The Importance of Wilco - By Volume

The kid that went down isn't dead; he just can't find his phone. The Hold Steady - Almost Everything

The Importance of Wilco

"Music had brought us there to that moment." Author: on July 19, 2012
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My father and I have had what is probably now the typical American father-son relationship: a distant affection most of the time, and a loving, soft-spoken word when it’s needed. Oftentimes I wonder if that’s enough for me, and I generally conclude that it is. But I also realize, increasingly, that I really don’t know him, and he really doesn’t know me. That’s not a bad thing; it’s best to get to know someone once they’ve gotten rid of most of their annoying affectations. You can only hope that people like what they see, that a long journey has not taken you somewhere other people won’t want to go.

Music has always been a uniting factor for my father and I, but for the past few years, Wilco have been the face of that unity. Even after I had become somewhat music-savvy, I still hadn’t heard the band until I came home one day to “A Shot in the Arm” playing very loudly from my father’s stereo (the alternate take, specifically, which he has always seemed to like more, and I would agree). He also introduced me, at a younger age, to Springsteen and Dylan, two of my mainstays, but Wilco’s modernity makes them something of an oddity in his collection.


He is fairly judgmental when it comes to new music; he doesn’t like Jeff Mangum’s voice, which isn’t surprising, but he also doesn’t like Damien Rice’s voice, which definitely is. Wilco are a band that have dabbled in a huge number of sounds over the years, and more than a few of those sounds I wouldn’t expect him to like.

But that’s their appeal. They are the most unpretentious band I’ve ever heard, even when they delve into the more abrasive, avant-garde styles. While we sat through the final few songs of Lee Ranaldo’s band (of Sonic Youth fame, which we both enjoyed, me having heard and liked Sonic Youth and him having not heard them), he told me of his new wife’s apathetic attitude toward music. He said she doesn’t understand his deep love for the form, or more specifically, why it hasn’t diminished over the years, as hers has. “Music,” he said, “is how I categorize and define my life,” and this is what I had always wanted, you see, this common ground, or not even simple common ground, but words I had spoken or wanted to speak or felt so strongly before coming from someone whose approval I had always wanted. “Yes,” I agreed, “music is…everything,” which is stupid but also the truest thing I could think to say, because music is everything. Music had brought us there to that moment, where I could feel as if I knew him or at least knew what he was feeling.

“Maybe if I leave you’ll want me to come back home,” Jeff Tweedy sings in “At Least That’s What You Said,” and that line is what I will point to in making up for my clumsy, inarticulate, generic “music is everything” thesis, because I have wondered that in regards to my father so many times. Music is the distillation of feeling, and I know we’ve all heard that before, but I’m not sure I’ve ever realized it so acutely as I did as I watched Wilco play. It was compounded by something only someone who rarely goes to shows can feel: the awe and reverence of being this close to an idol, of seeing the fabric of his clothes, the sweat on his face, seeing his hands strum those chords. And the crowd – a huge range of ages, a great crowd really – in sync with the band, swaying, wanting to be washed sonically clean, to return to real life the next day changed, and I looked at the heads in the crowd – myriad, shimmering in the lights – and my father and I, just two more nameless people, but together, maybe, for the first time.

“What you once were isn’t what you want to be anymore.” And how much more true that becomes with every passing day.

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