Wilco – Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
Acquired: Christmas Gift from Annie, 2006
Right now, “Ashes of American Flags” sounds better than it ever has before. It's my favorite song on the album, and right now, at this moment, it's reaching into my soul and squeezing. It combines the overwhelming disappointment I have with a lot of stuff and highlights the things that are important. I'm getting hassled for money I don't have and it looks like I'm facing a life of near slavery paying back money for an education I didn't really get anything out of and should have ignored everyone when they said go to college. At the same time, that's how I met all the people that are important to me, and how I got into music writing. It's double-edged. I want to start over, hit reset but there wouldn't be a point. I'd still make the same choices. But maybe I'd choose a less-evil private loan company.
This record reminds me of college, because it was in college when I finally learned to accept Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. I'd hated it for years, and wasn't even able to get past “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart.” I don't know why, it was just weird. Different. People said it was a masterpiece and I thought they were all fucked in the head. I was also like, 15 at the time. Every couple years I'd go back to it and it still didn't hook me. Then one day “Radio Cure” came on my ipod and blew my mind. How had I managed to overlook that? The album quickly became a favorite and Wilco became one of my great musical obsessions. This album is one of my top 5 go tos whenever anything is wrong, and it never seems to wear out. It's grown with me, too. Or I've grown with it. It changes from year to year and now at official mid-twenties it sounds different than it did when I was nineteen. When I'm 30 I'm sure it will sound even better, etc.
Despite new slavery, 8AM phone calls from smug debt collectors and past mistakes, this record is manages to cheer me up. I mean, do you know the kind of psychological warfare Sallie Mae commits? Where you wake up every morning and you ignore the call. Then they call back and you answer and it's a real person, not the robot that takes you to the real person and they ask you how you'll be paying your debt today. I like to mix it up. This morning I laughed at the guy for a good thirty seconds before telling him what I told the others: I have no money. At least not enough to pay $400 a month. It's crippling. In the back of my head constantly, and listening to Yankee right now is making things seem OK and my disappointment in well, America, is felt here too. It's one of the great American records. One prescient of the last decade before it even happened and touching on all the paranoia and the haze of bullshit we have to fight our way through to get to the important stuff. Ultimately, I see this record as being about making connections despite great odds and obstacles in the modern world. The album is laced with short-wave radio transmissions and eerie stuff you hear in between radio stations. Ultimately, “Reservations,” the album's closing track makes it all so clear: “I've got reservations about so many things/ But not about you.” It's hopeful in a hopeless world.
This is a perfect record. It's a masterpiece that has made every subsequent Wilco record seem a little paler than it would have had this not come out. Or maybe they wouldn't have come out at all, this album was inevitable. It's the album I've spent the most time with. I spent so many hours driving around Lawrence and listening to this when I was at my worst as a means of feeling better. Sentimentality aside, it's just a fucking great record.
Here's a video of a more recent recording of "Ashes of American Flags." Jeff Tweedy seems extra weathered, which is awesome. Nice hat, too!