Song 42: Wilco, “What’s the World Got in Store”Posted: February 12, 2013
Like many music fans, I initially wrote off Wilco as the also-ran to Son Volt. Both bands spun off the adored Uncle Tupelo, but it was Son Volt that seemed to have the legs. And don’t get me wrong, Son Volt were, and are (when frontman Jay Farrar intermittently puts out records), a very good band. But Wilco. Damn. They found me when I needed them.
Someone in my college dorm lent Being There to me. At the time I was really into Son Volt’s excellent Straightaways, and I looked at the Wilco collection with skepticism: a double record? From these jokers? But then I listened, over and over and over again, to the songs about loneliness, about being in a rock band, about how wonderful and miserable it is to make art. That was a terrible year. I lived in the basement of a dingy building, with two other guys. The only windows were little rectangles up near the ceiling that, when the Maine snow piled up, let in no light. While I was living there, I had some depression going on, and I don’t typically throw that word around. It was not good.
There were many things that helped me. My wife and best friend (and at that time, my girlfriend) did the most to help me out of my depression, for which I’ll always be grateful. But music was also immensely important, especially records like The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, Elliott Smith’s XO, Aimee Mann’s Magnolia soundtrack, and Being There. (I know, I know, those don’t seem like the type of records to lift one out of depression. Welcome to my musical tastes!)
Why did Being There help? Who knows; maybe it just provided some welcome distraction. But I know for a fact that “What’s The World Got In Store” gave me comfort from time to time. It’s like a warm cup of coffee, starting with that banjo, coupled with Jeff Tweedy’s husky voice saying, “Close your eyes and go to sleep.” It’s not all happiness, but even the darker lines (like that great twist at the end of the first verse, “You’ve been trying hard not to think I’m a liar”) are sung with such calmness. Even when he’s screaming “nothing!” in Being There opener “Misunderstood,” I find Jeff Tweedy’s voice to be instantly soothing. (Again, welcome to my musical tastes.)
For these reasons, Being There is my favorite Wilco record. I know Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is their undisputed masterpiece, and I agree objectively with that opinion, but I’ll always come back to Being There. It found me, helped me, and stuck around.