I spent the Marymoor Wilco show behind my camera. I'm not really sure what got into me, but I seem to have ended up with nearly every variation on a blurry night-time concert photo that you could possibly want. Watching a show that way is a different kind of experience than the one I had the next night at the Edgefield, where we were right up front in the crowd, close enough that I felt like Jeff Tweedy could have reached out and grabbed me.
In retrospect, it makes sense that the last five days started with that - me a little removed, framing it all. Or trying to.
I fell in love with the latest Wilco album, Sky Blue Sky, on the road to the ranch this summer. I fell deeper as I read my way through Don DeLillo's Falling Man, and Michael Ondaatje's Divisadero, sitting outside in the Colorado sunshine. What these three men had me thinking about was the word "aftermath", and about the way we try to make sense of the things that are hard for us, about all the figuring and calculations that go into coping with being a human, with making our human way through time, by making a piece of music, or rearranging words on a page, or cataloging facts, or counting cards in a game of poker.
Recovery was another word that came to mind as well, which linked up with the new Ryan Adams, Easy Tiger, and that fantastic show we saw him give recently. Of course, we're talking about recovery in the sense of rehab, but not just that. All the time, there are a million little things to recover from, migraines and break-ups and sleepless nights, hairline fractures, arguments and disappointments. The process of recovery is complicated, sometimes labor-intensive, sometimes tedious and frustrating, often draining, a million things, but we all do it. We do the work or the waiting and then if we're fortunate, we arrive at a moment where something seems recovered, in the most simple way. We sleep well, or get our appetites back, or we realize that we have suddenly, for a moment, managed to be happy.
Which is why I love Sky Blue Sky. Jeff Tweedy knows something about recovery, and he knows we know that. In the Wilco documentary, I Am Trying to Break Your Heart, we see him suffering from a migraine, which is the affliction that I find myself recovering from today and too often, and a while back he famously went to rehab. In one of the recent documentaries, maybe Sunken Treasure, he tells us that they actually ran it on the CNN ticker when he checked in. There are some Wilco songs, arguably, one Wilco album, that could be described as difficult, either because the struggle is apparent, or because it's as though we are listening to a person sunk so deep inside himself that he forgot he was making a piece of art that he needed to bring his audience along for. You could say that. But I wouldn't. Because after a listen or two, I feel like I'm there with him for all of it, with the singing spiders and the dissonance and electronic surgical words. It all just gets to me. Maybe he doesn't take me wherever he's going, but I can sure hear it from here, no matter how far away he has been in past albums.
Sky Blue Sky is different. With Sky Blue Sky, he hints that he might also know a little something about being happy. I love that title, because we are all there now with this album, under the Sky Blue Sky together, listening to songs that you get the first time you ever hear them, like Hate It Here, or Please Be Patient With Me. Simple songs, hard-won, convincing tunes in his familiar, imperfect, intimate voice. Not all of them are so simple, but there is an air of simplicity throughout the whole album, and even the more complicated songs, like Impossible Germany, parts of which I'm still not sure how to read, have moments of absolute clarity. He tells us:
Nothing more important than to know
Now I know
You’ll be listening
And in concert, you do feel like he's really thinking about the listening. Or at least, I did. He does things with the audience, things that demand a different kind of listening from us, like in Sunken Treasure where he has the whole audience go silent in Portland, or the part where he has the Audience sing The Thanks I Get with him. At the Marymoor show, he did that thing, the thing that demands that active listening, late in the show, in the form of clapping - he started it for us, then told us they were going to fade out and asked us to keep it going. And we did, which is how we all ended up together in the midst of what I consider one of the most difficult Wilco songs, Spiders (Kidsmoke) - he led us into it, and then let us go, gently, like a dad taking his hand off the back of a bike without training wheels, and we glided along for a moment, wobbly but holding it together. It was just clapping, but it was pure feeling, simple, and the kind of thing that happens with your whole body if you let it.
And that was one of those moments when I realized how perfectly happy I was. For a moment, recovering from nothing, just all the way there, all the way happy.