Saturday, January 17, 2015

Track of the Week: Wilco "Far Far Away"

Last week I was playing an old playlist I'd made of mellow songs for long winter nights, and my wife perked up when "Far Far Away" by Wilco came on.  I got to thinking about this humble little song has been a favorite of mine since I first heard way back in 1996.

It's the second track on Wilco's double album Being There, the record that began the band's transition from alt-country to something different and deeper.  It comes at the end of the intense, experimental "Misunderstood," and immediately turns down the mood, and perhaps was meant to keep the band's old fans from feeling too confused by transitioning back into more familiar territory.  Regardless of classification, it's a beautiful song of quiet beauty and longing.  Jeff Tweedy sings about being in the country, far from the city lights of Chicago (he alludes to the CTA) and from his love, backed by a pretty organ and understated steel guitar.  It's the sound of lonely rural isolation, perfectly distilled.

It's a song that's meant different things to me over the years.  I remember listening to a lot when I first moved from Chicago to Urbana, Illinois.  After two years in the big city I had developed a real love for urban living, but my academic aspirations took me back to the prairie landscape I had grown up with.  I remember having a hard time adjusting to quiet nights, the lonesome sound of a train horn blowing in the dark, and the vastness of the sky.  Before long I met the right people and learned to love the place, but for the first month or so, I felt like an exile, and this song was a comfort.

Nowadays I think about the song, but in reverse.  I work in the heart of New York City and live in the densely populated environs of northern New Jersey, and I feel like my rural Nebraska hometown is in another country, or on another planet.  So many of my close friends, flung far in the aftermath of grad school, live in small burgs from Murfreesboro to Nacogdoches.  When I listen to this song I think about them too, so far far away.

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