In a slightly weird twist of fate, I am listening to Neil Young’s epic After the Goldrush whilst I am sitting down to the keyboard all inpired by Wilco and their first studio album, A.M.
But that is just the thing. Listening and seeing (albeit on tha TEE VEE) Wilco on a Saturday night is so good that I find myself going and listening to great albums of masters past well into late Sunday evening. And like all great music, it helps me to realize and appreciate other great music. I am by no means a music afficienado nor expert…I leave that to some of my other friends…yet, this isn’t about all that. This is more about how Wilco inspires me, and then, potentially, how they inspire you…
So let’s get to it, shall we? (right now, Neil sings “Only Love Can Break Your Heart”…temporarily reminiscent of “Should’ve Been in Love”…temporarily…)
A.M., released in 1994, twangs me into some part of my nostalgiac, somewhat sad, broken-hearted period of loves past from the first note, and even more so while Tweedy sings “Should’ve Been in Love.” Ghosts of relationships past provide perfect and lovely muses for all songwriters, and didn’t Vonnegut say to only ever write about love, god, and politics, cuz that’s all there is, anyway? (I think that reference is hazy and will have to look into a bit more later…it might’ve been Dylan…)
The title of this album is perfect, and as a musically obsessed, VERY young child, the A.M. stations of my youth served up some great 70’s fare. Bands like America, Seals and Crofts, and Buffalo Springfield were presenting L.A’s (Laurel Canyon) music scene to the midwest and beyond. Wilco’s A.M. has layers of that, too, as I am sure the entire band also soaked up those A.M. tunes while staring out the back of their parents car as I did, a couple of states over. Tweedy and Wilco make it their own, though, and while they soaked it up, they haven’t wrung it out into this plastic groove.
Somewhere, too, is the feeling of a road trip of that era, as if the listener begins her travels from the present day alt-Nashville, then up to Detroit for the forward bluesy rock of “Casino Queen” on track 2. Along the way, it seems the car spent a little longer than expected in Athens, GA and soaked up some R.E.M. It’s subtle, but in there. (Interestingly, Wilco will play with Minus 5, a Peter Buck side project, many years later…)
I am a sucker for the Pedal Steel, too, and there is plenty of that weaved through this album. Tracks like “I Thought I Held You” are made around it, and I can see the hula girl on the front of a ’75 Cutlass Olds Supreme swiveling her hips to the hawaain beat and gently picked banjo as I write.
Jeff Tweedy’s voice is young on this album, but doesn’t sound all THAT different than it does now. Having never really dissected Wilco like I am now, I am seeing all kinds of things, like how John Stirrat’s lyric’s and delivery on “It’s Just That Simple” are very reminiscent of how Woody Guthrie writes a song. Only then, as perhaps comic relief from the heavier “…Simple”, the drunken appreciation of a sober, car owning friend on “Passenger Side” is just what the listener needs. (and what I surely appreciated, too, as a young, um, drinker).
Can you take me to the store and then the bank
I’ve got 5 dollars we can put in the tank
I’ve got a court date comin’ this June
I’ll be drivin’ soon
don’t like ridin’, on the passenger side
“Dash 7”, the albums 11th track, must have inspired Red House Painters and Mark Kozelek somewhat. This song sounds like the pre-cursor to the entire Old Ramon album. And with all this talk of other people and other people’s music, cuz that’s the only way I know how to talk about music (I am a total amateur, see? I told ya so…), I forgot to mention the troubled beauty, raw authentic yet sophisticated stylings, and clear window into the next 13 years of what Wilco would be sharing with us. Or, that’s what I thaught i knew at the time, at least.
I am gonna make myself pick a favorite song, which goes against everthing I believe in, but I am gonna try it and see what happens.
Track 9: Should’ve Been in Love