Wax Stories #5: Wilco – Yankee Hotel Foxtrot

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I can’t be the only one with strong ties to Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. There’s so many stories I connect with this album. The physical vinyl LP was given to me with several on Christmas Eve of 2011 by Kristin the night I proposed (I’ll do a separate blog later on detailing all of these records and tell that story). There was also the time I avoided listening to “Jesus, Etc.” for a year after Nate sent me the mp3 because I thought the title sounded sacrilegious and then it went on to become my favorite song of all time. But I always come back to one particularly unremarkable night in my car when I think about this album: the elusive night drive.

It was my sophomore year of college and I was living at home during winter break. I had just gotten off the ferry in Bremerton after seeing Devendra Banhart play at the Showbox at the Market in Seattle. The show got out late and the ferry ride took about an hour so by the time I arrived at the terminal it was already 2 a.m. I made my way to the underground parking lot praying I didn’t get a ticket. I was late on my way to the ferry earlier in the day so I didn’t have time to pay for parking and still make the boat – so I unwisely decided to take the risk of getting a parking ticket. As I walked toward my car I sighed relief as I saw no envelope in my windshield.

At this time I was driving a 1985 Nissan 300 ZX. As I mentioned in my Grand Ole Party blog, I’m not a car nut – but I loved this car. It was charcoal gray, had two doors, and featured a futuristic digital dash display (that often lied to me about my gas tank). The car had a lot of issues and my dad helped me keep it going for a long time. He originally bought it from a coworker as a project car but once I gave it a spin it bewitched me. Everyone I came across told me that my car looked like it would be my car. I played my first gigs hauling instruments in the small backseat, took it on some of my first dates, got lost on many trips around Seattle by myself in it, and almost died a few times in it when the acceleration lulled out (much to my future wife’s terror a few times – sorry, Kristin). My dad put in a new CD player in the car before I got my license. The first song I listened to in the car when I finally could drive alone was “Hell Yes” by Beck off of Guero, but Wilco has been in my cars pretty much from the first week of driving through now.

I turned on the ignition and punk noise blasted from the aging speakers. I ejected the disc – The Divorce’s There Will Be Blood Tonight, and searched through my middle console for the right music to fit the mood. My car was always messy so I’d have to sift through dozens of unmarked mix CDs and busted jewel cases to find what I wanted. I finally settled on Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. I wonder how the night might have felt differently if I’d left in The Divorce or just put in some random mix. In either case, Jeff Tweedy was going to soundtrack me through a introspective, heist feeling that would result in vague revelations and zero theft.

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I Am Trying to Break Your Heart

I pulled out of the parking lot and down the road, focusing hard to not make any stupid turns. I’m notorious for having a terrible sense of direction, even in places I’m familiar with. Eventually I was spit out near Callow Avenue in downtown Bremerton. At a stop light, I looked into a parking lot in front of a strip mall where a church I used to attend once met. Feeling nostalgic, I briefly considered pulling into a parking space to look at the empty room but noticed someone else was already there doing exactly that. Instead I drove on. I took a left on Callow and passed some of my favorite old haunts and venues that I used to play shows at – namely The Charleston as well as the The Artists For Freedom and Unity Gallery. I laughed to myself as I took a look at Elmo’s Adult Book Store. At this point I start to think I should right down all of these thoughts I was having when I got home (which I did in a scattered Facebook note).

Kamera

I continued down the road and hoped on the highway. Large sections of Highway 16 are not lit very well, so at night there’s this looming darkness that adds to the solitude when you’re on the road alone. Hardly anyone drives this late around here. Whereas when I’m driving in the city I get flustered, highway driving always puts me at ease. I let my thoughts wander just enough so I can still keep focus. I run through different ideas about music, writing, and relationships that all seem revolutionary until I forget them immediately when I reach my exit.

Radio Cure

I took the Sedgwick Exit, passing a Shari’s hexagon and the golden arches. As my car climbed up the hill I remembered a hitchhiker I saw the night before at this spot. I started to regret not picking him up. Was it the safer choice? Am I a bad person for assuming the worst in people? There is something wrong with me. I began to wonder if I stress to much about trying to be a good person and put unrealistic expectations on myself.

War On War

I drove by an abandoned gas station across from Fred Meyer. For some reason whenever I see this place I remember when my mom would take me here on my way to school in Kindergarten to buy my lunch. I loved the Oatmeal Raisin “Grandma’s Cookies.” Now the building is vacant. But tonight there are a bunch of cars parked in front of it with their lights on. I may not be the best judge, but it looked like something sketchy was going down. I briefly considered pulling through the parking lot to catch a glimpse of what was happening. I also consider calling the police to let them know of the suspicious activity. In the end, I do neither. There is something wrong with me.

Jesus, Etc.

I decided after this that I was going to take the long way home, which really meant go out of my way to make the trip longer. It was an impulse more than a plan. And by impulse I mean hunger. I was really craving some Taco Bell. I’d become accustomed to late night Taco Bell or 7/11 runs with friends. To me, going to grab fast food at two in the morning wasn’t a big deal at all. Though in this moment I wonder if I’m really making healthy choices, but quickly disregard that thought as silly.

As “Jesus, Etc.” played, I started to think about “the state of contemporary music” and got myself t into a self entitled fury. Then I started to feel like an asshole. Who really cares what I think? In the end my opinion doesn’t really have much weight on what the masses should like. What right do I have to be legitimately concerned about music – like it’s some sort of maternal (or paternal) instinct? I chalked it up to me being a pretentious hipster asshole and make not to try and not be a pretentious hipster asshole.

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Ashes of American Flags

I pulled up to the Taco Bell on Mile Hill only to find all of the lights off. I thought, “maybe it’s still open and they just turned off most of the lights to save energy or something.” I decided to go through the drive-thru anyway. I was sure that Taco Bell was open till 3 a.m. Going through the dark pathway was haunting. The noise at the end of “Ashes of American Flags” played as I drove. The menu lights were off and the street lamps were dark. I got out as fast as I could. Some sort of paranoia told me I needed to leave. I was ashamed at how terrified I was.

Heavy Metal Drummer

I was still hungry.

A part of me wanted to get into some sort of mischief, but it was really unlikely that I would. The only place that I could think of that would be open with greasy, ready-to-eat food was a convenience store. My route changed to AM/PM. I drove down the hill to the AM/PM and pulled in to the parking lot and spot a souped up, red sports car (the make I didn’t try to identify, but it noted to myself that it looked stupid). A guy sat in it with who I assume is his girlfriend. He began revving his engine at me. I laughed to himself. I could tell he was trying to impress his lady friend. Obviously calling out me and my unwashed, dirty Nissan is going to be a panty dropper. But in my head I played out the situation as something else. Maybe he mistook me for someone else. Someone he had a grudge against and he was waiting for me to come out of the store so he can make his attack. I began to become a short-lived inside joke with myself as I walked into the store and picked up a cheeseburger that’s been there for who knows how long.

I’m The Man Who Loves You

As I stepped out of the store I saw Mr. Red Car Doucebag still sitting with his engine on at the opposite side of the parking lot.

“Maybe I wasn’t being so absurd after all…,” I thought.

Everything then seemed so cinematic. I began to imagine that he wanted to race me. Maybe he had thought my car was actually a racing beast that I hid under a layer of grime so people wouldn’t bother me. I’ve always had an active imagination.

I quickly hoped into my car and rushed to the opposite exit of the parking lot. “I’m The Man Who Loves You” is booming in my speakers and I could not think of a better get away song in that moment. I was smiling to myself as I pulled on to Jackson Avenue. I had gotten away. Then the realizations came. He didn’t want to race me. He probably didn’t even notice you. I then started thinking how stupid it was all going to sound when I went home to write it down.

Poor Places

I kept quiet as I continued driving. I decided it was finally time to go home. Every once and a while I would wonder if Mr. Red Car Douchebag was still following me, maybe keeping his distance. He wasn’t.

Reservations

I pulled in to my driveway as the last song comes on. I know this could be the dramatic finale I need to cap the story. Jeff Tweedy says so many beautiful things in this song that I know will give me so much to think about with love, desperation, and longing. I sat in my car for the first minute of the song but then I decided it was too much. I couldn’t contrive more out of this evening. You can’t force something to be organic. So I turned off my car.

I walked to the porch, turning the key carefully to not alarm my dogs who would in turn wake up my dad. I can’t remember, but they probably did end up barking. I made my way upstairs and climbed into bed and pulled out my laptop. I wrote down my ridiculous stream of consciousness and pressed publish, awaiting what my friends might say. At the moment I thought it was brilliant, but I suspected others wouldn’t think so. I also suspected I wouldn’t think so as time went on as well. Everything about this drive felt so important to me. The music felt important to me.

Three years later I’m still not sure it means something at all, but I can’t listen to this album without thinking about it.

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Previous Wax Story: Grand Ole Party – Humanimals

Next Week: The Avett Brothers – Emotionalism

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My (Not So Real) Afternoon With Kanye West

Me and Kanye West, just chillin.

As I was listening to Kanye West the other day, I couldn’t help but think what it might be like to have a casual conversation with him. Not an interview, but just superficial interaction. This is how I think it would go:

It’s a crisp Autumn afternoon as I sit waiting at El Diablo Coffee in Upper Queen Anne. I sit a table by the window, checking my phone every few minutes to pass the time while I wait. It’s not everyday that you have coffee with Kanye West. He happened to be passing through Seattle today and a mutual friend of ours (who asked specifically to remain anonymous) thought we might get along so he gave Yeezy my e-mail and we scheduled this meeting. He happened to have no gigs planner or parties to hit up while he was here, so it seemed like the perfect time to do it.

The door swings open and who should it be but Mr. West himself. He looks around the room briefly, trying to spot me out. I wave to him and get out of my seat to greet him.

“Hey there. I’m Dusty,” I say.

“Very nice to meet you. I’m Kanye.” he says.

We take his satchel over to the coffee table to reserve our spot and then go over to the counter to order drinks. We wait in line for a moment.

“This is a pretty vibrant looking coffee shop,” he says.

“Yeah, it definitely has a lot of flair to it,” I say. “I thought you might like it. It definitely stands out from the rest.”

He laughs. “Ha, well looks like someone did their homework on me.”

Seriously, try and convince me this doesn’t look like his next album art.

We both share a chuckle for a moment as we finally reach the cashier. He orders a grande Americano and I order a Mexican Hot Chocolate. I try to pay but he insists, since I am sort of hosting him by showing him the area. I feel a little guilty, but in the end I am a gentleman and accept his offer graciously. The whirs and clanks of the coffee machine are loud next to us as we wait for our beverages. I can see Kanye tapping his hand against his leg, as if the sounds are giving him inspiration for a new beat. We grab our drinks and go sit down at our table.

Kanye gingerly takes a sip of his Americana.

“That’s a damn good Americano,” Kanye says.

“Yeah, this place is pretty great,” I say.

“Best coffee shop I’ve ever been to. I’ll have to remember to buy it later,” he says. We laugh, but I’m not sure how much joking was going on there.

“So our friend tells me your a musician yourself too,” Kanye says before taking another sip.

“Eh, I guess so. I play in a folk-rock, alt-country band,” I say. “We’re still small but it’s pretty fun.”

“Alternative country, huh? I love that shit,” he says. “I’ve actually been working on a side project of that genre for awhile now. Been keeping it pretty under wraps till the right moment.” He looks around the room quickly, then back to me. “I’ll show you a quick clip if you promise to keep it on the down-low.”

I agree and he pulls out his iPhone. Though he seemed initially worried about others hearing before, he plays it through the speakers. It’s a bit hard to hear, but I’m able to discern a distinct twang reminiscent of Ryan Adams or possibly the Avett Brothers. Kanye’s voice fits surprisingly well in this manner.

“No one man should have all the power…”

“This is really good stuff, Kanye.” I say.

“Please, just call me Yeezy,” he says. “Do you really think that or are you just saying that to be polite?”

“No, I really like it. It reminds me of Whiskeytown meets Wilco but with a more 70s influence.”

“That’s exactly what I’m going for! You’ve got a great ear.”

“Well it’s a great track! All I had to do was listen to it, you created it.”

We talk a little bit about alternative country and artists from other genres that we like. We both have a mutual appreciation for The Notorious B.I.G. and a mutual dislike for Taylor Swift. It helps ease the conversation quite a bit and gets us more comfortable with each other. When in a conversation with someone new, it’s always the best bet to go with any common denominator.

As we finish our drinks I ask Yeezy if he’s ever heard of Kerry Park. He hadn’t. So I insist that we simply must go check it out. It would be positively criminal if we didn’t. We get up from our seats, I open the door for him, and we step out onto Queen Anne Avenue. The weather is perfect. Cool enough to wear a light jacket, but warm enough to not need it.

We keep talking as we’re walking.

“So, how are things with your love life?” I ask. He smirks a bit and looks down at his feet.

“You know, it’s funny,” he says. “As a rapper, I’m expected to be all about gettin’ hoes and having orgies and whatnot; and I have done a lot of that, but right now I’m pursuing a girl that is different.”

“How so?”

“Well, she’s just not the typical girl I’d go for. She’s reserved, very quiet. She’s very pretty but not some bootylicious superstar model. She’s just…nice.”

“Well that sounds like it might be good for you; tone things down a bit.”

“Yeah, I think so too…what about you? You mentioned a girlfriend earlier.”

“Yeah, Kristin’s great. I’m really happy with her. We complement each other perfectly”

“Yeah man, that’s what I’m lookin’ for right there.”

“Yeah.”

“Yeah.”

Who will survive in Seattle?

We finally reach Kerry Park and witness one of the most amazing views my city has to offer. As Yeezy stands looking out over the skyline, I can almost read his thoughts: “I run this shit.”

“This is incredible,” he says. “Thank you for showing me this, Dusty.”

“Hey, it’s no problem at all,” I say. “Everyone should see this view at least once.”

I see Kanye wipe his eyes, possibly from tears but it’s hard to tell from the angle and the sunlight.

“I’ve had a great time today, but I have to meet up with our friend at the airport soon,” Kanye says softly.

“Definitely, I understand. Let’s get you back and ready to go.”

I turn to start walking back to Queen Anne Ave but I am stopped by Kanye grabbing me by the shoulder and turning me around. He looks me straight in the eye.

“Dusty. I hope to some day be half the man you have become before my eyes today.”

And with that, he vanishes in a brilliant flash of light. If I listen closely, I can almost hear the flute hook from “Jesus Walks” faintly playing in the background.