If you are a fan of the former alt-country group now turned art-rock quartet Wilco, you may be surprised to learn that even with one album and two books already released this year, there is still more to know about the band. If you are not a fan, then do yourself a favor: Get the first album, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, and the most recent one, A Ghost Is Born, and mentally prepare yourself. Just do it, okay? Think about what singer Jeff Tweedy alludes to as "angst, regret and forgiveness" (he labeled his effects pedals accordingly), as they pertain to evolution and experimentation. Then take three months off and listen to Wilco relentlessly until you no longer want to kill yourself … and then buy The Wilco Book!
A sort of journalistic "almost-narrative" of whys and wherefores, it includes a few contributions from band favorites like Henry Miller, Fred Tomaselli, and Rick Moody. But most of the content comes from the band members themselves -- and the fine people at PictureBox - creating a collage of words and photos about the road and the studio and about what happens in both places. See, the thing about this book is that it doesn't include a lot of biographical information. Band members don't reminisce about the past or even talk much about the band itself. Instead, this musical slice of life paints a portrait of artists caught up in the excitement of experimentation and living in a time of great transition. Reading the book is like listening to Wilco: an experience that is moody and smart and a little ephemeral.
The accompanying CD is a collection of tunes from the A Ghost Is Born sessions. Some of these songs ("Diamond Claw" and a startlingly different version of "Hummingbird," for example) are so good, listeners will wonder why they were omitted from the first record No matter, we have them now.
The random and super-heady breakdowns of "process" are sometimes a little long, but the exhaustive dissection of an important group of artists in a period of drastic transition is a weighty and worthy subject. Read what Tweedy has to say about songwriting: "It's pretentious -- that's the word for it. But I don't know of anything that isn't based on pretense." So there. Elizabeth McMillan