At the end of 2002, Wilco’s “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” pulled in a lion’s share of the notable album of the year stampings from press outlets, ranging the spectrum from independent-minded Webzines to, well, “Entertainment Weekly.” Much of the love for the album came from its timing, specifically its online release only seven days after the Sept. 11 attacks.
While “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” seemed predominantly concerned with the difficulties of a seemingly doomed relationship, its message of hope and earnestness in the wake of almost ensured eventual destruction rung true for the first year of the newly-dubbed “post-9/11 era.”
In the following years, its importance dimmed in the wake of political outspokenness and indie-ironic sensibility that would come to define most of the media-oriented portion of the 2000s. Earnestness and love took a backseat to detachment from feeling through irony (which was largely through thrift store finds and eventually largely through pseudo-thrift store finds that would point out indie sub-culture was really just a rebranding of the jocks you knew in high school) and political lines in the sand.
To be honest, the media image of the 2000s was very different from our emotional experience of it. In the wake of disaster (9/11, Hurricane Katrina, nuclear proliferation, global warming, worldwide depression, etc.), many of us did not give in to the inanity and eventual destruction that filled the 2000s. We didn’t give up on human beings even when it was impossible to avoid the fact that we might as well.
D.H. Lawrence described our generation and his well by saying: “Ours is a tragic age, so we refuse to take it tragically.”
I say this because you’re still here. The earth’s atmosphere was actively being destroyed, yet you still managed to find time to have a doomed sexual relationship with that selfish boy or girl from your work, the third floor of your dormitory or your Bible study group.
And because you did, “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” was the beating heart of our millennial existence.
“Jesus, Etc.” carried the soul of the album with Tweedy comforting a lover by saying, “You were right about the stars/Each one is a setting sun,” as if he was still trying to believe it. It was a song about destruction and uncertainty that revealed that, for better or worse, “our love is all we have.”
These songs lived the moment between detachment and earnestness that we, as a generation, still tread. “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart” came filled with self-doubt, hidden feelings and sudden earnest, drunken displays of emotion. “Ashes of American Flags” asked “speaking of tomorrow/how will it ever come?” while still saluting the ashes of what was left.
Throughout the 2000s, we saw so many things that told us there might not be another full decade and there might not be a real honest mate out there for us to couple with. We might be too dead and self-conscious to fully love another human being, especially sexually.
But we did, and many times without hesitancy. True to form, that’s the feeling Tweedy encompasses at the end of the album as he says: “I’ve got reservations /About so many things / But not about you.” He means it just like you did before you got your heart broken and then the year after when you dove back in.