This Week’s Nostalgic Discussion of the Album: Wilco, A Ghost is Born

Wilco, A Ghost is Born

I used to have a CD buying problem. In my teen years (I talk as if it were that long ago) I spent more money than I would like to admit on CD’s that I listened to approximately once. I was part of all the “Music Club” membership programs, you know, the “buy one get five free” shin-digs. I have a collection scattered around my parent’s house like you read about. If there is one thing I hoard, it’s CD’s, and I don’t even know why I did it. Recently I was going through some boxes and had to decide what to do with what seemed like an inordinate number of jewel cases; bands like The Dropkick Murphys, Fall Out Boy, Brand New, essentially my entire child and youth-hood crammed into a big, plastic storage tote. The actual CD’s were all gone of course, either broken or lost in the reaches of my parent’s basement, probably scratched beyond playability and recognition. ‘I should throw them out,’ I thought to myself. But I couldn’t do it, maybe because they felt too important to my past (or probably just because I’m out of my mind). Now I’m not going to get all old and classic elitist of on you and preach to you the importance of the experience of the full “album” and how listening to the shuffle of an iPod or iPhone can utterly ruin the integrity of the album if you’re not careful (But this is absolutely true). Back to the CD’s. These jewel cases were, I felt, a sort of emotional memento, both to my youth, as well as to the “adolescence” of the modern music industry, if you will.

I didn’t end up throwing them away as you’d probably guess. I pried apart each jewel case and removed each of the front and back album artworks and have them–probably close to two-hundred of them–stacked on my dresser currently. I keep telling myself I should do something with them, but I have no idea what. While tearing out these little pieces of folded over paper, I came across Wilco’s A Ghost is Born. I had never heard Wilco before this CD, but I went out and bought it during one of my binges because I had heard someone who’s music tastes I respected enough talk about them before.  Now this is an album that get’s absolutely no benefit from hearing on shuffle on your iPhone. Absolutely no benefit.

Jeff Tweedy has this rare talent of writing lyrics and composing melodies that perfectly encapsulate one particular moment or feeling or mood. Aside from the fact that these are songs that he is writing and singing, they state something on a grander emotional level without being too pretentious or “in your face” preachy, something that we find so often in music. The actual person of Jeff Tweedy is a sort of enigmatic to me, as is the album A Ghost is Born. The album as a whole is driven along by a strange concoction of jazz piano and neo-classical guitar along with brushed drums and moments of extreme digital noise and screeching feedback. Each song, however, flows along the lyrics and scratchy vocals of Tweedy. I know that Tweedy’s had his issues with panic attacks and addiction (as seems so common among those individuals who can successfully relay emotions to other artistic forms). I read an interview where he stated that some parts of the songs on A Ghost is Born were supposed to represent and embody the panic attacks and migraines that Tweedy experienced, translated into frantic guitar noise and electric organ solos. For music critics, artists toeing the line between pretentiously creative and creatively pretentious can be, at times, a gust of wind. This album has certainly toed that line and felt that breeze. Yet, each particular song on A Ghost is Born is created outside of the vacuum of “the single track.” It is meant to be listened to fully. So I urge you to do that.

This is one of my favorite live versions of  any Wilco performance (actually it’s one of my favorite live versions of any band). Nels Cline, the guitarist playing the jagmaster, joined the band shortly after the release of A Ghost is Born, yet his additions on guitar feed perfectly into the hyper-calm and super-noise duality of the album. I’m generally not a fan of overextended (and overplayed) guitar solos, yet Clines’ noisy, frantic vibratos and neo-jazz down-scales are home in this song.

2 comments

  1. I bought a tonne of albums in my teens and twenty somethings too. Now wish I’d bought records, as vinyls seem to last longer. CD cases break easily, and it seems my younger brothers have now emptied most of the CD boxes and put them into carrier cases. Anyhow…

    Great album, A Ghost is Born. Cool to see the live recording too. I’ll be back to check out some of the stuff I don’t know. Cheers! 🙂

  2. Isn’t that live performance great? Good to hear from you. Thanks for the comments!

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