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THIS JUST IN: The Wilco Is Coming

July 21st at the Susquehanna Bank Center with the Avett Brothers and Dr. Dog, as part of the XPoNential Festival. MORE

so much depends
upon
a red wheel
barrow
glazed with rain
water
beside the white
chickens.

That was written by William Carlos Williams, an American poet. Best I can tell, he was talking about the significance of insignificance, that little things truly do mean a lot—like if you could surf the past in a time machine and you did something as small as, say, kicking a stone in the Stone Age, it could send a ripple through the entire fabric of history. Everything after could be slightly different. You might even erase yourself from existence.

I bring this up because this is a story about American poets, who will be referred to hereafter as the rock band Wilco. And this is a story filled with insignificance: business deals, personnel changes, communication breakdowns, creative dysfunction and small personal failures. Basically, a lot of red wheelbarrows in the rain that so much depends upon. Not the least of which is Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, which I’m pretty sure will be remembered one day as great American poetry in thought and word and sound and action. If 1999’s Summerteeth was Wilco’s Pet Sounds, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is its Smile—American beauty edged in transcendental weirdness and giddy invention. YHF is the smoking gun in the case for Wilco being the new Great American Band—a torch-passing tradition that stretches from prime R.E.M. to the Band to Bob Dylan, who got it from Woody Guthrie, who picked it up from Carl Sandburg, who had it passed to him by Walt Whitman.

The wonderment of this artistic triumph is made all the more remarkable by the fact it happened at a time when Wilco—perhaps the last group we’ll be able to refer to as “a great underground major-label rock band”—was completely reinventing itself in public. First, the drummer was asked to leave. Then, the band’s label asked the band to leave. Finally, the guitar player was asked to leave. How and why all these things happened depends on whom you ask. That’s the thing about these red wheelbarrows upon which so much depends. MORE

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