Sunday, April 10, 2016
Track of the Week: Wilco "Misunderstood"
I was lacking inspiration for a track of the week this week, and as I was sitting and reading this evening, "Misunderstood" by Wilco came up on a playlist I've dubbed "Late Night Brooding." This song, which has been familiar to me for twenty years now, suddenly hit me with a force it had never possessed before.
Coming first on the Being There album, the song is quite a statement of purpose from Jeff Tweedy and co. No longer will they simply be an 'alt-country" band, as the violent, dissonant build at the end of the song attests. That was brought home to me back in 2002, when I first heard the band perform on stage, by which point the repeated "nothing"s when things get crazy had become so intense as to almost be unbearable.
I've always liked the song, but other Wilco tunes spoke to me on a deeper level. This time around, after two decades, something finally clicked into place. Perhaps it's because I was back in "my old neighborhood" where I had been "so misunderstood" in my youth two weeks ago. It's a song that keys into the feelings of adolescent loneliness and rejection, and I felt those things quite intensely in my youth. Going home was great in terms of seeing my family, but this time, more than others, my visit dredged up some bad memories. Somehow my wall of memory repression had been breached, and I remembered exactly what it felt like to spend years in a place where I felt constantly out of place and alone. These were not memories of things I could see in my mind's eye, but memories of the actual feelings and emotions, which suddenly started running their way through my middle aged body, just as they had when I was teen.
In the spare opening of this song I hear those quiet nights laying in bed, the mournful tones of a train's horn in the air, and impossibly bottomless prairie darkness just beyond my window. I can feel, truly feel my anguished wish as a 17 year old for there to be somewhere, anywhere where I could go to escape.
Thankfully I got out at age 18 to college, and eventually found my true tribe of compatriots in grad school, where we would listen to Wilco, play and sing along to Wilco songs at late night parties, and drive hundreds of miles to Wilco concerts. Hearing "Misunderstood" in concert with my friends was more an acknowledgement of my new community, than anything else. The problem is now that that community is flung far and wide, from the high Plains of the Texas panhandle to the Palouse of eastern Washington to Shreveport to Topeka to Macon. I hear that song now and get homesick for a home that was never meant to be permanent.