Filed under: Yankee Hotel Foxtrot | Tags: America, Blog, Connect, David Letterman, Jeff Tweedy, Jesus Etc., Kicking Television, Morrissey, Music, Nels Cline, Rock, Ryan Adams, The Smiths, Violin, Wilco, Wordpress, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, YouTube
I can remember the first time I listened to Yankee Hotel Foxtrot back when I was in high school. I came home, listened to it straight through, and immediately went online to look for live clips of the songs. The first one I searched for was “Jesus, Etc.” I found a really great version from an appearance the band made on Letterman, and then there were the billion other recordings people had done. Tweedy solo performances… Crappy quality audience shots… And then there was the violin-less version that the most recent incarnation of Wilco has been playing. The slide guitar in the intro doesn’t have the same effect on me as the violin, but I understand that they can’t reproduce everything just like they recorded it.
I’m not really sure why this seems to be the quintessential Wilco song to so many people. I can’t deny that it’s great, but I find it a bit odd that so many people connect with it. Why not “Ashes of American Flags” or “War on War?” I think the answer all lies in how the song is presented. All of those feelings people were experiencing in early 21st century America were in this recording. Sadness… Fear… Uncertainty… This song did what The Smiths did back in the 1980s: it reached out to this group of people who felt disconnected and resonated more than anything else had.
This symbol of strength that so many people turn to (Jesus) has to be comforted by the narrator because things are so bad. He’s talking to Jesus like they’re just a couple of guys hanging out. A couple of very thoughtful/emotional guys, but you get what I mean… The narrator manages to have just a little bit of optimism, however. Notice how the lyrics change from “each one is a setting sun” to “each one is a burning sun” in the last verse.
Well, that does it for the blog. I’ve had a really great time, and if there are any b-side/outtake requests, I’d be glad to take them on. I’ll probably post on here now and again, but you can find me over at www.starlitediner.wordpress.com posting about Ryan Adams from now on.
Thanks for reading,
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…
Filed under: Yankee Hotel Foxtrot | Tags: Criticism, Favorite, Guitar, In Between Days, Jay Bennett, Lollapalooza, Pot Calling The Kettle Black, Pot Kettle Black, Similarities, The Cure, Video, Wilco, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
I’ve been waiting a long time to do this one! There are so many different parts I could rant about… There are the whines of feedback in the background, Jay Bennett’s B-Bender guitar, the hushed vocals, and all of the other things that are happening in this poppy-yet-dramatic number. I guess I’ll start with something I discovered the other day…
The guitar intro sounds just like “In Between Days” by The Cure. I’m not a big fan of theirs, but I had heard from a friend that the songs were pretty similar, so I gave it a listen. I was expecting some little riff that would sound the same, but when I found out that the parts were almost identical, I was stunned. Of course, this was probably (or at least hopefully) unintentional, but not even that coincidence could make me love this song any less.
When you look at the lyrics, there’s a lot of emotion in them. That’s what makes the quiet vocals so powerful The narrator is being very critical and condescending to someone. The line “It’s become so obvious/That you are so oblivious to yourself” is a major insult to throw at someone. What’s interesting is that the narrator realizes that he isn’t perfect. “You’re tied in a knot/But I’m not/Gonna get caught/Calling the pot/Kettle black” references the saying “pot calling the kettle black” which is a statement about hypocrisy. The pot and the kettle are both black, so for the pot to reprimand the kettle for its color makes no sense.
The flaws in the narrator are pretty heavy. The first pre-chorus says it all: “I, myself, have found/A real rival in myself.” I think this explains the rest of the song pretty well: he is his own critic. He shouldn’t be spending all of this time criticizing himself when there’s no need for it. Especially when, in theory, he has no room to talk!
The Cure-”In Between Days” (:16 in)
Wilco-”Pot Kettle Black” live at Lollapalooza 2008
Filed under: Yankee Hotel Foxtrot | Tags: 2002, Alternative, Art, Depression, Experimental, Interpretation, Jeff Tweedy, Radio Cure, Rock, There Is Something Wrong With Me, Wilco, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
Before I get started, let me say this is my least favorite Wilco song. I think Yankee Hotel Foxtrot definitely could have done without it and that “Cars Can’t Escape” would have been a much better choice for the final tracklisting. However, I’m writing about every Wilco song, not just the ones I like; so here goes nothing…
I feel like this is an attempt by someone with depression or some other condition trying to explain it to their child. The child is upset, and the narrator is trying to cheer them up while explaining why he isn’t happy. He has to put it in words they would understand, so he just says something’s wrong with him. When he starts to go in-depth, however, he starts to get a lot more creative with his words. He describes his feelings of hopelessness as clouds of fog while his shoulders are “shrugging off.” His feelings of irritability (and possibly migraines) are described as “electronic surgical wounds.”
The “chorus” (I guess that’s what you’d call this part…) has one of the most hollow lines in the whole song: “Oh, distance has no way/Of making love understandable.” Because this person is away from home for long periods of time (touring?), it confuses the child he’s talking to. All they understand is that he isn’t there, which means a lot to a child. When he isn’t around, they don’t understand how he (the narrator) can still love them, even though he tries to explain…
Tomorrow’s post is going to be a song that isn’t quite as heavy…