Wilco – “Cars Can’t Escape”
Yankee Hotel Foxtrot Engineer’s Demos, 2002
Yesterday afternoon I gave Jeff Tweedy’s new solo album (Sukierae, under the moniker Tweedy) a listen and it put Wilco on the brain. My relationship with Wilco is a long and storied one that I’ve chronicled here every time I task myself with writing about one of the band’s albums. At first I hated them, didn’t understand what all the fuss about Yankee Hotel Foxtrot was about (this was 2003, when I was 17 and pretty stupid). Then at some point in college (circa 2005, when I was 19 and still pretty stupid) it clicked and I became obsessed. In terms of a piece of American music, I think it stands right up there with Bob Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited or the Ramones eponymous debut or NWA's Straight Outta Compton in terms of being a record that is quintessentially American. Though recorded before 9/11 (which, fittingly, was the album’s original release date) if you listen to the lyrics of “Ashes of American Flags” or “Jesus Etc,” it seems as if YHF ushered in the post-9/11 age we are currently a part of. After 2007’s Sky Blue Sky my rabid Wilco fandom petered out, but I still worship Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. Once I’d thoroughly devoured the album, I sought out the demos, and then the engineer’s demos, which is where I found this little nugget: “Cars Can’t Escape.” It’s a beautiful, mournful tune that is out of sync with Yankee Hotel Foxtrot but stands on its own tremendously well. The sweetness the melody coupled with Jeff Tweedy’s dejected vocals make this song like the song they play on the jukebox right after the bouncer yells “Last call!” Our poor schmuck stares into the heady swirl at the bottom of his pint glass and mutters, “So I tap my glass and nod my chin and wonder who you’ve been in rhythm with.” The wonky sonic elements that give YHF its unique texture and landscape make an appearance at the track’s end, watermarking the track to its very specific time and place in a Chicago loft at the beginning of a brand new century. Like the album it didn’t turn up on, “Cars Can’t Escape” is timeless. I have this fantasy about future explorers a thousand years from now discovering a time capsule I have left them. Inside is Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and I like to think if they listened to it they would see a portrait of this bygone era. I might try to slip this one in there too, you know, just in case they were hungry for more introspective bearded dad rock from the early 00s.