Matt Domino's "review" of the new Wilco album, The Whole Love, as well as impressions of a wedding weekend.
It has been awhile, my Puddlers, but before we begin today's post, I wanted to check in real quick and give you an update on where we are for the relaunch.
In an effort to make sure that this site can bring you as much quality, passion-driven content as possible, I have been brainstorming and testing different platforms all summer with my good friend Alex Ramsdell. We have settled on a design and a means of building the site that should be ready for launch by the week of October 10. I know the hiatus has been a bit extended, but it has allowed me to work on my fiction (getting better by the day! #humblebrag) and recharge my jets in order to approach posting insightful and hopefully enlightening material on this site.
When we relaunch, you will be treated to the World's Coolest Dude 1911-2010 List, which will provide a summary of each World's Coolest Dude from 1911 up until last year and include the breakdown of the candidates for 2011. After that, I know that I have some special posts to provide and my stable of writers (slowly increasing) such as the terrific Mr. Mark Jack (now our West Coast correspondent) and Mr. Alex Theoharides (now married!) are rearing to drop some Puddles of Themselves for you to splash in.
So, bottom line, thank you for your patience and just know that I will be back and better than ever. The ideas never stop. Now, here is something to whet your appetite.
Thousand Dollar Wedding
Lake Champlain was choppy like the sea. There were whitecaps stretching out through the center of the lake and over towards the eastern edge, towards New York. It was sunny and I stood with my friend Jeff, his brother Andrew, his cousin Albert, two other groomsman named Matt, and Jeff’s soon to be brother-in-law, Cam. A guy with a beard who I disliked immediately was filming us talking in our tuxedos. The sun was very bright and we had each just had a bottle of beer each. Down the hill, the white chairs and wooden alter were set up on the green grass.
“There’s twenty four guest rooms up there,” my friend Jeff said pointing at the large, brick inn.
“Twenty four?” Cam said.
“Twenty four, Cammy.”
“This place is very peaceful,” Andrew said to me.
“What do you have there?” I asked.
He showed me a folded piece of paper.
“Did it turn out alright?” I said.
“I mean, yeah.”
“OK, guys,” the guy with the beard, said. “Now you all stand over there so Jeff’s shadow is alone on the grass. Just stay in that pose and then casually walk away past me.”
We stood and made hand gestures towards each other. We slid our hands in and out of our black pant pockets. Jeff made us laugh as we looked at the large inn. Then we walked past the guy with the beard and his video camera back up to the pavilion. I put my hand on Jeff’s back.
“We should walk down to the stables,” he said. “Sara will be here soon.”
I first saw Wilco live in October of 2002, though I had first listened to them in the spring of that year. Obviously, the first album I listened to was Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and it was my secret that entire summer. I’d listen to it by my pool in the middle of the day while I cleaned the debris at the bottom. I realized no song had ever seemed to personify my soul more than “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart.”
The summer days floated by and tied up in those drifting days was the album. “Heavy Metal Drummer” made my heart soar. “Ashes of American Flags” was obscure, melodic and seemed to mean so much more than I could understand. “Poor Places” slowly revealed itself to me and made me think of Ringo Starr circa “A Day in the Life.” And “Reservations” made me think of some girl I had not yet met. Friends would come over and we’d smoke pot in my pool and hide a keg behind the heater. I’d play the album and they wouldn’t understand. That was my Wilco. That was 2002.
And so I found myself alone at their concert in October. I drank beer around the corner of Roseland Ballroom and then saw them recreate the magic of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot right in front of me. Every sound was there, every nook that I had explored on my headphones in school or on the hot brick in my backyard. All of a sudden Jeff Tweedy was one of the most important figures in my life. I left the concert feeling moved, my heart swaying in the way that only Joyce was able to accurately describe. I walked from Roseland to Irving Plaza barely knowing which way to go. I was thinking about my Early Decision application to Columbia and I used an NYU dorm to take a piss. I smoked cigarettes outside of Irving while baseball went on in bars all around me. Then, the doors opened. My friends spilled out. They were all there. They hugged me. The Yonder Mountain show was over and it was time to drink beer on the train ride home.
“There were the first conversations,” Moretti the pastor said. “And there was the, ‘no, no, um, well, OK, yes,’ to the first ‘study’ date. And now, after four years and the intertwining of your lives, your families, of ups and downs, here you are.”
Jeff held Sara’s hands as I watched from the groomsmen’s line. I looked out to the crowd, squinting in the sun. My friends were lined in the back. Some were further up sitting next to my parents and my sister. I looked at Jeff holding Sara’s hands. I looked next to me at Andrew, his brother, and behind me at his cousin Albert. My friends were smiling in the back row and I wanted to make them laugh. But I also felt like crying.
“He’s done it,” I said to myself. “The son of a bitch has done it.”
No one liked Sky Blue Sky when it came out. It wasn’t Wilco’s best album. I had wanted Kicking Television—The Studio Album. I wanted loud, heroic, distorted Springsteen rock. Instead, they gave us quiet. They gave us what many people called “dad-rock.” I listened to Sky Blue Sky over and over again on the top floor of my college library while I finished final essays and tried to wrap up the first draft of my ill-fated first novel manuscript. I sat and wrote and thought about the significance of A Ghost is Born coming out at the end of my freshman year and Sky Blue Sky coming out at the end of my senior year. I wasn’t sure that it meant anything and I continued to write.
Once I got over my initial, reactionary disappointment, I realized that Sky Blue Sky was actually a great album. To me, it seemed like Tweedy was just feeling out the longest tenured lineup he’d had in years. The album had a very “group” feel to it. There was intricate, jazzy, but tasteful guitar. Warm, quiet, organ notes were at the back of nearly every song. It was a domestic album, an album meant for sweeping and listening to coffee brew. And that’s not always what we want. I didn’t want it, but I learned to love it as I sat and finished my story about all of my friends.
One night leaving the library I ran into my old roommate.
“What do you think?” he asked.
I laughed. “I actually love it now.”
“You think everything is awful,” I said.
“I guess that’s true.”
“No, it’s not though.”
“You want to drink whiskey?”
“Nah, I got to get back home. Get off campus.”
“You gonna dip?”
“Maybe, but winter is over.”
We hugged and I walked to the emptying parking lot with the cool, spring, Upstate, sky opening up around me. It was dark, but there was plenty of nice light from all over the campus. There was dew on my car. I got in, rolled down the windows and was in love with someone. I wanted to smoke. I wanted to do a lot of things. Instead, I rolled through the quiet, empty streets of town back to my apartment and managed to enjoy that.
After all the speeches, after the dinner, after the tablecloths and the gold, we smoked cigars in the courtyard. Everyone smoked. Men, women, guys and girls. I saw my parents through the tufts of smoke, my father thin and my mother wearing blue. Everyone was standing around and talking all at once. My friends looked great and their girlfriends looked beautiful with nice white teeth and perfect fitting dresses. Suddenly there were two kinds of cake.
“Do you like a good carrot cake?” I asked my friend’s girlfriend.
“I most certainly do. Do you?”
“My favorite cake.”
“Where is Jeff?” one of my friends asked.
“He’s still dancing,” I said.
Then I was talking with cigar and scotch to the two other groomsmen named Matt.
“And we’ve known each other for eight years, Domino,” Matt Kennedy said.
“Remember when we watched Wall Street with the shades pulled down when you came up that summer?”
“One of the best times of my life.”
“I’ve drank too much this weekend.”
“We’ve had fun,” I said. “I’ve had a blast with you guys. Your girlfriends are fantastic too.”
“December 1, 2012. Save the date, Domino. You’re coming to mine.”
We smoked together. Cigar and cigarillo smoke streamed throughout the courtyard. The night air felt like fall and the women draped their shawls around their shoulders in black, blue, purple and gold curves and folds. The band played in the other room and I knew Jeff was dancing on the wood floor, smiling and slinking around with his slim body, reminding everyone young and old why they loved him no matter how annoying he ever got.
“You fucked up,” my old roommate texted me. “New Wilco album leaked today.”
I was coming back from a day hike in Cold Spring. The Metro North rode along the Hudson and the sun shone gold on the water in the late summer haze. I had been waiting all summer for the new Wilco album to leak. I had trawled the Internet looking for it. However, on that day I was tired and sitting on the train. I was looking forward to my friend’s wedding the next weekend. I didn’t want to step off the train and into Grand Central Station. I felt a sense of melancholy but couldn’t find the perfect song to match it. I had waited this long. The album could wait. I’d find it.
“How is it?” I texted back.
“Stirratt is taking back what’s his.”
I smiled and slid my phone into my pocket. I fell asleep with the Hudson rolling by and restless children chattering to their parents in the seats all around me.
Later that night, I downloaded The Whole Love by Wilco.
On the Hilton balcony the night was cold. My friend Erik had brought a backpack of sweaters for people to wear. There were bridesmaids, my friends and groomsmen sitting on Hilton deck chairs. We were all staying at the Marriott.
“You’ve never been to Brooklyn?” I said to the non-bridesmaid I’d been dancing with all night.
“No,” she smiled. She had a very engaging smile. It left you feeling constantly on the edge of finding out some gleeful secret.
“And you live in the East Village?”
She nodded and smiled again.
“It’s very rewarding,” I said. “Not like they say in the papers and in magazines.”
“I’ll have to go.”
“Maybe we can go after work. I work in Times Square too.”
She raised her eyebrows.
“Why don’t you give me your number?”
I entered the digits into my phone. All of a sudden, Jeff’s cousin Albert was in the middle of a late night speech.
“And that’s what family is,” he said in his impossibly deep but familiar voice. “That’s what it’s all about. It’s being there. Shit, I don’t know what my life would have been without Jeff and my aunt. Hell, Andrew too. But that’s family. You’ve got to have family. And now we’ve got Sara too. You all don’t realize that when you’re younger. I used to say fuck everything. But now it’s different. But that’s family. That’s what happens when…”
My friend Rich started clapping and the whole group joined in. I held back a laugh even though I could’ve listened to Albert’s speech all night. I held the hand of the girl next to me. I thought of Albert’s baby and how it looked like the mother. Then, I remembered it was my birthday.
“It’s my birthday,” I said to the girl.
“Happy Birthday,” she said.
The whole week before my friend’s wedding all I could listen to was The Whole Love. “Art of Almost” was an opener in the tradition of “Misunderstood,” “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart,” and “At Least That’s What You Said.” It immediately sounds like a misty night where everything is on the line in some way or another and Tweedy sells the vocals as well as he sells them in “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart.” “I Might,” “Dawned on Me,” and “Born Alone” might be the best trio of pop songs Wilco has ever done. “Sunloathe” sounds like a missing track from Abbey Road and “Capitol City” sounds like “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” mixed with the low end of peak-era Band. Even the slower, subtler songs like “Black Moon,” “Open Mind,” and “Red Rising Lung” have embedded their melodies in my head and filled that strange space in the Wilco catalogue that “Company in My Back” occupies. And then there is “One Sunday Morning (Song for Jane Smiley’s Boyfriend),” which is the son of “Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands.” You are at the ten-minute mark before you even know it and ready to attack it again.
The Whole Love sounds familiar immediately upon first listen, as if it’s always been out there but you just realized that Wilco had this other album you’d never heard yet. It’s not as great as Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and not as expansive and perhaps thrilling as Being There, but it contains some strange essence, some shining quality that is not easy to define. And all you want to do is listen to it over and over again and you find yourself looking forward to the different sections of the album each separate time you listen. You find yourself looking forward to different sections and for completely different reasons each time.
After the wedding, my friends and I drove to a swimming hole off of a ravine in Vermont. We climbed down a small trail to the bend in a stream. There were some high school boys sitting on the rocks in the sun. We waded through the cold mountain water and set ourselves up in the sun.
“People jump in from that cliff and die,” my friend’s girlfriend said. “It’s bad.”
We sat in the sun and watched as the high school boys climbed up to the cliff, each one wearing long board shorts.
“I can’t watch,” my friend’s girlfriend said.
The sun was warm on the rocks and you could feel the cool air rising up from the stream. The boys started jumping in one by one off the cliff and splashing down into the stream. My friend’s girlfriend cringed each time they jumped. It made me smile for some reason. The last boy that jumped threw his bathing suit off first and then jumped in naked. All of his friends floated in the water and laughed as he emerged to the surface and splashed to grab his suit.
I looked over to my friend Chris.
“I’m enjoying all this youthful machismo,” he said.
I laughed and knew exactly what he meant. We stripped down to our underwear and each took turns jumping into the stream from the rocks. The water was very cold on your bare skin, but it made you feel alive and knocked away any alcoholic residue from the long weekend.
We all lay on one large rock together in the sun drying off—all seven of us. The stream continued to drone on. We lay for a while and then sat and made jokes. We laughed and walked around in circles. The high school boys left. The sun started falling below the tree line and the shade covered the rocks. We waded back across the stream and walked back up to our cars. We changed clothes and said goodbye to each other. A car full of us were on our way back to New York, while my friend Chris and his girlfriend were on their way back to their temporary home in Vermont. Even though five of us were still in the car, I still felt very sad, as though I had said goodbye to a great many more people.
Last week, I found myself walking north through the West Village after a play. The play had been extremely good and I was feeling moved by each of the performances. It was a perfect September night after a day of rain. People were sitting outside at restaurants having late dinners, laughing, drinking wine, talking about work, about themselves or about something they wanted to do. I, as usual, was feeling very much in love with the actress who was in the play. And at the same time I was trying to give up on someone who I cared very much about.
It felt good to walk and “Art of Almost” was stuck in my head. I murmured the lyrics in imitation of Tweedy’s cadence. I murmured them as if they were a sort of hymn. I kept thinking about the wedding and why it had felt like some kind of culmination to my life just as much as it had been a sort of culmination to the life of my friend Jeff. I wasn’t jealous of my friend or the fact that he had found such a seemingly perfect match to spend the rest of his life with. No, what I was thinking about was the loss of the moment. That moment in Vermont where I looked around a room shining with wood and gold and saw, so visibly, all of the different paths of my life and where they connected. I realized how entrenched I had been in my own friend’s life. And how that life had been a part of a larger set of intertwined lives of all my friends. And now that circle was expanding due his new wife Sara. Perhaps that was the most moving part of it all—that their two lives seemed to be perfectly intertwined and featured so many good people. That moment in Vermont was great and it ended and I would have to move past the void of that great happiness and on with the present.
I walked on along Sixth Avenue and remembered I was in New York City. I murmured the lyrics to “Art of Almost.” I walked alone along Sixth Avenue as I had walked from the Wilco concert in 2002.