Saturday, August 6, 2011

Mid-Westerners and Jeff Tweedy (Who is, Coincedentally a Mid-Westerner) aren't Dumb

It only lasts 30 seconds, that's it. Just 30 seconds, a mere half a minute, but as insignificant a passage of time 30 seconds is, one half of one minute is all it takes to make a pretty damn good song into one of the most essential and definitive moments in Rock N' Roll from over the last 20 or 30 years. It happens at about the 2 and a half minute mark on the seventh song on Wilco's second record. For a little more than 2 minutes, "I Got You (At the End of the Century)" on 1996's Being There starts out as a good song, maybe even a great song, but once that guitar solo starts, it's propelled into amazing, epic, classic.

That solo's absolutely blistering: a bit bluesy, a bit dirty, a lot catchy, best heard when you're volume knob's been turned far enough into the black to push your speakers to their maximum wattage capacity, and quintessential Wilco. It's only 30 seconds long, but it's not fleeting or ephemeral. It stays with you long after the solo and the song ends. But that's Wilco.

They're a creative band who approaches every record with a fresh perspective. No two Wilco albums sound alike, but all of them sound like Wilco. They are consistently creative and artistically provocative. But what makes Wilco special are Jeff Tweedy's songs. Jeff Tweedy writes songs that are interesting and that musically, lyrically, melodically push the boundaries of perception of what popular Rock music should and could be, but are still always rooted in familiar, middle-American ideologies. They're thoughtful and thought-provoking but there's something about them that's unmistakably Mid-Western. They're cerebral and salt-of-the-earth. They're intellectual and Blue-Collar. And as simple as that sounds, it's never really been done before, or at least not before 1995, when Wilco released their first record.

Certainly, there have been "man-of-the-people", "working-class" artists before. Springsteen alone fills that void in both quality and quantity of work. But for as intelligent as Springsteen is, he's always been a man after the hearts of the everyman with little regard for the minds, not that there's anything wrong with that. But even though Jeff Tweedy doesn't avoid moving us emotionally, Wilco's music is about feeding the common man mentally. And this shouldn't be all that exceptional, but it is, because Mid-Western ideals and the prevailing image of the middle-American man has typically been humble, hard-working, God-fearing, a little weather-worn, with callused hands and good intentions, responsible, and respectable, but not intellectual. Maybe I'm wrong, but the impression I get of the world's impression of Mid-Westerners is that, unless you migrate to one of the coasts once you're old enough to make your own decisions, you're just a kind, polite, fat, white-bread rube. But Mid-Westerners are smart. We care about more than just red meat, football, and John Grisham novels (although red meat and football...come on, right?).

But it's possible to work on an assembly-line and appreciate Akira Kurosawa films. Farmers can read Kafka and Coal-Miners can admire Rothko. And even if most people don't understand this, Jeff Tweedy does. Jeff Tweedy realizes that middle-America and mid to low level intelligence are not mutually exclusive, because Wilco isn't just a band who started out in the Mid-West, they're a band that is Mid-Western. Tweedy hasn't left, he's still lounging in the Prairie State, being smart and Mid-Western, and that's awesome, because he's given me and anyone like me a voice. He's proved you don't have to be from Boston to be a janitor who can do calculus, and I'm thankful for that. Don't get me wrong, Wilco would still be one of the most interesting and best bands in contemporary music if Tweedy moved to L.A. or Brooklyn, but the fact that he's firmly rooted in Illinois and has no intention of leaving Chicago makes Wilco a band that's a little more relatable and accessible to me, an amazing band that's a little bit better, even if they are already one of the best.

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