The number of times my Mazda 323 (affectionately known as "Eggie", RIP) and I made the 300 mile trip between Chicago & St. Louis along highway 55 in the years 1997-2000 has to be in the hundreds. Or so it felt. We'd pretty much go on auto-pilot, left hand contained a large coffee and handled steering, right hand dealt with shifting and keeping the tunes going. Most often I drove only in the company of Jeff. Jeff Tweedy.
We'd been friends since before college, he then in Uncle Tupelo and me under-age drinking, playing volleyball and collecting a paycheck from Imo's pizza. Both being from the greater St. Louis area, he on Illinois side of the Mississippi, we had our Midwestern roots in common & shared some of the same hobbies like going out on the Landing & hitting up the gambling boats. By the time I was in college, he'd formed a new band, Wilco, but many of his lyrics' themes remained and certainly the ties to America's heart land. I took comfort in hearing those twangy but rocking beats and felt our friendship was solid. I wasn't wrong. As he and his band mates grew in popularity they moved to Chicago and identified with that being more of their hometown; this worked out perfectly for me as I also moved to the Windy City after college. We'd see each other from time to time, often at the Riviera and smaller venues in the Chicagoland area and around Southern Illinois. But once... once at the most amazing of shows ever, at the now defunct Lounge Ax on Lincoln, it was like being in the living room catching up with your friends and listening to some amazing music; I still have a cassette tape of the show recorded off a DAT tape. If only I had a sweet Walkman so I could actually listen to it.
Eventually I moved to NYC and we saw each other less but I kept up with his latest releases and caught a show whenever Wilco was in town. I can't help but feel like I grew up with Jeff and his various band mates and just as their music has evolved so have my expectations of the newest albums ...but man oh man, the older stuff can twist my heart up in an instant. To this day, listening to Summerteeth's Via Chicago transports me back to my days along highway 55 and so many of the other songs bring about a deep emotional response. And so I was beside myself, last week, when after selling out both shows in Central Park at Rumsey Playfield, they released additional tickets. Snagging up a couple quickly, J and I found ourselves in the middle of the park on a dark foggy night. The skies hinted at rain but it never came, instead the familiar lyrics of an old friend filled the wind and filled my heart with a little of what I'll always miss of the Midwest.
Go get yourself some of Illinois's best... The Whole Love is available in iTunes now!