Last Friday I was invited to the Whitsell auditorium, over to the Portland Art Museum, to take in Wilco’s Ashes of American Flags flick. I felt like I should have heard of this band before. In fact, I wanted to hear of this band before, because I really dug their name, but no dice. So, after the show, after the post-movie gossip & grub, and after reviewing/experiencing a selection of Wilco songs to download, I decided to hit up some research on said band. Pretty immediately I was deflated by the reason I probably haven’t heard of Wilco (or chose to put a cap on any conversation regarding the band); they are from Chicago, Illinois.
Those who’re akin to moi, know I am not one of those Mid-Western enthusiasts who is convinced Chicago hung the Moon. Truffles be told, I’m really not big into Chicago and whenever someone starts a conversation about that city I almost subconsciously discontinue listening. I blame my aversion on having Chicagoland spooned down my throat for so many years. Practically everyone I knew wanted to move to Chicago, or shop there, or eat there, or listen to the Blues there, or drive there, or pay a toll there, or get stuck on the South Side there, or blah, blah, blahdity, blah. However, I keep giving the city chances because I do know a lot of swell people who live there and my Brother’s moving there, so it really can’t be all that bad…I think.
Anyway, that’s my beef with Chicago and here’s my vegetable; that city does produce some stellar musicians (or some stellar musicians produce themselves out of that city). Regardless, yes, I ended up digging Wilco and even scolding myself for being unfair to the Windy City. I’ll tell you why:
Listening to Wilco is like watching the sky in Montana. This band clasped onto a Modern Cowboy Classical Rock Alternative Processes Country Filter for the Northern Lights rhythm and seemed to design their own way of moseying. Certainly, I’ve heard bands with similar sounds, but yours truly ambled away from Ashes thinking, ‘Kings of Leon sounds like Wilco’ and not so much the other way around. Ashes of American Flags (and, yes, I WILL shout out to Chris Green & Brendan Canty for their deliciously smooth splice-y directing of this film) was beautifully wide-skied shot with band lyrics braided into peak-morning-travelling-by-bus-sun-rising shots. If you’ve ever driven through the entirety of Montana, starting in the am and winding down in the pm, you will observe that the major presence is this pitcher full of blue sky. And it’s a Country blue sky, which makes it pure, penetrating, hard, and humbling to realize how honoured you should be by Nature. Not that I’m sayin’ Wilco’s courting Mama Nature or anything, I’m just sayin’ if the Montana sky had a soundtrack, Wilco A.M. might be just that.
Ashes is really not so much one’s ‘typical band film’, which made me slightly questioning at first until I developed my own rationalization. ‘Typical band films’ tend to give the viewer a background on the musicians and dapple the screen with various songs sung by our heroes. Ashes of American Flags concentrates pretty soulfully on the musical development of Wilco by just letting them showcase themselves. Once I kinda figured this out, my delectation for this documentary was delightfully heightened.
Post flick chitty-chatting prodded out my film-analysis psyche (which is only a minor annoyance, I swear). This film is successful because it’s so true to the band’s methods of creation. In my opinion, Wilco sorta manufactured their own version of music, incorporating various classical styles, and then mixing all the play dough together to see what colour they could get. Over and over. In Ashes, the history/journey/late night snack-and-jam sessions are told via music rather than words. In actuality, it’s all pretty fitting as what better way to document your Art than through your Craft?
Of course there was some discussion on ‘older vs. newer’ recordings and I can honestly say never having heard either, I dig the older. I’m not going hang out on that side of music, though, as it’s really our one united language and everyone digs what they dig. I will say state that there is a definite maturing from album to album which affords something for almost everyone to enjoy. Visually, the Ashes film genuinely hustles and sweeps up viewers for the band’s maturation as well. It’s a great big musical sky story told in a pretty neat manner which made me want to research the worded history of the musicians. In my songbooks, anything that makes me put in extra effort is lyrically a good thing.
Kudos to Wilco for their genuine talent, composition, and compassion…right up there with contributing positively in my battle to appreciate Chicago.