I don’t really know new Wilco. I don’t really know old Wilco actually as I only listened to their first album with any regularity. I know they’re kind of a hip band for collegians and slightly older folks as well as for alt-rock afficiandos of all ages. I like the alternative country stuff from their earlier albums, reminiscent of the earlier band Uncle Tupleo.
I guess I get ahead of myself as I haven’t really explained that I have been a devout honky-tonk fan from the very first time I heard Hank Sr. in the seventh grade.This has to do with Wilco only because of the fact that I really only like their country sounding stuff. Two songs seem to stick out and they were both on my iTunes. (Oddly enough, I have itunes but have never owned an iPod…..but that’s a story for another day.) I like Wilco mostly because of the song “Passenger Side”: and this is due to my memory of hearing it for the first time and what it’s about.
To illustrate my ignorance about the band, I will give a short recitation of what I do know. I know they came from the break-up of Uncle Tupleo, allegedly due to Tweedy’s growing role as singer and songwriter and his possible proposition of Jay Farrar’s girlfriend. (I saw Jay last year at Mountain Jam, accompanied by himself on a guitar and a pedal-steel player. He was really good, a perfect Sunday afternoon gig.)
Anyway, whatever the reason for the break-up, Jay went on his own and formed Son Volt and the rest of them became Wilco with added members along the way. I know Tweedy is supposed to be kind of an arrogant prick, although I can’t say since I’ve never met him.
Wilco made an album around 9/11 that their major label wouldn’t release as it wasn’t seen as commercially viable so they released it through another label. That’s pretty much it. I always perceived hardcore Wilco fans I know as being kind of lame, but I get this all the time as a Yes fan so I can empathize.
I have two Wilco songs on my iTunes, “Box Full of Letters” and “Passenger Side”. They both have that sort of country twang to them, with the former sounding much like Uncle Tupleo did with the sped up country feel. The latter is slower and probably in my top ten of best songs ever.
But first, “Box of Letters” is a decent song. Their performance of it on Conan is great, complete with long-hair cuts and a dude playing lap steel. When did they stray from this? Tweedy was considered one of country’s young great writers but at some point, they sort of just gave it up. I know I am probably one of the few to have serious qualms with this and I’m fine with that. The next song is why.
I consider myself a pretty well-listened man when it comes to country music, from the pop crap emanating from so many speakers in my rural hometown to the roots country I have studied for years to the Outlaw country I play when I’m drunk. I don’t know it all but I will someday. In my opinion, “Passenger Side” is one of the better country songs ever written.
This is a lot to say about a song that doesn’t even have pedal steel in it but allow me to explain. The slow pace of the song and enunciated lyrics allow you literally to get into the shotgun seat of your buddy’s car while cruising the haunts of your youth. The subject of not having your license for whatever reason has been a constant issue for at least one person I know (whether it be from age or legal cause). I can think of least three people right now who don’t have licenses due to DUIs, some of whom haven’t had licenses in years. Thus, you have to make deals with people, pay them off to be your personal chauffeur.
The lyric “ you’re gonna make me spill your beer / if you don’t learn how to steer” seems pulled directly out of my young adulthood along with the driver who “coulda been your lover”. Who hasn’t been drunk and picked up by an ex for good or for ill? This song captures a certain feeling that is close to my heart, even if it’s not an entirely positive feeling. I’ve always felt you can’t see where you’re going if you don’t remember where you came from. This song does it for me.
I like this song for one more reason that has to do with the context in which I heard it first. My brother moved out of New York City for the sunny skies of the south a few years back because, although extremely skilled in his trade, it was a tight job market. The south or the breadlines it seemed at the time, so I was enlisted to fly down with him as his wife was mired in her own nearly complete graduate studies.
The last night before we left NYC was occupied bouncing around downtown to seemingly every bar as my brother kept saying “it’s my last night in the city” Maybe it only was two bars but I vaguely remember multiple irish car bombs followed by rounds of Brooklyn Lager and Maker’s Mark. I remember one waitress who I swore was actually Lindsey Lohan researching a part but I am sure I was wrong. There was also smoking in an abandoned apartment and a half- hearted attempt at blowing up an air mattress.
The real clincher was realizing our flight left at something like 4:30 in the morning. We got home like two hours before that and I can’t recollect much except being thrown into a taxi, propped up by my brother to get through security then walking onto the tarmac to what felt like being inside one of those big pizza ovens. It may have be the best plane ride ever since I don’t remember a thing.
One of the first things I do remember is heading to a Target to put at least something into my brother’s bare apartment. On the way, “Passenger Side” came on from the shuffle on my brother’s iPod. I didn’t need to tell him how I felt about it because for once, we stopped talking and just listened. He’s right, I did get a little weepy because the song spoke to both of us in exactly the same way due to where we grew up.
A lot separates my brother and I in our perspectives on life, from our groups of friends to our educations to our musical choices and everything in between. We have gone from a tumultuous time in my youth to being very close now and it’s probably the most important relationship I have in my life. We don’t always see eye to eye but sometimes, when the stars align, we do and liking this song is one of them. We played that song ten times a day while I was there and we still bring it up often in conversation, which is weird for one song by a band we both don’t really like. It’s just how it is and I don’t need to understand it any further. Check out the tune.
Ps. Who the fuck has tattoos in their mouths? No one can see them, what’s the point? Furthermore, who does cocaine and doesn’t drink? I thought people did cocaine to drink more? The world gets more fucked up by the day.