I usually don’t like those list things. You know, where you have to rank things you love which makes other things you love seem as if you love them less. Year end lists are okay, but when you’re talking “TOP 20 MOVIES OF YOUR LIFE” or “TOP 10 BURRITOS I’VE EVER EATEN”, it kind of feels too final. Like, that’s it. You’ll never see any better movies, or eat another burrito as good as the “Burrito El Diablo Gigante” at El Burro Loco in Ferris, Ohio again. It’s hard for me to commit to one thing that will forever be my favorite. Okay, my wife and kids I can commit to them being my favorite(Do you have a choice? I’m asking for a friend.) But when it comes to films, and in particular albums, the favorite factor is rather fluid. Recently a friend posted an online list of their 20 favorite albums. Some website lets you put this list together(like we have time for this crap?) and share on the old social media thing that Jesse Eisenberg started with the not-so good Spiderman and those CGI twins. Anyways, it got me thinking and I went over to that website and pretty easily knocked out 20 of my favorite albums. I wasn’t concerned with the ranking as much as I was with the significance of the albums and how they pertained to my life. It was actually stupidly easy. Of course the next day when I looked at the list I was ready to make another 20 favorite albums list but I didn’t. The albums I chose were benchmarks for me in my life. They may not be significant in the overall history of popular music, but they each pushed me to some other level as a music lover. There’s no objectivity here, it’s all graphically subjective.
My list is here.
I’m going to talk about a few of them in different posts. One post with several albums would be probably be 6,000 words. That’s way too much Jhubner73 for one sitting(again, who has that kind time?) So, I’ll do a few posts in more manageable, digestible chunks. First up, Wilco’s Summerteeth.
Wilco : Summerteeth
By the spring of 1999 I was officially a huge fan of Wilco. I’d bought their 1996 masterpiece Being There on a whim. I’d read some articles about them in Rollingstone and had seen all the heaps of praise put on this double album named after an excellent Hal Ashby film starring Peter Sellers. With a $20 gift certificate burning a hole in my pocket I snagged up the only copy of Being There at my local record shop, the now defunct Video World, and headed home. As soon as “Misunderstood” filled my head I knew I’d made the right choice.
In the summer of 1997 I’d picked up a used copy of Wilco’s debut album A.M. While not as blown away by it as I was Being There it was still chock full of great pop and rock songs(“I Must Be High”, “Box Full Of Letters”, “Dash 7”, and “Too Far Apart” were highlights.) I would bide my time waiting for something new by playing and replaying Being There and watching what videos MTV2 would play(there was a great show on HBO back then called Reverb. It was live performances of up and coming bands. Wilco was on there and played a version of “Casino Queen” that sounded more punk than Rolling Stones.) Then in the spring of 1999 I was on a business trip to Fresno, California(shitty, shitty town by the way) and had stopped into a Borders on some down time. On one of the end displays was Summerteeth, the new album by Wilco. I couldn’t believe it. I had no idea it was even coming out. Sure, we had the internet but it was an archaic thing to maneuver in the late-90s. Dial up was a joke, so I rarely got on it at home. It was still a time when you had to get your info from print mags, fanzines, and word-of-mouth. Finding the new Wilco was like finding buried treasure while out and about earning a living auditing medical device distributors.
I quickly bought the CD and returned to my rental car. My Taurus had a CD player, so I threw Summerteeth in.
It’s really hard to describe what that album did to me. Driving around in that rather ugly town -lonely and homesick- Summerteeth seemed to speak to me. I’d already liked Jeff Tweedy, but at that moment he seemed more like an older brother confiding in me through songs like “She’s A Jar”, “A Shot In The Arm”, and “Via Chicago”. The lyrics were obscure yet they felt so telling and emotional. “Why I wonder is my heart full of holes/And the feeling goes, but my hair keeps growing” from “I’m Always In Love” was this puzzling mix of nursery rhyme and beatnik poet. “When I let go of your throat-sweet throttle/When I clean the lash of your black-belt model” is rhythmic and random and disturbing and catchy. Or in “She’s A Jar” he sings “When I forget how to talk, I sing/Wont you please/Bring that flash to shine/And turn my eyes red/Unless they close/When you click/And my face gets sick/Stuck, Like a question unopposed”, later in the chorus he sings “Just climb aboard/The tracks of a trains arm/In my fragile family tree/And watch me floating, inches above/The people under me”.
Up to this point I’d never really paid much attention to lyrics. If something stood out then maybe, but most of the time I was just a music guy. But with Summerteeth that changed. It changed because Jeff Tweedy became interesting to me as not just an incredible songwriter, but as a human being. He was the same age as my older brother, so there was this feeling that he wasn’t much older than me yet he’d lived enough to have wisdom. He was a Midwest guy, married with little kids. He was doing what he loved to do which was make music for a living. And not just making rock and roll. He was making music that mattered. Poetic, beautiful, sad, and even dangerous at times.
I’ve carried Summerteeth with me since March of 1999 and have never set it down. It remains one of the most important records in my life. Musically it made me want to be a better songwriter. It’s influenced my writing, both musically and lyrically, in ways I can’t describe. It humanized Jeff Tweedy to me, too. It made him not some rock star or untouchable sad poet. It made him this guy that writes extremely beautiful songs that feel like confessions of real life struggle. The struggle of living up to your heroes, your peers, and your family. Turns out he was also struggling with other demons as well(see A Ghost Is Born.) But through all of that, he still came across as this earthbound, starry-eyed guy just trying to connect to someone. Anyone.
Jeff, you connected with me. So thanks.