Wilco, “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot,” 2001

Wilco: Yankee Hotel Foxtrot

Nonesuch, 2001

Allow me some sentimentality and nostalgia. After having fallen in love with “Mermaid Avenue,” Wilco’s collaboration with Billy Bragg where they made music for a bunch of Woody Guthrie’s lyrics, and then being beguiled by the following LP, “Summerteeth,” their all-out sunshine Americana pop record that seemed an uncanny combo of The Band and The Beach Boys, I waited eagerly for whatever they would do next.

Then, 9-11 happened, and some kind of American naivete that we had all grown up in was absolutely shattered. Is it too much of an exaggeration to say that we were all changed, somehow, someway, that day? Although there are all too many many national tragedies, THREE tragic American events have occurred in my lifetime whose moments are simply seared in my brain by now, perhaps because of the ubiquity and sheer overflow of info about said events, but definitely because almost all of us old enough to remember watched as the images unraveled in real time: The space shuttle Challenger blowing up while we watched in my elementary school classroom, the morning/mourning of 9-11, and the grotesque events at the US Capitol just weeks ago where people tried and failed to start a coup. These are sights I’ll never forget.

Not long after 9-11, my buddy Robbie ended up getting one of the ‘leaked’ mp3s of the new Wilco record and the few friends and I who were now fans were totally enraptured. The sequence of songs was different than how they’d end up in the final commercially available LP, but the songs were immediately significant. This was Cosmic Americana; there were some roots tied to country, some folk, some rock and roll, and power-pop, but it all flowed together into a weird amalgam that seemed like one long, futuristic, space-country-rock suite of songs about something essential that had been revealed about this country, and it was filled with sadness, but also joy, and most of all, a vivid palpable beating heart of LOVE. Times have been tense in the national fabric lately, and so after watching the Inauguration of the 46th POTUS today, I threw this record on, and felt, if only momentarily, some comfort again. Thinking that I can’t ever forget how we got here, and I have to be better. 

“You have to lose/ You have to lose/ You have to learn how to die/ If you wanna be alive” (War On War)

“Tall buildings shake/ Voices escape singing sad sad songs/ Tuned to chords strung down your cheeks/ Bitter melodies turning your orbit around” (Jesus Etc.)

“I would like to salute/ The ashes of American flags/ And all the falling leaves/ Filling up shopping bags” (Ashes of American Flags)

“I’ve got reservations/ about so many things/ But not about you” (Reservations)

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