Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Eighty-Five Bucks For Decent Music and a Stab in the Back


Jeff Tweedy used to be a lot more likable. On more than one level. Back during the Uncle Tupelo days, before Jay Farrar split off to form Son Volt, his songwriting had a real immediacy. It was an authenticity that told you everything you needed to know about Tweedy and Farrar's Belleville, Illinois hometown. Those songs were an honest and vulnerable struggle against invisibility when most American roots movement was being forced to turn its back.

The same thing can be made of Wilco. Yankee Hotel Foxtrot was pretty close to brilliance. When news came that the group would be collaborating with Billy Bragg on recording the songs of Woody Guthrie, few could deny that a better team deserved that honor. Even as Tweedy evolved drastically, that soul-bearing spirit didn't seem to bend. That was well before he announced he was stumping for Rahm Emanuel.

Tweedy's progressive pedigree didn't used to be in such question. He's been among the bevy of artists who have spoken against the invasion of Iraq, and stated publicly his support for universal health care. These types of stances made sense given the kinds of lyrics he's written during his long career, and nobody was surprised when he endorsed Obama's presidential campaign.

Pressure for progressives to fall in line has been great, but Rahm holds nothing positive in store for that base. If he becomes mayor of Chicago (actually, given the coronation-like character of Chicago politics, his win is more-or-less a fait accompli) then he will go on the exact same path that Daley has blazed before him. Privatization, union-busting, budget-slashing, hand-outs for the rich. The time Tweedy has spent urging more funding for public schools is undermined by Rahm's push toward charter takeovers.

Same with anything having to do with working people's standard of living. Here's a man who when crafting a bailout for the auto industry was recorded saying "fuck the UAW." When confronted with an understandably frustrated progressive base, he called anyone with the temerity to demand more from Obama "fucking retards" who needed to be tested for drugs.

There was a time when Tweedy might have been among those who mulled over daring to do just that. Not now. Now he's playing fundraising shows where tickets sell for 85 bucks a pop.

I've commented before on how the past couple years have put an immense pressure on erstwhile progressive artists to fall in behind the Obama agenda. Tweedy seems to have now fallen into that category. Not that future events might pull him back home; in fact, one really hopes for it. One also helps that his next album brings back the kind of hunger that's been sorely lacking on the past two.

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