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.

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