Filed under: Yankee Hotel Foxtrot | Tags: 2002, 2009, America, Ashes of American Flags, ATM, Cash Machine, DVD, Live, United States, Wilco, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
The first time I listened to Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, I thought it was just a good album. That is, until I reached “Ashes of American Flags.” It’s one of the most poetic, haunting songs I’ve ever heard, and is a startlingly accurate depiction of American life in the 21st century. The character is hollow and unhappy with himself, but he goes through his life just like everyone else, hitting up the ATM to get some cash to buy some smokes and soda. We do a pretty good job of hiding our discontent, but while it may keep us from bringing others down, it isn’t healthy.
The narrator of the song is irritable (“I wonder why we listen to poets when nobody gives a fuck”) and fearful (“Speaking of tomorrow/How will it ever come?”), but doesn’t see anything about his life that is out of the ordinary. He wants all of the same things happy people want, but for different reasons. (“Fresh wind and bright sky/To enjoy my suffering”) There isn’t anything that’s going to make him happy, but it would just make his suffering (life) a little bit more enjoyable.
And then there’s that final verse:
I would like to salute
the ashes of American flags
and all the fallen leaves
filling up shopping bags
Easily the most moving four lines I’ve ever heard…
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