World's Fair

Jesus, etc.

Listen: genius is genius.

Here’s what we know: Wilco’s “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” is genius. This need not be argued, as if we had to argue that the greatest scientific and technical accomplishments were genius – relativity, quantum theory, polio vaccine, the human genome, that programmable Roomba vacuum cleaner. We already know it to be true. Jeff Tweedy’s work on YHF is genius, in the sense of all great forms of human creativity. It’s a subject for appreciation.

(and one that goes along with Dave’s recent music appreciation posts here, here, and here. If not here too.)


Originally scheduled for release on 11 Sept 2001, it had already been booted by the original label, then later picked up by Nonesuch (who’s a subsidiary of the same parent company. dumbass labels). (See Sam Jones’s film, I Am Trying To Break Your Heart, by the by, for a look at the album in the making.) And here we are now, basically debating whether or not the following analogy holds: “Ghost is Born” is to “YHF” as “Kid A” is to “OK Computer”…

Everyone probably falls into one of these camps:
(1) you knew about the problems with the label in 2001, got a copy of a bootleg version, waited in awe for the real deal, and have since smiled with the assurance of fulfillment at those who don’t know;
(2) you listened to the album when it came out in 2002 and recognized its genius then, but then maybe filed it away after your first Ween album and the self-titled “Still of the Night”-containing Whitesnake CD, but before that Wu-Tang Clan disc your friend burned for you because he knew how lame your collection was, while you waited for something like Brandi Carlile to enter the world stage and shift the shelf’s focus lower in the alphabet;
(3) you didn’t listen to it for a while, but then caught the buzz and realized it was legit, thereafter falling in love with the work;
(4) you are only recently somehow, probably upon return from your several-years long silent vigil in Nepal or exploring Mars, coming to know the work and coming to appreciate it; or,
(5) you’re wasting your life in central Ohio, maybe even German Village-era, by giving off vague, “Oh, it’s a long story but I don’t think it’s so great” vibes when the subject comes up, unable to deal with the immensity of the album and probably hiding behind some therapist-client secrets that would better explain your lack of appreciation for what is commonly understood as genius.

There may be other camps, but I think the majority of people can be grouped into the ones given here.

But let’s back up for a moment. Let’s place this album in a larger trajectory. And let’s do it quickly. First, there were numerous 60s-era albums that defined the concept, that defined the very concept, and let’s leave those where they are and not make a big deal out of them. Who wants to read a post about The Beatles, The Stones, The Beach Boys. Well, actually, I’d like to. But it’s not gonna happen here. I’m already way in over my head acting like I can give this run down on YHF, when the “advanced novice” model can only get you so far. But, alas, they invented blogs for just this sort of thing.


How’s about we just skip across these stones: Dark Side of the Moon, OK Computer, and Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. You can fill in the late ’70s one for me, and then something from the ’80s….

i-f97189f2c6e245fba3cb1409ce87846e-OK Comp.jpg


(let’s get this back to the topic at hand)

Right-Oh. Onto the review:
Track 1: “I Am Trying To Break Your Heart”
Great song. Great intro. Nice choppiness to it.

Track 2: “Kamera”
Great song. One that echoes in my heart. Get it? I used some of the lyrics to describe the song itself. How quaint.

Track 3: “Radio Cure”
This song? It’s great.

Track 4: “War on War”
Even greater song.

Track 5: “Jesus, Etc.”
Mellifluous. Which is better than great. Huge. Immense. Huge, huge. If you can get that inner immensity to pair up with mellifluosity? That’s the pinnacle, right there. Bounce with this one. Ride the strings. Float.

Track 6: “Ashes of American Flags”
Great song. Nice calm down from the stupor of enjoyment “Jesus, Etc.” gives you. Well-placed.

Track 7: “Heavy Metal Drummer”
Nice up-lift. Plainspoken, straight-on greatness here. “I miss the innocence I’ve known.” If this song were being advertised, the Madison Avenue folks would say, “Enjoy this pop tune without having to explain yourself. Come home, live again, with Heavy Metal Drummer…”

Track 8: “I’m The Man Who Loves You”
I am, it’s so true. I am. Great song.

Track 9: “Pot Kettle Black”
Reminds me of when Kevin Claus, who sure cussed a lot, was drunk and yelling at some girl who was being lewd too, and I used the pot-calling-kettle-black cliché for the first and best time. Great song, too, incidentally.

Track 10: “Poor Places”
I enjoy this particular song. It is good. Thank you for reading my comments on it.

Track 11: “Reservations”
Nice. Plus, in my car, the disc just starts right back over at the end, in what could be an endless loop. So the end is never over. But for Abbey Road and this and the DSOTM and OK Comp already mentioned and Junta and a good handful or two of others, you just don’t want that. We’re in an elite class you got here. I think that’s the main take-away.


  1. #1 Abel Pharmboy
    October 5, 2006

    Ben, you so totally speak my language on this one. I was disappointed by Ghost, but the combination of the intensity and layering of this music combined with the story and DVD marks YHF as what will likely be in my top 10 list for best of the first decade of the new millennium. Seeing the DVD got my 4-year-old hooked and she made me take her to see Tweedy live, just to hear Heavy Metal Drummer. Having to explain, “playing Kiss covers, beautiful and stoned,” was another issue, but it’s great to groove with the kids.

  2. #2 Sue
    October 6, 2006

    Wait a minute. There are OTHER people in Camp #5? I knew it!

    5-Campers: Meet me at Club 185 on the corner of Mohawk and Livingston. We’ll have some Stellas and talk about how awesome The Strokes concert at the LC Pavilion was last night. I’m serious. How sweet was the “Walk on the Wild Side” cover they played during the encore?

    [Sure, sure, all those folks who own only one Lou Reed record — the banana cover VU album they bought during their sophomore year in college — are right this moment ready to regurgitate some Strokes slur that they read on But let them. They need something to do while waiting for the next season of Curb Your Enthusiam to be released on DVD.]

    I’ll be the 32 yr-old wearing the jean jacket.

    Go Bucks.

  3. #3 Sue
    October 6, 2006

    Well, and not to overstate the obvious:
    I’m sure there is lots of classical music that is genius as well, but I don’t care about that either. The reason music always stirs such a debate is that it creates such personal connections. And your personal tastes are largely shaped by what it in you is appealed to the most: mind, heart, etc.

    As for me, let’s go ahead and say it: I respond to, and find most memorable, music that appeals to the glands. I like bands with charisma. I want to feel something in my lower chakra during a show. Wilco is a good band; I was living in Chicago when YHF was released (take that bandwagon-ers). It just doesn’t leave any lasting impression on me – it’s too…forgettable. Because I’m not the kind of person to devote an afternoon to listening to an album.

    Another of a long list of examples: Phish. I tried. I’ve been to a fair number of shows. I was at the millenium show at Big Cypress. My reaction = indifferent boredom. I just don’t get 40-something dorks making orgasm faces in minute 16 of a 23 minute guitar solo. It makes me laugh everytime I think about it. Even though I’m acutely aware the 18-yr.old next to me (who’s rolling on ecstasy) is crying everytime the fat guy in a dress taps on his drum pedal. Again, we are talking about what is memorable to an individual. What do I remember most about Phish concerts? Female, suburbian faux-crunchies who don’t wear bras but *have* showered earlier that day. They all use Bath and Body works products and smell like apple blossoms. Divine.

    As long as I’m clearing the air, here’s another pronouncement that some of you can pretend is earth-shattering: I don’t really like Ok Computer either. It doesn’t do it for me. I own every Radiohead album. I might have been the first person in Columbus, OH to purchase Ok Computer. I had a week, when my job was moving to MI, where the movers had taken all my stuff, but I was still in Columbus. All I had was a blanket, pillow, portable CD player, and Ok Computer. For a week, I would come home from work, lay on the floor, and listen to Ok Computer in my headphones. Result? Nothing. I wanted to find it to be the 2nd Coming of Jesus like every other hipster. My only lasting impression of that album is Paranoid Android. I love that song. I saw Radiohead play in Grant Park in Chicago. Thom Yorke dedicated that song to the full moon and the video screen focused on his squirrely eye the whole time. That was cool. I dare anyone reading this to actually explain to me WHY Ok Computer is genius. The only stipulation: don’t regurgitate the review you read online. Despite my plebian music taste, I read all the same magazines and websites you do. In fact, I read MORE of them. Tell me why it matters. I dare you.

    Is it just that a certain type of person loves concept albums? The only album in this list that I listen to is Dark Side of the Moon. That is a sweet album. It is sweet to me because I, like thousands of others, have listened to it on acid.

    No one is still reading this far. I probably lost them when I admitted that Phish is lame. But here is my best attempt: think about the Glass Bead Game. [Yes, the one you didn’t read after reading Siddhartha and Steppenwolf] Joseph Knecht needed his relationship with Plinio Designori. Knecht, a Castalian through and through, still needed his connection to the outside world through Plinio. He would never embrace that “debased” outside world — but he understood its importance as a counterpoint to idealistic, ivory tower thinking. I’m with Plinio. That’s all.

    Random Thoughts:
    Again, I’m sure I’m the uncouth outsider here, but…is the fact that 2 out of 2 four-yr. olds love YHF a ringing endorsement? Don’t get me wrong, I love every 4-yr.old I meet. But 4 yr.olds also love ELMO.

    Pitchfork likes YHF? Didn’t Pitchfork also give Kid A a 10.0? Explain that, you OK Computer acolytes. Oh, Pitchfork also loves the band Xiu Xiu. Never heard their albums? Case closed.

  4. #4 BRC
    October 6, 2006

    my 4-year-old hates Elmo. ergo, your entire post, sue, is invalidated.

  5. #5 wwheel
    October 6, 2006

    Since we are talking about personal preferences in music, there aren’t really right or wrong answers (except that not liking Wilco is always wrong.) That being said, I do have some thoughts on your comment.

    The reason I like OK Computer and YHF is that I can listen to them repeatedly and almost always find something new that I haven’t heard before, so I always have something different to think about. Similarly, I hate running on the treadmill, because the experience never changes. I can’t explain to you why OK Computer is genius, but I do think that it was a huge step for Radiohead to make. After The Bends, they could have gone either way, and they started to make albums in their own genre that really, can only be described by saying, “You know, like a Radiohead album.” Admittedly, they start experimenting like this on The Bends, but it still contains some pretty pop-esque tracks.

    I feel the same way about Wilco. YHF took them from a pretty typical alt-country band to a band that doesn’t have any clear genre categorization. Sometimes they rock out, sometimes they sound like a bluegrass band, and sometimes they sound like a cacophony of feedback and noise. Of course, I am not knocking The Strokes, Kings of Leon, et al. I like to just rock it out as much as the next girl.

    Thoughts On Random Thoughts:
    Kids do love Heavy Metal Drummer, but I am not so sure about them liking YHF in toto. There is a great scene in I Am Trying to Break Your Heart where Tweedy and his kid are jamming to Heavy Metal Drummer.

    Xiu Xiu was just at Little Brothers, and I think they are coming back; but they are not really my bag either.

  6. #6 CCP
    October 16, 2006

    Sue, will you marry me?

  7. #7 Abel Pharmboy
    October 16, 2006

    wwheel: yes, i love that bus shot in the dvd with tweedy’s boy slapping his thighs to the beat of the song and making his dad guess the song he’s talking about.

    ben: when i ran the “beautiful and stoned” part by my wife, she said not to worry – we were both listening to some pretty odd drug and sex stuff as kids in the 70s and we turned out okay, I guess.