Yankee Hotel Foxtrot at 20 (but it’s not REALLY about the album)

I drove home early Saturday morning after spending the evening accompanying my father-in-law at a hospital as he recovers from open heart surgery.

I drove home, thinking about my own father, and how the last time I left a hospital was the day he died, almost 11 weeks ago.

I drove home, playing Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, an album officially released 20 years ago today, and one whose words and music always find new ways to move me, even (and maybe especially) after all this time.


The start of “Poor Places” hit me like never before:

“It's my father's voice dreaming of
Sailors sailing off in the morning
For the air-conditioned rooms
At the top of the stairs
His jaw's been broken
His bandage is wrapped too tight
His fangs have been pulled
And I really want to see you tonight.”

I’ve recently dreamed of Dad, sitting at the kitchen table, wearing one of his yellow shirts, talking about things we never got to say.

I think about this album, which has helped heal friendships and brotherhoods (https://strother.wordpress.com/2013/01/15/dear-charlie-an-open-letter-to-my-friends-newborn-son/), and is still helping me find ways to process these feelings.

To people who don’t love — and I mean capital L-O-V-E — music, the idea of this art taking on such important roles might seem odd, but for those of you who get it, wow, do you get it. These songs, in every note, allow me to feel things I just can’t feel alone.

And it gives me the chance to think about the coming months, as our family of three grows by one more. When I hear those little heartbeats, I know everything is going to be OK, that I will be OK. When I see Harrison get excited when I walk in after being gone overnight staying in a hospital, I know in that moment, nothing else matters.

Wilco closes out the album with my personal favorite song of theirs, “Reservations.” It’s everything I feel right now:

“I'm bound by these choices so hard to make
I'm bound by the feeling so easy to fake
None of this is real enough to take me from you
Oh I've got reservations
About so many things
But not about you.”

Happy anniversary to this monumental album.


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