Night thoughts on Wilco / For Adrian, Whoever You Are

Sometimes you can burn the candle at both ends. Other times you can’t be bothered with the ends and take a blowtorch to the whole damn thing. I don’t know exactly what I’ve done to the candle, but I do know that tonight, in the safe and secluded, completely unprotected and unprivate realm of radio, I became the melted candle. Am I tired? Am I distracted? Am I too caught up in Australian politics to focus on the minor chords and harmonicas at hand? I don’t know. What I do know is that although I had a program to put to air, I could barely string a sentence together and operated the panel like a toddler having a first time encounter with a Fisher Price xylophone. To make it more embarrassing, the old adage “the show must go on” seemed to evade me in favour of the Sylvia Plath confessional mode of broadcasting, also known as “Don’t just make mistakes, draw attention to them, and then recall them later in the show for anyone who missed out”. Fun times, y’all!

Now anyone who has ever hosted a radio show will know, sometimes it’s really hard to let the mistakes go. As in life, you tend to dwell on the things it would be better to forget about. Ordinarily, this would have led to a sleepless night and/or an unwholesome and unnecessary evening on the tiles. But, as in life, just as friends are sweet and kind and help you forget about your troubles, radio listeners are sweet and kind and can also help you forget about events that might otherwise keep you up in the wee small hours. This is where the Adrian of this post comes in to the picture.

FBi Radio has a text line that allows listeners to get in touch with broadcasters. Sometimes listeners request songs, other times they ask you to “get this honky-tonk shit off the air” and more times than I ever thought possible they tell you (based on no evidence other than the way you talk into a microphone) you are “the one”. Adrian, bless his heart, did none of these things. But he did sms the studio, in the peak of my meltdown, with this little bit of encouragement:

“I think u and ur show r pretty swell. Would love to know wat ur fav Wilco track is. Wawawooo!”

Wilco! Wawawooo! The perfect distraction. Enough deconstructing the show. Enough. What the hell is my favourite Wilco track? This could take hours. Adrian, how did you know?

Of course, because I love excess and shades of grey, it is impossible for me to have a single favourite track. But here are some night thoughts on the Wilco songs that I always return to.


Is it the perfect angst lovers lament? The repeated outro “it’s not about you, it’s not about you, it’s not about you”, says yes. The gentle chimes in this live video, the near silence of the crowd, the slow, sweet rain, the almost spoken “I’ve always been distant/ and I’ve always told lies for love”. It’s the best and worst song to listen to if you’re in a relationship, and also the best and worst song to listen to if you’re no longer in one. Does that make it the top contender for the best Wilco song? Probably.

Jesus, Etc

The aching strings, the bittersweet optimism, “Tall buildings shake, voices escape singing sad, sad songs to two chords/ Strung down your cheeks, bitter melodies turning your orbit around”. Do I dare disturb the universe and write anymore? If I was going to cover a Wilco song, Jesus, Etc. would be the likely song of choice. Except of course, that bloody Norah Jones has already beaten me to it. I’m not even a Norah a fan but the strength of the song stands. And she’s so damn cute.

Another Man’s Done Gone

I love all the songs Wilco took the lead on for their Billy Bragg collaborative tribute to Woody Guthrie, Mermaid Avenue. Committed as I am to the Church of Billy Bragg, there is a tenderness in Tweedy’s voice that Billy can’t match. I don’t know if it’s the pain killers or whatever other mythologised self-destructive path young Jeff happened to be stumbling down at the time of recording, the way he sings Another Man’s Done Gone, is just so felt and so sad. In this video, poised in front of the American flag, with the talented and sadly ‘done gone’ Jay Bennett beside him, I’m reminded that sometimes the best songs have the simplest arrangements.

And now it’s 1.33AM. And I am reminded that I should go to bed. What are you favourite Wilco songs? What is your favourite Wilco record? Do your favourites stay the same or evolve as you go through different life experiences? Adrian?

1 Comment

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One response to “Night thoughts on Wilco / For Adrian, Whoever You Are

  1. Roger

    My favourite Wilco song would have to be the original studio version of One by One, the atmospherics are just great, with the lap steel and the cymbals- and the lyrics by Woody are great too, the imagery about the fading garden reminds me of a Tennyson poem called “Song” which I love. Not to mention the twist at the end, with the heartfelt wishes for the daughter to marry safely.

    As for songs written by Jeff Tweedy, there are too many to mention- there is Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (can’t say I understand it all but the end is chilling, given what happened back in 2001- and I love the line “He takes all his words from the books that you don’t read anyway” which could be about Bob Dylan these days?) and also Summerteeth which is such a whimsical tune- but my favs would have to be Far Far Away, once again for the warm sound- something about Jeff and that country sound- and The Late Greats, which is hilarious and such a foot tapper as well.
    As Barack Obama said, “Love Wilco”!

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