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.
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.
I don’t talk much about my tattoos.
Since none of them are visible, I’m not sure those of you who know me even know I have tattoos.
If you ask me about any of them, I’ll probably give you the lighthearted story, the surface story, what they look like from the outside. One of them I’ll even laugh off as a joke. Of course, they’re all of those surface things, too. The decision to get any of them was pure whim. (And, I assure you, you don’t get a tattoo on an ass cheek without having a sense of humor.)
But underneath, in those layers of dermis stained with black ink, they mean something to me. They’re symbols and words that represent pieces of myself.
You see, they’re all things I’m afraid of forgetting.
They’re all things I’ve permanently inked on my body so as not to forget who I am.
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.”