"I am trying to break your heart -- The Wilco Movie"
Director: Sam Jones
Kimberly Nichols

It's midnight in Los Angeles and I sit in a corner movie theater that has been completely morphed and pasteurized by its shiny proximity to Hollywood -- the infamous Tower Records and the Hustler store -- and I sit pondering art.

To be an artist is tricky. But to be an artist is not tricky in the way that has become cliché among pseudo-intellectuals at dinner parties or painters in wine bars or digital vixens in their opium dens. It has nothing to do with making sure you do or do not wear a certain flair or obvious lack thereof. It has nothing to do with externalized thinking or judgement or pretension. It has nothing to do with dissecting the craft for the sake of dissecting the craft. It has everything to do with just plain living.

The best way to view artists these days with any kind of clarity and authenticity is to view the art and grow blind to the artist. So to be an artist is to be a sort of dichotomy. It is to be a balancing tightrope walker who walks ten thousand feet in the air on the tautest of string without any idea of where the ground is beneath him. To be an artist is to trust in the self blindly.

But to be an artist is not to be without ego. Ego creates the concrete thing, the stamp of production, the indelible mark on society.

In the feature length documentary film I Am Trying to Break Your Heart about the making of Wilco's latest album Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, frontman Jeff Tweedy makes both the mark and the maker seem easy. Shot on 16-mm black and white film, it is a gorgeous and slow ride through the making of a record, the deepening evolution of a band's voice and a fairy tale all rolled into one.

Halfway into the film Wilco's longtime record label is sucked into a corporate take-over and suddenly the band falls under pressure to make a commercially viable record rather than the heart sweat piece that has begun. But not only is the band faced with the loss of a supportive record company; the movie also shows the departure of longtime band member Jay Bennett in what seems less a conflict of ideals than an honest glimpse at growing pains. It is the story of weathering change beneath the microscope of reality and sticking with a sense of integrity that has carried one thus far in the first place. It offers a piece of proof that both can be done simultaneously.

Wilco's prior success has always relied on the word of mouth college kids and underground boogie babies, the academic groovers and those with a raw love of Tweedy's scruffy, sweet, softly focused and common man awkward abandon. Wilco has never been about impressing the masses. Faced with a record that is no longer wanted and a contract with a company that is unwilling to move forward, the movie takes a turn and leaves one wondering if validation does indeed ever occur.

With magnificent photography and a grainy intimacy this movie not only makes you ask these questions of yourself and of the band, but it makes you care about concepts based on what they provoke rather than what they've been turned into by the mass marketing machines masterminded to pique our insecurities.

Last year I drove to Los Angeles to see the Sonic Youth curated event "All Tomorrow's Parties" that featured a juxtaposition of bands and performers including 5 Star, Sleatter Kinney and Ira Cohen. The biggest night ended with Aphex Twin catering to the glittery eyed rave babies in one hall of the UCLA campus and Wilco in another. Sitting in the packed room at the end of the night and hearing Jeff Tweedy sing favorites from Wilco's previous record "Summerteeth", I couldn't help but feel comforted by a underlying sense of rightness in the world. I wasn't watching a sideshow or a horse and pony bag of tricks carefully constructed to tempt and titillate. I was watching an artist standing on stage with his fellow band members doing the thing that he loved, the thing he knew best. Tweedy succeeded in breaking my heart, if only through showing me the genius of a passive dive into inspiration and rolling over the bumps with grace.

"I am an American aquarium drinker/I assassin down the avenue. /I'm hiding out in the big city blinking. /What was I thinking when I let go of you? /I am trying to break your heart."

Wilco has succeeded.

So to be an artist is tricky, walk on a high tightrope wire. In this film, Wilco makes it seem effortless.

-- Kimberly Nichols


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