On July 4th I was wearing a shirt that, on any other day, would have been ridiculous. The left half of my chest was covered with a blue, star-spangled field, while the rest of the shirt had vertical white and red stripes. Back in the day, when I played live, I used to wear this as a stage shirt. These days, it only comes out on July 4th, and I can always count on getting salutes from passers-by when I have it on - or at least incredulous glances. We were coming to join my friend and his wife (aka the Best Man and the Minister) at the pool, and this collared hyperpatriotic nightmare threw them off so much that they did not recognize me at first. I assured them that I wore the shirt satirically.
I happily shed it in the heat, though, and my wife and I joined them in the water for a relaxing afternoon of catching up. Our conversations wandered through dubstep, chaos theory, moving, childbirth, the structure of Indian ragas, dojo politics, and gossip both meaningful and meaningless.
There was a jam box tuned in to some satellite radio station providing the ambient accompaniment to the flow of our conversation. It would occasionally spit out a tune that was familiar to someone, but a particular song pulled me out of the conversation, not just because it’s a good song, but because of the associations it brought back.
It stopped me in my tracks because I had not heard or even thought of Wilco in many years. Heavy Metal Drummer is from an album called Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, which was a critically acclaimed and generally trendy album to be into in 2002. I was living in Denton at the time and hanging with a very close circle of friends, many of whom are still very dear to me.
One guy, the Magician, I unfortunately don’t see so much anymore. He moved on for job opportunities, but when we were close he and his wife used to have the whole crew over for dinner and a movie. I particularly remember laughing uncontrollably at reruns of Mr. Show when it was released on DVD. The Magician was an avid fan of Wilco, and, despite my uncontrollable slide back into obscure progressive rock, he convinced me to check out Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. I borrowed his CD, burned it, AND made a tape copy (yes, tape!). I promised myself that I would one day purchase a full CD copy.
Eventually, I got a new car with a CD player and my tapes became obsolete. I finally threw them out, but I did take the time to put Yankee Hotel Foxtrot on my Amazon list. It has been sitting there since 2005.
My 4th of July poolside encounter brought back that time so viscerally that I immediately came home and finally made good on my promise. Coming back to the whole album after almost a decade, I can say that it has held up exceptionally well, and lives up to its hype. Ultimately, Wilco’s songs are melodic and tuneful, but also incredibly imaginative and subtly complex. There is something special and possibly classic about Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and it would be a shame if it were sort of lost in the shuffle during the music industry’s struggle to reorganize in the early 00s.
Several of the people that we were sharing our 4th of July with were also in Magician’s circle back in the day. I mentioned how Heavy Metal Drummer reminded me of that time, and we all, as a group, stared blankly off into the horizon for the briefest of moments. If anyone was watching us, they probably would have missed it, but it was there. It was almost as if, for a split second, we were all going back and reliving it. In actuality, though, I think that we were having a reverent moment of silence for a set of dearly cherished experiences that had long since passed.