many third generation Wilco fans. The first generation fans came over from Uncle Tupelo. They loved AM and Being There but consequently struggled with Summerteeth and YHF because they were too different, too experimental or poppy. The second generation of fans came on with Being There and Summerteeth. They didn't seem to have as much of a challenge accepting YHF and A Ghost Is Born, but have likely struggled with (the album) and Sky Blue Sky to some degree (which is considered by some generations of fans as the beginning of the Adult Contemporary phase* of Wilco).

So, Wilco has a history of its fans feeling betrayed and alientated. Lurking just under the surface of those feelings is a less documented history of Tweedy responding to those feelings -- by writng songs to those fans. These responses are usually heavily shrouded in metaphor or guised as a love songs, so most fans don't realize what is happening. But there was one instance where the curtain was lifted and the song was clearly directed at a group of fans; during the Sunken Treasure Northwest Solo Tour he did in 2006.

Here is a brief history of Tweedy writing to the his fans based on their relationship status at the time.

Being There - "Misunderstood"
This one is written to the Uncle Tupelo fans who were upset with the break-up of the alt-country pioneers, and bashed Wilco's first release, AM. He starts out by being nostalgic about being "back in your old neighborhood" where everything is better because it hasn't changed. He ends the song by thanking his fans for nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing at all.

Summerteeth - "Via Chicago"
Tweedy's relationship with his fans had been pretty tempered up to the release of Summerteeth. But I think he had a suspiscion that the album might not be well recieved since it was a sonic divergence from the previous albums which were heavier in the country-folk rock department. The song opens with a pretty little verse about him killing someone in a dream and then watching them bleed and die. The song wraps up with Tweedy exclaiming that he is searching for a home over and over before finally coming home. Home is obviously a metaphor for a place of comfort, for fans that are accepting.

Yankee Hotel Foxtrot - "I Am Trying To Break Your Heart"
This is not so thinly veiled. He comes right out and explains to his fans what his intent is with the experimental shift in this album. But he does so with a hint of regret when he asks, "What was I thinking when I let go of you?". The song ends with a whispered exlamation that he is the one who loves them. This is clearly an abusive relationship.

A Ghost Is Born - "At Least Thats What You Said"
Following a trip to rehab, Tweedy realizes he needs to try and work it out with his fans. This song tells us how that went, and its worth noting all the abusive, love/hate lyrics. "Maybe if I leave, you'll want me to come back home" and "You're irresistable when you get mad" shed some light on Tweedy's past actions towards his fans.

Sky Blue Sky - "Please Be Patinet With Me" and "Hate It Here"
One song is an owner's manual to a relationship with Tweedy and the other is a confessional abou thow much he needs his fans. When Tweedy's tongue turns into dust, it doesn't mean that he doesn't care, rather it means he's partially there. So, we are "gonna need to be patient" with him. Because after all, he hates it when the fans aren't around. There just isn't enough to do that will keep his mind of the fact that he needs them.

Wilco (the Album) - "You and I"
Things are finally starting to work out between Tweedy and the fans. Or at least it seems like they are becoming more amicable, despite sometimes feeling like strangers. Even though there are some misunderstandings and words get misconstrued, there is hope for this long and tortured relationship. There is the glimmer of something that can't be had by anyone but Tweedy and his fans.

The Whole Love - "Open Mind"
Well, its been a bumpy ride following (the Album). The fans have left and instead of begging them to come back, Tweedy simply expresses his regret of what could have been. "I could only dream of the dreams we'd share if you weren't so defiant, if you would let me be the one to open up your mind."

Tweedy realizes that "the longer you make music, there is no way you can compete with the early records". There are surely some fans holding that against him. But I think this time I'm going to number myself outside those fans and take his advice. Lets see what letting him open up my mind gets me.

*Sometimes known as the Starbucks phase, due to the album being sold in Starbucks.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Gladwell, Edvard Munch and Empty Museums

After consuming any Malcolm Gladwell article, book, quote, thought and interview, I find myself convinced that his argument is simply the way it is. I find his writing is compelling and convincing. So much so that if he were writing about why its good to drink 3 quarts of motor oil daily, I would have a tall glass of Castrol in my hands before I even finished reading. I also need about 2 hours after reading to follow every thought and idea that comes to me. Yesterday's article about NBA Franchises, their owners and Van Gogh paintings was no exception. In the interest of validating the mental energy used yesterday, I give to you my post-Gladwell thoughts.

All of the NBA's majority owners, with the exception of Michael Jordan, earned their money doing something entirely unrelated to basketball. This means that they are experts in whatever they did (most commonly running business that grew to have enormous value) before becoming owners. Thus, they own their teams like they've owned anything else in the past. With the exception of Michael Jordan. Jordan tends to be the owner who "can't get it right". This would require further analysis, but chances are he isn't doing it wrong, he's just owning from a completely unique perspective. I personally hope he continues to do it his way and mops the floor with all the accountants and micro-finance geeks, once the Heat have banked about 5 titles of course.

Tying this thought back into the comparison of NBA franchises to fine art, I would imagine that 95% of fine art collectors are not artists and that wealthy artists own art differently than non artists own art. I bet Damien Hirst, Jeff Koons, Anish Kapoor and Jasper Johns have an entirely different philosophy about buying art than Warren Buffet, Paul Allen, Howard Schultz or Bill Gates do. Its probably not even a stretch to think that the artists actually decide the art they buy while the wealthy simply hire someone to buy art for them. Apply that thought back to the NBA and I think it starts to illuminate more nuances with the state of the league and the lockout.

Extending the metaphor to NBA teams being museums, collections of art, lead me to a new set of thoughts about the lockout. Imagine Prokorov owns The Scream by Munch, a Monet, 3 or 4 other expressionists, and a handful of paintings by painters you've never heard of. People obviously come to his museum because he has The Scream. Everyone wants to see that painting. Its not quite worth it for everyone to pay 90 bucks to come see that painting, but since he has a Monet and a couple other expressionist paintings hanging nearby, its worth the cost of admission. Bottom line is, you want a signature piece of art but you also can't have just one piece of art hanging in your museum. The collection has to be rounded out.

Most museums loan art to other museums for special exhibits, events, the heck of it. I believe there is usually a fee for acquiring some piece of art from another museum. This is how they make money. they invest in art hoping that people want to come see it at their museum and also that some other museum might want to borrow it at some point. The right investment can pay for itself 10 times over the course of a couple decades. Now back to Prokorov's collection. Which paintings is Prokorov most likely to be willing to loan out? He could probably make a killing of loaning The Scream, but then his museum is empty. So he's probably going to try and pawn off some of the expressionists that nobody will miss or his other filler pieces. On the rare exception that somebody offers him a kings ransom, he will loan out The Scream and hope that his patrons buy their tickets before finding out his signature piece is gone.

Back to real life Prokorov. His signature player, Deron Williams, is taking his talents to Turkey this fall (unless there is a miracle). Only real life Prokorov isn't getting a loaning fee. And if Williams gets hurt or doesn't come back, Prokorov is out about 16 million in cost, but there is no telling how much he might lose from people buying tickets to come see Williams. If museum owner Prokorov lost The Scream (last valued at about 82 million dollars) he would be out a whole lot more up front, but now has just as big of a hole to fill as real life Prokorov without Williams. Bottom line is that both Prokorovs stand to benefit from having signature pieces in their collection.

And that leaves us, as fans, in a good place as long as we can see our favorite works of art hanging somewhere. Sure we'd prefer that they were hanging in Brooklyn, Miami, Milwaukee or Salt Lake City, but if we have to tap into some Turkish TV channel to see them then that's okay. The real tragedy is when the art isn't hanging anywhere at all.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Kevin Durant's Solo Career

It starts with a taste of the stage without a backing band. It starts with a bandmate strealing your girlfriend. It starts with a need for artistic freedom. It starts with needing more of the spotlight. It starts with unloading the dead weight the third guitarist and that guy on the keyboard. It starts with the lead guitar player getting too much attention.

A solo career can start in a lot of different places, but it usually ends up passing through most of these places listed above. For Kevin Durant, he just took the last step towards a solo career last night. He had the bandmate stealing his girl (Westbrook submarining a trip to the Finals), he has had the need for artistic freedom (spot up shooting never was his game), he has need more spotlight (he won't admit this but I can't imagine the bright lights in OKC are giving his ego* enough of a tan), he has carried some dead weight (Harden was that third guitarist before he found his mojo), and we are all familiar with his lead guitarrist dominating the headlines in the Playoffs. Last night in Rucker Park, Kevin Durant just had his taste of a big stage, without his backing band. And from the looks lof things, he liked it.

Personally, I'm excited to see where this solo career goes. I hope he doesn't take it to Lithuania and start making weird euro-pop. I hope he doesn't team up with Pacquiao's producer in the Phillipines. Will he be Thom Yorke and balance a solo career and a successful band? Will he be Jeff Tweedy and moonlight occasionally? Will he take the Beyonce approach and leave the rest of OKC's Children high and dry? I see him a bit like a Justin Timberlake with last night being his Super Bowl XXXVIII. He had a solo album out before, but the wardrobe malfunction thrust him into the spotlight.

Kevin Durant, here's your solo record deal. Don't screw it up.

*Yes Kevin Durant has an ego. You don't make it to the NBA without an Ego. Tim Duncan has an Ego. Steve Nash has an Ego. They may not be the same Ego that Marbury has or that Kobe is packing, but they are Egos. And Egos have needs.