Knowing What It’s Like: Why Jeff Tweedy’s “Warm” Made Me Cry

jeff tweedy_warm

WARM. Credit: dBpm Records

This isn’t an album review. This a story about a person who was curled up on a couch, severely sleep-deprived, full of anxiety about life and death, listening to Jeff Tweedy’s Warm for the first time.

I’ve written about Wilco before. About how their music and Jeff Tweedy’s lyrics are one of the few things in the world that makes me feel tethered to it, not alien. About how one of their songs, lyrics I have tattooed on my body, saved my life in a not-quite-metaphorical way.

It sounds odd to say, but I forgot that I’m probably always going to be a little bit in need of saving until I started listening to Warm.

Warm is mostly a quiet record, more folk heavy than rock, with songs built around the acoustic guitar. And it’s easy to listen to, until it punches you in the gut.

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How Would I Know That This Could Be My Fate

Trigger warning: I talk about suicide in this. And to anyone reading this who knows me and thinks they should worry about me — I’m fine. Really. 

From the Euphoria Morning album artwork. 1999.

I was sad when I heard that David Bowie died. I felt blind-sided when Prince died. It just is sad when people who make music and art that reaches a lot of people die, because collectively we lose something that made existence better.

Thursday, when I heard that Chris Cornell died I felt my stomach drop, but when I found out that it was a suicide, something inside of me broke.

Obviously I didn’t know Cornell. I have no idea what he was like as a person. But I’ve loved his music since I was young. Superunknown and Down on the Upside are two of the most formidable albums for my emotional development, and I continued to follow Cornell’s career, even through Audioslave. I was listening to Euphoria Morning just last week (I still had it on cassette).

But this isn’t about his musical impact. It’s about what I got out of his words.

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A Love Letter to Wilco

Last Sunday, I was sitting in DAR Constitution Hall waiting for Wilco to come on stage.

I’ve actually lost count of the number of times I’ve seen Wilco perform. But this was the first time I saw them play “Sunken Treasure.” Or at least, it was the first time since last spring when I lapsed into a funk so deep that the only music I could stand to listen to for a solid month was Being There. For a while, I could only listen to the first disk, but then for a time I could only listen to “Sunken Treasure” on repeat.

But there is no sunken treasure
Rumored to be
Wrapped inside my ribs
In a sea black with ink

I don’t know if this kind of thing happens to other people. I don’t know what other people mean when they say they feel alone.

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If I Had Someone Else’s Voice

Music is an extraordinarily important part of my life. I’ve never been good at creating music myself, but I need it around me all the time and I’ve always been drawn to musical people. I have dance parties to bad ’80s songs in my kitchen. I like going on road trips by myself, because I turn them into massive sing-a-longs. I associate certain songs with certain people, and I like being able to connect to people through shared musical taste.

But it’s more than that.

I realized something recently about my relationship to music, and I wondered if it held true for other people. Then I read this quote from Frank Ocean: “When you’re happy, you enjoy the music, but when you’re sad, you understand the lyrics.”

And that’s exactly it. I usually connect most strongly to music, and particularly to lyrics, when I’m struggling.

Case in point:

Good News for People Who Love Bad News by Modest Mouse was released on April 6, 2004.

A Ghost is Born by Wilco was released on June 22, 2004.

I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning by Bright Eyes was released on January 24, 2005.

I feel like if you listen to these three albums, you’ll know who I am. And you’ll probably know me better than you would from years of conversation or spending any amount of time with me. I’m in “We Are Nowhere and It’s Now.” I’m in “Hummingbird.” I’m in “World at Large.”

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Fail.

I haven’t posted for awhile. This post is technically my 50th post and I wanted to do something special for it. However, I tend to write my blogs on the fly, and so planning apparently only makes me stagnate. Actually, I seem to have a problem with stagnation in almost all areas of my life. A lot of times I feel like I’m on autopilot. I never get done what I intend to do, and I often feel like I’m just enduring each day, waiting for it to be over. Sometimes I wonder if I’m even really alive.

I have been listening to the Cure a lot lately, because, well, I love the Cure. Also, one of my friends just burned me a copy of Galore because my Cure collection was lost.  Robert Smith is just one of those songwriters that I think is in my head. One of my favorite songs by the Cure is “Close to Me,” and I recently read this quote from Robert Smith on what this song is about:

“It’s like the end of the day where you feel nothing has been achieved and you’re in a hurry to get the day over with so you can start the next one. You tell yourself you’re going to do lots of positive things. But the next day is just like the one before. Sometimes it goes on for weeks.”

So, thank you loyal readers for your patience, and without further ado, my theme song:

 

I’ve waited hours for this
I’ve made myself so sick
I wish I’d stayed asleep today
I never thought this day would end
I never thought tonight could ever be
This close to me

Just try to see in the dark
Just try to make it work
To feel the fear before you’re here
I make the shapes come much too close
I pull my eyes out
Hold my breath
And wait until I shake . . .

But if I had your faith
Then I could make it safe and clean
If only I was sure
That my head on the door was a dream

I’ve waited hours for this
I’ve made myself so sick
I wish I’d stayed asleep today
I never thought this day would end
I never thought tonight could ever be
This close to me

But if I had your face
I could make it safe and clean
If only I was sure
That my head on the door
Was a dream

What It Is Ain’t Exactly Clear

Pandora Internet Radio is a fantastic creation.[1] You enter a song or a band you like and they will play that band and then offer you other songs by similar sounding artists.  You can approve songs or outright reject them.  It’s a great way to hear new music and to listen to a radio station that plays music tailored to your tastes.  It chooses songs based on your preferences and selects similar songs according to what the song sounds like, supposedly taking into account “everything from melody, harmony and rhythm, to instrumentation, orchestration, arrangement, lyrics, and of course the rich world of singing and vocal harmony.”  The “Music Genome Project” as they call it is actually quite ingenious.

It has, however, one tragic flaw.  It does not know why you like the songs you like.

Just because I like the sound of one folksy singer-songwriter does not mean I like every folksy singer-songwriter that sounds exactly the same.  Just because I like one album or even one song by an artist does not mean that I like their entire collection.  Take Coldplay, for instance.  I love “The Scientist” and I have a soft spot for “Yellow,” but even though every Coldplay song sounds exactly the same, I’m not a huge fan of their entire discography.[2] So I end up rejecting songs that, based on their sound, I should like.

This realization got me thinking about an article of Chuck Klosterman’s.  (He is one of my favorite writers, comical and poignant, but most importantly, unapologetically music-loving.)  He wrote this article about how ridiculous the question “What kind of music do you like?” is, and proceeded to dissect his own answer were he to take the question seriously.  And the answer to this question is precisely what Pandora tries to take into account, but fails to really get to the heart of.

Well, in Chuck fashion, here is my answer to the question:

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