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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Callow Rats

A bowl of lukewarm, orange chili slops in front of me. I’m pretty sure they made it from a can or something. When I asked the cashier at the Insomnia Café, “Can I get a bowl of chili?” he looked at me as if it were the first time he’d ever heard the phrase in his life. Strange, it took them long enough to bring it.  I don’t remember this place from when I used to hang out around here. It’s just a block off of Callow, next to where “The House” church and café used to be before it went out of business — or whatever you call it when a church ceases to be. From the outside I assumed it was going to be some dingy place where the culture-craving youth hang out and talk about punk music, but to my surprise there are XBOX 360s and pool tables set up. Seems to be set up more to give kids something to do rather than complain. I feel like a total jackass sitting here in my peacoat, slacks, and tie.

I keep thinking about Callow Avenue. Elmo’s Adult Book Store, Dave’s Loans & Guns, the Artists for Freedom and Unity Gallery, La Poblanita Mexican Store, and just a few blocks over Noah’s Ark Restaurant. Come to think of it, why didn’t I go to Noah’s instead of this place? I’m sure the chili there is at least warm. Oh and of course there’s The Charleston. Supposedly it used to be an adult film theater (no, not highly intuitive dramas, the other kind of films adults like). Before that I think it was just a regular old movie theater. It’s hard to imagine either these days. The pale, dirty face of the building is not entirely welcoming. The bold and generic font bearing “The Charleston” seems so wholesome and respectable until you look down at the reader board right below it with the names of bands like “The Helen Killers” and “The Knife Hits.”

Near the end of my high school career, this became the only place to catch local shows. Typically they booked terrible hardcore bands with even worse names. If ever a decent band was playing, or if I knew of a friend playing a show, there was no doubt going to be a hardcore band attached to the lineup. The inside is dark. Most surfaces are painted with thick, eternally sticky black paint. A makeshift stage where the movie screen used to be stands on the far side of the room and a bar stares across from it on its own separate platform. Everything is written on or has graffiti layered on it. The bathrooms are a particular treat: green walls covered in band stickers and never stocked with soap or towels.

We used to play a game when we waited for the doors to open at shows. We’d stand in a circle, pretending to be engrossed in conversation, while secretly we counted how many people walked out of Elmo’s Adult Book Store. The numbers were always surprising, especially for so early in the day. None of them was ever looking up. It’s funny how Elmo’s has been around since I was a kid, riding in the car with my grandma playing slug-bug, yet I’ve seen at least 3 church related businesses start and fail there since I was a teen.

I think we — my friends and I — all had a love hate relationship with Callow Avenue. On one side, it was the one place to see shows. A luxury not so luxurious. On the other hand…. Elmo’s Adult Book Store, Dave’s Loans  Guns, the Artists for Freedom and Unity Gallery…etc. It represented everything about Kitsap County that we loathed. Now I’m back here and I feel more left out – like I got picked last for kickball or something – than at home. A lot of it has to do with my oh so in vogue Seattle wardrobe. I typically don’t dress like this. I’m actually in town for a wedding. But I know that everyone in the Insomnia Café doesn’t know that. I look like some prissy Seattleite who got lost after a ferry ride over. Or maybe a prince trying to see life as a pauper. Or maybe they don’t notice. But I do. Oh and to make things better, to pass time I’m making notes in a Moleskine. Wow. Really?

I look out the window and over towards Callow again. Did you know that “callow” means “immature or inexperienced?” Callow Ave does seem immature, but I can’t say it’s inexperienced.

I’m trying to distract myself from feeling out of place by reminding myself how shitty Callow Avenue is. I couldn’t wait to get away from here. To move to Seattle where there is always something to do and there’s culture and always great bands playing and hip girls with great taste in music who will teach me about bands like “My Bloody Valentine” and “The Smiths” and you have no restrictions and and most of all, nothing reminiscent of the bleak feeling that is Kitsap County. Three years later and I come back and feel like an outsider. And I don’t want to feel like an outsider. But there is no way in hell I want to live back here again.

I remember reading on The Charleston’s web site about a movement they were trying to create called “Callow Rats.” The owner described Callow as a place to get away from gossip, politics, parents, and things of that sort; he especially made a strong point about the parents part. He said that Callow isn’t just a place to get away, but a place to fit in. I’ve seen too many post-generation x trying to be gen-x movies to really take this seriously on a surface level. It just sounds too corny, even though I feel he’s sincere. But maybe I bought into this philosophy without knowing it. Am I that cheesy?

I think I’m callow. I haven’t had much life experience that isn’t tied to some sort of formal education. I still get chills when I watch the end scene of Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey. Moving to Seattle and living without my parents felt like such a grown up thing to do. Instead of growing up, did I just morph into a Seattelite instead? Am I not a callow rat? Was I ever? Did I want to be? Do I want to be? It sounds awful lonely. But I feel lonely right now. I feel desperate and alone in a place that I think fondly of for times of being reckless and making fun of perverts leaving an adult book store. It doesn’t seem so funny anymore. Maybe just a little bit though.

This chili really isn’t very good. I don’t think being a Seattle prick has anything to do with the objective fact that this is not good chili. I’ll probably stop at the Starbucks by the ferry on the way home and get a vanilla chai lattee to get this taste out of my mouth. I’ll probably feel more at home in a franchised Starbucks than I do in this awkward Bremerton cafe. True Seattlites don’t really like Starbucks though; they’d much rather support a local owned and/or sustainable coffee shop. I think I care too much about these geographical labels. It’s time to put away this pretentious Moleskine and kill some vampires on this arcade game behind me. Callow rat or spawn of Seattle. I’m not going to pretend that I don’t care. I’m sure in a couple of weeks when I’m looking at the skyline from Gasworks Park, I’ll think to myself “this is home” and Callow will feel like nothing but a point of reference to show me how far I’ve come since then.

How about I just shut up. Those vampires aren’t going to just kill themselves off, now are they? I can afford a few minutes of being a callow youth.