Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Records of Great Influence (#2): Wilco - Being There

Ah, yes, step number two.  This is the first record, period, that grabbed me when I was "reborn" in the musical sense.  London Calling was like the nine months in a pregnancy.  Life first starting, everything was new to me.  I had thrown out all previous (mis)conceptions as to what rock music was, and I was ready to really understand it.  Being There is like a general roadmap to the world of rock; breathtaking in its scope, able to draw from all corners while being able to still remain an ultimately personable album for the ages.

Shame on you, if you have never heard this record before.  In my truly honest opinion, this is still Wilco's crowning achievement.  Not that Yankee Hotel Foxtrot wasn't an accomplishment.  That record was straight evidence that rock could evolve, that it could adapt to a modern world with funny sounds and the like.  Yankee Hotel Foxtrot represented what the "Americana" genre could bring to the table in the 21st century without coming off as old-school.  But Being There is different.  Perhaps because it came close to the end of the 20th century, or whatever, but it celebrates where rock music has been, what rock and Americana brought to the table in the 20th century and celebrated it to the greatest extent.

In a way, you could compare this album to Exile On Main Street by the Rolling Stones.  Objectively, Exile is still probably a better record, I do not think anyone is denying this, but in my books Being There ranks higher because it fits my music tastes much better than Exile does.  That's not the point, however.  They both are double albums.  That's the first thing.  But the other thing is the scope of the records.  They do everything.  No stone is really left unturned.  You can fault both records all you want for this, but for one thing I love it, and for another thing such ambition is remarkable and should be commended on every level.

Since this record is hardly as universally recieved as my previous "Record of Great Influence," I felt the need to perhaps defend the record from all ye naysayers.  But now to the more important part.  This record was probably the one thing that most greatly shaped my existence.  Since the first time that I popped this record in, I have been a diehard Wilco fan ever since.  If you know me in real life, you know what this is like.  I have an extensive Wilco bootleg collection.  I tracked their tours for a long, long time, looking at and grading setlists, however much of a fruitless practice that is.  As an aspiring songwriter I threw out songs because they sounded too much like Wilco and because none of them could do justice to my main inspiration for many years.  The only stain on the record is that I have only seen Wilco as a band once. I passed up a Jeff Tweedy solo show opportunity because I had no transportation, though I was able to see Glenn Kotche and Nels Cline perform solo and together.  Now, I'm a little less diehard, which is likely a good thing...

But the fact that Wilco was able to shape my behavior like that isn't what made the band (and this record) part of such a crucial point in my development.  I gained an awareness for the world.  In those "dark days," I had no awareness of what was going on around me.  This record has a remarkable sense of awareness about it, and in many ways I've tried to be like that, too.  It was also, essentially, was my first "experience with the light."  I finally became a person, and this record symbolizes that to me.  Expansive, ambitious, and all over the place.  Messy, sure, but that is inevitable.  But that is part of the charm of the record and, in its own way, has become a part of me.

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