“Life Story (demo)” preview—the full song is below, under the paywall
Spencer here, son of Starship Captain Jeff, a mate or engineer officer or something like that. Since getting home from Wilco’s tour on Monday, my dad has been laser-focused on finishing his new book and an album. An album by a band that rhymes with Schmilco.1 (You know that already! This is not a scoop!)
So I’m here to share an unreleased, older solo song that came up in conversation this week.
My dad and I recorded this song (with Tom Schick engineering and Mark Greenberg assisting, as usj) in 2016, a few years after Sukierae came out. At the time, we had been playing with a batch of three or four songs that sounded bouncy, spare, and fuzz-guitar-driven, so I thought we were making a glammy record. It turned out we were making WARM. One song from that earlier batch, “C’mon America,” went on a Sub Pop single. This one went in the future Starship drawer.
While a song is on the front burner, with instrumental parts and lyrics being honed in on, Tom creates rough mixes at each step, like dailies in the film industry. For this song, rough mixes 1 through 3 have a “mumble track” vocal that sounds like it was going to set up an alternate Jeff life story that involved a diploma and some Cadillacs. But beginning with rough mix 4, a sci-fi story drops: Alpha Centauri, a sea of rubies, multiple moons, and blue trees. You hear rough mix 7 here.
The sci-fi aspect is playful but somehow the song retains, to me, 100% of its wistfulness and yearning quality. It’s not cheapened by the space talk. I think you can chalk that up to my dad’s vocal delivery and the chords he chose.
Ten thousand metagraphs
I’m gonna have to call you back
This last verse, where the singer steps out of a hibernating airlock into the great unknown of space or something, makes me scared-sad, the way you might feel for a character in a sci-fi film going where no help can reach them.
Your own results while listening may vary. It’s possible that I’m primed to give extra weight to a story fragment like that because my dad has been traveling, facing things I couldn’t see or control, since before I can remember. Touring is not like space exploration, and I ain’t calling touring musicians heroes. (And, thankfully, Wilco has always been home a lot, too, lest anyone get the wrong idea.) But I am saying: a lyric like that makes me think about that distance, that fear.
Wow. In just a couple hundred words, this guest post got more Freudian than any of us bargained for. This is what happens when you let the kids on the ship bridge, I guess.
Listen to “Life Story (demo)” behind the paywall below.
P.S. It’s fun that I get to introduce this song to you all because it’s a rare one where I also play a non-drum part: those little dissonant piano notes at the end of verses. I’m proud of them. My piano-playing is like my dad’s in that it’s inept and that it gives us possibly misplaced pride and joy. This is also the only song we’ve made yet with constant, swung sixteenth-note hand claps in it.
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