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.
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.
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.
to be an artist is not to be without ego. Ego creates the concrete
thing, the stamp of production, the indelible mark on society.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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."
to be an artist is tricky, walk on a high tightrope wire. In this
film, Wilco makes it seem effortless.