I’ve been on a Wilco kick for the last little while.
It started with a spring blizzard in late March that closed highways and made me question my sanity for living in Saskatchewan (it’s been winter here for six months). Cabin fever soon set in. Corey, my husband, talked me into watching a doc about the making of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, one of Wilco’s albums.
I don’t know if you go through this, but sometimes when I get into a band/musician, writer, whatever, I get slightly obsessive. The kind of obsessive where you read every book/story you can get your hands on, or listen to every album over and over. Neko Case has inspired this type of madness in the past, as has Sherman Alexie.
It gets to be a little much. But Corey almost encourages it, at least when he happens to like the same music.
Corey also triggered a major writing spree. The night we were watching this documentary, he mentioned that he thinks a musician’s personality really shows up in the way they play their instrument (he was talking guitar specifically). For example, some people play it safe, while others sound like they’re surfing, and are on the edge of a wipeout. He prefers listening to the people in danger of wiping out because they’re more unpredictable and interesting.
He probably regrets that offhand remark because I flooded him with questions for days after. But the central question I had is whether a musician’s personality, combined with technique and playing style, is the equivalent of an author’s voice (which is hard to define succinctly, but it’s that element in their writing that is uniquely them, and that readers can recognize from piece to piece). When people comment that a band’s new album is different, but still sounds like them, is this what they’re talking about?
(I recently had a similar conversation about authorial voice with my editor/mentor as well, so this seemed like synchronicity).
Ultimately all this stuff drove me to start revising my novel again, which was lovely because I’ve been putting it off for too long. I wrote and revised my ass off evenings and over the weekend while rocking out to Wilco. And though it’s hard work, it was been fairly satisfying. Often revising feels like swimming upriver, but this time it was less onerous, and I actually handed in the revised manuscript to my editor last week.
Sometimes these working sessions get away on me. One Monday evening I settled into my office intending to work on my novel for an hour or so. But it was going really well, so I decided to keep working until 11 or 12, at the latest. Then I glanced at my computer clock and realized it was about 1:30 am.
But awesome. Mostly awesome.
I was tired, but feeling pretty content and kind of grateful for the inspiration and ability to focus. So I did the only logical thing. I wrote a fan letter to Wilco.
I haven’t read it since, but from what I remember it basically boiled down to three things:
- Your music is awesome.
- I am not a weirdo (because I’m sure they have those fans, right? But I didn’t want to be lumped into that group).
- I hope you can read my handwriting.
I haven’t actually written a letter to anyone in ages. And the only person remotely celebrity-like I’ve written to is Sarah Slean. I was a teenager in Middle-Of-Nowhere, Sask, at that time, and I think Sarah Slean had released her first or second album. Somehow I heard about it, so I mailed her a cheque and a short letter. And she sent me a CD with a sticky note that said “Thanks!” (or something), that she’d really wrote! And I stuck that sticky note to my bedroom mirror, and it stayed there for years, until my parents moved houses and we took down the mirror and lost the note.
That was a long time ago. I wondered if bands even got snail mail anymore, with the Interweb and all.
And then it occurred to me that the only people who go to the trouble of writing a real fan letter and digging up an address are probably the creepy fans. You know, the ones that sprinkle their toenail clippings in the envelope. They probably add a lock of their hair for good measure, in the hope that Tweedy will wear it around his neck or something.
Ingredients for the perfect fan letter.
Was I one of those fans? I mean, my hair brush needed to be cleaned anyways, and it seemed like a waste to just chuck that in the garbage.
I decided to sleep on it. And so a little after 2 am, I rolled into bed and tried to stop Corey’s snores (and succeeded in waking him up and ruining his sleep, too). It took me another hour or so to actually fall asleep because I had pieces of “Via Chicago” stuck in my head, and it’s not the best song to think about while you’re trying to drift off becaue it seems to be about murder.
However, I might play it for my neighbour next time we sit around his kitchen table discussing how to get away with the perfect crime (that’s the way we roll up here in northern Sask. Not much else to do in the winter).
Later I threw the letter in the recycling bin.
This is really a long-winded way of saying that although we should write whatever moves us in the moment, we shouldn’t always put it out there. A brief look in the “Drafts” folder of my computer would further convince you.
And in case you’re wondering, it’s still winter here.