Monday, April 16, 2007

Define Your Life in a Song

Yesterday, my wife asked me over coffee if I could choose one song to define my life, what would it be.

This just made me laugh, because at any given moment, I'm hearing music in my head. My niece once said, "You could say the word 'the' and Jesse would come out with some song that referred to it." So for me to sum it all up with one tune would be pretty unlikely.

Then, as I was checking my email, the daily digest of Drive-By Trucker messages was discussing the new Wilco album that is coming out. Some people said that they did not enjoy the latest Wilco studio release, "A Ghost Is Born." While I agree that there are some songs on there that are grating to me, there are some good ones as well. But my favorite, by far, is the 2nd tune on the disc, "Hell is Chrome."

"Hell is Chrome" is probably one of the greatest songs (not just Wilco songs) ever written. Those lyrics are pure poetry. And I usually don't like poetry as lyrics, but in this case, the meaning is perfect to me.

When the devil came
He was not red
He was chrome and he said
Come with me

The first time that song meant something to me, I had just done a job interview in central Illinois and was driving into a Wal Mart parking lot in Mt. Zion, which is a southwestern suburb of Decatur. At the time, I had been living in Arkansas, pretty much dreading the job and the community of Arkadelphia (known to some as Arka-do nothing). It was September 2004, so the weather was starting to get the chill in the air, but you could still make it without a jacket. I was reminded again of why I missed living in the midwest.

I have a better handle on that part of the country now (if you're going to live in Illinois, live closer to Chicago, or if you can help it, north of I-80) and wouldn't really recommend central Illinois to anyone. But after living in the south for 8 years, it was nice to actually feel the fall weather coming.

The air was crisp
Like sunny late winter days
A springtime yawning high in the haze
And I felt like I belonged
Come with me

When I got the job in Shelbyville, I didn't realize how fucked up that place was. I was really going to try to stay at that job for as long as I could. We lived in a small town in the south, and I figured living in a small town in the midwest would be just as good, especially since Mattoon was twice the size of Arkadelphia. But the stress of that job was just draining the life force out of me. Nothing like a call at 3:00 a.m. to let you know that someone went to the hospital. Up and at 'em. Gotta go write the investigation and then deal with the fallout.

Despite that fact, the guy who had the job before me was such a monster that after about 6 months, people felt like they could talk to me, and I felt like I was appreciated.

I was welcomed
With open arms
I received so much help in every way
I felt no fear
I felt no fear

After a year and almost 6 months, I found my current job which is a lot less stressful. It is challenging, but now that I've been here just over a year, I am getting more control over the day-to-day stuff and am making progress. The nice thing is that the song carried over with me. We go to Chicago, and every time I'm downtown among the towers of the city, I feel peaceful, and I'm in awe. The song is overwhelming in my head.

You must go
So I went
Where everything was clean
So precise and towering

I think the city of Chicago is the cleanest big city I've been in. The thing that I think makes me so loyal to it, however, is the fact that I'm from Iowa, the midwest, and it's a sense of pride, I guess. It's sort of cheesey, I know. But I've moved to a lot of different places in my life, and now that I'm back in the midwest, close to Chicago, but without having to deal with the day-to-day traffic, I'm really happy.

The final thing I like about the song is that it involves the devil, which is kind of cool in a Ronnie James Dio sorta way.

Apologies to Jeff Tweedy for restructuring the verse order to make it fit my blog.

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