Wilco is Onstage: Put Your Damn Cell Phone Away

Photo: Consequence of Sound

Photo: Consequence of Sound

If you go see Wilco it’s okay to bring a cell phone, but really a good idea to put it away when Tweedy comes onstage. And if you’re sitting in the front rows, where he can actually see you, it’s a goddamned great idea to put it away because if he sees you using it during the show, which he will, he will talk to you about it. Into the microphone, so booming-loud. And he’ll tease you, and taunt you and call you a motherfucker. Inciting the derisive laughter of everyone else in the hall, many of whom are also using their phones, only out of sight. And this happened last night at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall in Portland, Or. And was followed an hour later by Tweedy actually stepping forward to snatch another person’s cell phone, raised either to shoot pictures or a video of an encore, out of their hands and, after a victory salute, tossing it to the rear of the stage.

Was Tweedy  advocating for his art or just overreacting in a way that, if you think about it for a moment, you just know a guy who writes songs like that would react. Because his art matters that much to him, and also because it hurts him, psychically and maybe even physically, to create it. But he has no choice must because that’s the pain that makes the music, and him, more beautiful. And even if the other thousands of folks are alternately rapt and cheering him along it’s that one phone he can’t not see. Because the phone, in that moment, symbolizes all the humiliation he’s ever had to suffer to do what he does. And that person holding it, sitting there right up close where the artist can’t help but look for signs of his audience’s approval or disinterest, won’t be touched by what he’s working so hard to do. And, in the interests of emotional, physical and creative survival, must be destroyed.

That’s how it seemed to me, anyway. It was a beautiful show.

Tom Junod’s Bob Dylan


Just when you think you’ve read every word you can stomach about the mysteries and weirdities of Mr. Bob Dylan, here comes Esquire’s Tom Junod (and Jeff Tweedy, with a big assist) to lay it down in a whole new way.

And yet he has not given in; he has preserved his mystery as assiduously as he has curated his myth, and even after a lifetime of compulsive disclosure he stands apart not just from his audience but also from those who know and love him. He is his own inner circle, a spotlit Salinger who has remained singular and inviolate while at the same time remaining in plain sight.

Something in my veins is bloodier than blood

The scariest, yet most lovely moments in those great Wilco albums come when the band goes head to head with the electronic noise. The weird “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” blasts of feedback, looped sounds, colliding gears, exploding boilers, seething flames and billowing smoke. Awful and terrifying and hypnotic and, when you least expect it, beautiful.

On the verge of complete chaos, transcendence. The ideal pulls you out of bed in the morning and drags you through empty space, past the frigid planets and the endless pattern of aimless, world-destroying meteors, It’s the secret heart of everything, from “Louie, Louie” to Beethoven’s 9th to last-second 3-pointers, to “Friday Night Lights” to the tabloid narratives bonding the NY Times to the Nat’l Enquirer, and beyond.

Reading David Lipsky’s “Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself” just now, and with 80 pages down I’m still not sure if this is really a crystal portrait of the big brain (and wonderful spirit) on David Foster Wallace, or about the author’s possibly subconscious desire to insert himself into the tragic narrative of the brilliant artist who sees too clearly. Or maybe I just need to insert my interpretive, order-starved self into Lipsky’s journalistic narrative. Whatever, the main thing is hearing DFW’s voice again, and seeing exactly how he had structured his own internal battle between appetite and discipline, self and other, chaos and order. In a sense Lipsky serves as a walking projection of the darker impulses: striving, moving, needing, smoking, wanting more and more. DFW was determined to move somewhere beyond all of that. And he nearly made it. Or so it seemed, until he killed himself.

Transcendence back to chaos. The last second shot hits the rim and caroms over the backboard and out into the crowd. The album doesn’t work. The story has the wrong lead. The missing kid is still missing. The Honey Nut Shredded Wheat vanishes, only to be replaced by some horrible vanilla/almond concoction. Some days I gauge my entire existence in terms of once-loved, now-vanished products.

Another day and another orbit through dark, mysterious skies. Chaos persists. Transcendence must be out there somewhere. Move faster, reach for more. Maybe all we need is a shot in the arm. Somewhere between impossible Germany and unlikely Japan. Listen for the noise and dive in. Let it wash over your head. Kick your way upwards, feel your muscles pushing against the crazy currents. You’re about to reach the surface, you can feel it just beyond your fingertips. The missing kid is up there. Jeff Tweedy, Coach Taylor, David Foster Wallace. You end up becoming yourself, and if you’re just extremely lucky that’s enough.