Song 7 – The truth that proves it’s beautiful to lie

August 21st, 2007

Reservations – Wilco

Wow, this one took some doing. I have been working at this little post for some months now, and I have no idea why it became as difficult as it did. As I say down there, this is a deceptive song. You think you know what it’s all about, and then you start pulling it apart a little and looking more closely, and you begin to second guess everything. Bless Jeff Tweedy and his ability to mess with my head. I’m still not sure I’ve managed to articulate exactly what I think this song is to me, but what the hell. I’ve given it a red hot go.

In a conversation with someone, at least, the kind of conversation that matters, it’s as much about what you don’t say as what you do. It’s the pauses between the words, the way he/she cocks their head at you, looks down at their feet, pulls slightly away or leans in. The air and the space and the nuances around the words are in some ways more important than the words themselves. I really think, too, that people who are intuitive about others, and who read people well, don’t necessarily listen harder – they just pay closer attention to the unsaid. The space.

If there was any song in the world to illustrate what I’m trying to get at here, Reservations by Wilco would be it.

Songs, in this way I think, can be like conversation. So many musicians feel like they have to fill the space – intro melody here, cow bell there, guitar solo here – layer upon layer of sound until all the breathing space is gone. And don’t get me wrong – this can work. I’m all for the massive wall of noise thing. Pause, though, can be just as effective as the noise.

The sound of the song is so desolate. The piano, almost processional at times, along with the haunting metallic sound that weaves its way in and out of the whole song, brings to mind that quiet and lonely place where you’re all by yourself and there is that deep, dark sadness that you just can’t shake. I also love the lull in the middle, where you almost hear the song taper off, and then it gently moves into this delicately sad and beautiful landscape of sounds. One of my favourite things is to lay in the dark with this song in my ears and just empty my brain. It’s one of the few songs that helps me to do that – my brain is at times alarmingly full.

Jeff Tweedy is without a doubt one of my favourite song writers. His lyrics are simple, but the themes in his songs are deceptively complicated. The punchline of this song is a good example of this –

I’ve got reservations about so many things… but not about you.

Simple, right? Simply beautiful. But in the context of the song as a whole it turns into something else. The narrator has a lot of angst. He’s at a place where he’s in this relationship and he has, or is about to, fuck things up royally. He’s trying to find a way to communicate to this person that regardless of what he feels about them or their relationship, his own experience shows this will only end badly. He knows he’s going to hurt her – either now, by ending things, or eventually, by being an asshole. And he knows it’s not about her and he’s trying to TELL her it’s not about her and he feels helpless to stop it.

Actually, helpless is a lot of what I feel about the song. A beautiful helplessness, if that makes any sense at all.

And at the end the song just falls away. The sound of it, and the architecture of it, is just achingly beautiful. It finishes how it starts – quietly, a little resigned, and full of melancholy. It’s the perfect end to this particular album really.

It’s hard to work yourself out of patterns you’ve spent so many years steadfastly and stubbornly developing. Once you become talented at self-sabotage it’s very difficult to deny that little masochist inside of you that will capitalise on any given opportunity. I recently managed to pretty effectively convince myself I’d worked through most every battle scar and unhealthy behavior there was. I had it all sewn up. That is, of course, until there was a tiny little bit of unraveling (completely fabricated in my own head), and do you think I could stop pulling at that thread? Within a week I’d fallen right back into everything I’d convinced myself I’d left behind. I guess the thing is to at least recognise it, when you’re doing it, more quickly each time. And then slap yourself silly, or have a good friend slap you silly, until you stop. I’m getting better at that.

Anyway, I am a crazyfangirl for beautifully acoustic Sunken Treasure Wilco, pop I’m the Man Who Loves You Wilco, alt-country Black Eye Wilco and rocking guitar gods Spiders (Kidsmoke) Wilco. I honestly think, though, that this song is like the culmination of Wilco and Jeff Tweedy at their musical genius best – savouring the sound and reveling in the space.


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