Tag Archives: wilco

Eyes Spy

I failed, though I tried
to look into her eyes —
both of them, you know,
like “He looked into her —”
Yeah, just like that. But I
found I could only see one.

Don’t get me wrong —
she had two, big and blue —
but I couldn’t split focus
to look at two once (both
simultaneously, not two
only one time. Get it?)

Where do you focus — on her
left side or right? What if your lines
of sight cross, crash, or collide?

How do they do it in romance novels?
Do all Fabio’s have lazy eyes? Maybe
we should call them “lover’s eyes” instead
of being creeped out every time
that we make eye half-contact.

Or maybe that’s the root
of the phrase: eye contact,
like a singular eye, where even
20/10 vision restricts your sight
line. Perhaps that’s how we Cyclops
Rock, undressed like cross-eyed
strangers:

                      Her two look at yours,
your two into hers, but never the both
at each other.

I Am Trying to Break Your Heart

Paul sat in his darkened room, alone, but not lonely, with his favorite blue sheets pulled up over his head, enwrapping him in sky. Two large, cushioned cans hugged his ears like clouds, billowing as he in turn wrapped his arms along those sleek vinyl curves. This was the way that Paul preferred to listen to his music. It was an absolute immersion, one that enabled him to get lost between the thuds of the deepest rhythms and drown in seas of reverb, stripping his essence bare until that warm, familiar Telecaster twang reached out its hand to save him -— a solace that smothered him in ecstasy.

But Paul forgot to close the door. A trapezoid of white light from the open crack bisected the room, its radiance the white heat of a candle in a dripping black cavern. It was enough to expose his sweaty body as it rustled between the sheets.

“Paul?” a voice spoke from the shelves, interrupting the throes of his atmospheric passion. “Paul, is that you?”

Paul pulled the sheets down just enough so could see, while still covering the rest of his exposed being. “Wilco? Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. Oh God. Listen, I — it’s not what you think, I —”

“Is that —,” Wilco: Yankee Hotel Foxtrot swallowed hard, afraid to speak the truth that it already knew. “Is that the new The National album?”

“No! Well, yes, it is. But — I can explain!”

It was too late. The trapezoid of light from the door fell precisely on his bed, theatrically illuminating Paul’s infidelity. Wilco: Yankee Hotel Foxtrot could clearly see his right hand rubbing and caressing the grooves of The National: High Violet‘s coarse plastic flesh.

“After all we’ve been through, Paul. After all these years together, this is how you treat me?” cried Wilco: Yankee Hotel Foxtrot with a shrill of a turntable needle scratching its soul. “You just…throw it all away when some other hyped-up indie band’s follow-up album comes along? Is that it?”

Paul looked over at The National: High Violet, trembling, hoping to find support. But all he saw was black.

“Where was The National when Chloe dumped you, huh?” continued Wilco: Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. “Or when you had to move back to your parents’ house for that year. Do you even remember what I told you? I said I’ll love you, baby.”

“Look, it’s…it’s not you, okay? It’s me. I’ll always love you — I am the man who loves you — but The National just connects to a different part of me, and…I wanted to feel that part come alive.”

There was a pause, as the two lovers stood in gridlock, both unsure of what to do next. Finally, Paul broke the silence:

“If I could, you know I would —”

But Wilco cut him off. “No, Paul,” it said. “I’m sorry. It’s too late. But who knows? Maybe distance has a way of making love understandable.”

And that’s when the record stopped spinning.

In the Key of C

“You’ve changed,” he said as the fluid earth exploded on the finely crushed stones. The crash punctuated his sentence with a translucent blue-brown burst that broke like softened glass upon the shore and shattered the still seaside air. But the mist quickly dissipated, letting the harmonic dissonance resolve in a cadence. His ivory eyes leaped through the mist, climbed a third into hers. Together kept in key. In that moment they felt plagal, as if all of their progressions finally brought them home again. Even the melancholy of A minor couldn’t overwhelm the 4/4 rhythm of their harmonized hearts, between them beating something so much greater than their blood. He hesitated for a minor 2nd, and she silenced his lips with her slender sustain. She breathed, “Shhh,”and came in in unison, where they finally fell back into C. Back, and 4th, the cadence played again and again while the waves ate up the ash of all the life they’d burned away to bring them here.

Maximum Overdrive

Several years ago, after my Great Uncle passed away, his wife returned my father’s old guitar amp to him, a 1962 Sears Silvertone, with the original tubes and speakers still intact. My father had all but forgotten about it, after 40+ years, and surprised me with it, uncertain of how it might sound.

But the tone was incredible: there was no distortion or overdrive channel to be found on such an old piece of equipment, but the amp itself would naturally distort when pushed past its limits, resulting in a tone that was at once cleaner and more crisp but still dirtier and harder than I ever could have expected. No matter what I tried to play, I sounded like I was in one of those old Rolling Stones albums, where even clean guitars had balls and drive.

That was when it started becoming clear to me that no amount of reverb or flange could make up for the aural truth that bleeds so clearly from strings slammed and strung with the desperate, futile passion of a performer lost in song. Whether it’s the ear-piercing screech of fingers sliding up the neck and shifting position or the scratch of a pick or fingertips against the winding of a string, there’s something to be said about the drive—the natural gain—of an acoustic guitar or a clean, dry amp channel being played like there’s no tomorrow. You can lightly pluck an electric guitar played through a Marshall JCM2000 Half Stack on the OD2 channel (I endorse this product, especially the TSL60), with the gain, EQ, and volume cranked enough to piss off Brenda upstairs (or crank it to 10 like Johnny Ramone, or crank it to 11 like Nigel Tufen), and sure, your shredding might be awesome, but the sympathetic frequencies will never resonate quite like they do when that dreadnought body is played hard enough to break the strings or rip the callouses off your fingertips without remorse or hesitation.

And so it seems that the higher the Gain, the more subtlety is lost, the more nuance obscured and destroyed. The performance, the personal art of the song is so often lost by the rip-crack of speakers and tubes and air pushed over the edge of comfort, of sound they can control. Don’t get me wrong; there’s a lot to be said about a great distortion tone, the kind that really drives a song. The opening chords of “You Really Got Me” would have never grabbed the world like they did if Ray Davies (or was it Dave Davies? And who names their kid something so cruel?) hadn’t sliced up the speaker cone with a razor blade, but even then, the sound was so analog.

Truth is, I never heard much of a difference in Bob Dylan’s music after he went electric. As far as I was concerned, his fingertips and downpicks distorted his acoustic guitars much, much earlier in his career. There was something dirty about his sound, and that’s what made it good; plugging in was just a shortcut. That meticulous, almost artistic control of dynamic attack on wound metal strings creates something so undeniably human and true that no high-gain, detuned Ibanez (I do not endorse Ibanez anything, ever) could ever hope to compare. It is the harmonic nuance of the physically overdriven tube amp or acoustic guitar generates sympathetic vibrations that make these songs, however small or powerful, truly affect us and stick with us like they do.

I leave you now (over the word limit) with a brief excerpt from Killing Yourself to Live by Chuck Klosterman:

    We started talking about how the best parts of songs are usually accidents; [Jeff] Tweedy [of Wilco] mentioned that the most transcendent moments in pop music are inevitably unintentional, because listeners reinvent those mistakes and give them a personal meaning no artist could ever create on purpose. This segued into a conversation Fleetwood Mac, and I told him about the way Quincy and I would incessantly play the opening five seconds of “I Don’t Want to Know” at maximum volume, This is because—if you play the song loudly enough—you can hear Lindsey Buckingham’s fingers sliding down the strings of his acoustic guitar. His sliding phalanges make this unspeakably cool squeak; it sounds organic and raw and impossible to fake. Q and I would play this opening sequence over and over and over again, and we were convinced that this was the definitive illustration of what we both loved about music; we loved hearing the inside of a song.

And that is rock and roll.

The Sound of Silence

Carey always had a sharp ear — her mother was an opera singer-turned-voice instructor who raised her girl to always stay in tune with the sounds of places and words and the world around her. As she grew older, she found comfort in the lingering baritone reverb of a man’s voice, and the sultry sounds of thoughts sneaking past pursed lips and hanging softly in the air, leaving a trail of audible bread crumbs behind. Even her own mezzo-alto echo could glide with the weight of a hummingbird’s song.

It was the complete absence of an echo, however, that made Ben’s adverse reaction to her news so shocking. The cavernous boom of his refusal was hardly a tickle in Carey’s mind compared to the sight of him catching her words in mid-air and crushing them in his hand, letting the syllables sift lie sand through his clenched fingers. There was nothing more haunting to her than the absence of sound; nothing more isolating than the feeling of still, silent air on her skin. Carey felt asthmatic; without the vibrations of soundwaves and frequencies, the air tasted thin and dead. She looked down and saw every plosive and sibilant shattered like glass fall and sprinkle the ground. That was when she knew that she never taste the resonant tones of Ben’s sweet voice again.