By Chris Moore:
Well, there’s a first time for everything. And I feel pretty confident as I write this that I am, indeed, the first of the Laptop Sessioneers to record a song from the alternative country genre. This is “Screen Door,” a song from band Uncle Tupelo, which is credited with being one of the pioneers of the alt-country genre.
Even as I write this, I have to chuckle a bit. I mean, truly, how many different genres can the music industry possibly conceive? How many categories do we really need? It’s not quite alternative. It’s not quite country. Let’s call it “Alternative Country”!
What’s next, Alternative Pop?
But, seriously, I find this all very interesting. I first heard Uncle Tupelo a couple months ago when I bought their essential tracks compilation 89/93: An Anthology. How does one find oneself motivated to buy an alt country album? Well, you may be aware that I’ve recently discovered and really gotten into the band Wilco. And, if you know me, you know that I need to know the broad history and backstories of bands that I get into.
So, let’s step back for a moment. Uncle Tupelo was active between 1987 and 1994, originally comprised of lead songwriter and singer Jay Farrar, his brothers Wade and Dade, and Jeff Tweedy. Tweedy quickly progressed into a second songwriter and lead singer of the band. His influence was two-fold — he was responsible for booking a lot of early gigs and, through several name changes before arriving at this one and multiple band member additions and replacements, he advocated for the punk rock sound that he had been impressed with when he initially heard Farrar and his brothers play. Dade disagreed and left the band shortly after Tweedy’s arrival.
Eventually, as the tale goes, tensions developed between Farrar and Tweedy over which direction the music should go until, finally, Farrar announced that he would be leaving the band. They played their final gig in 1994, and Farrar went off to form a new band, Son Volt. Meanwhile, Tweedy and all the other members of Uncle Tupelo reformed under the name Wilco.
So, after a lengthy explanation, there you have it — my interest in Wilco’s roots found me in the checkout line at Borders New Britain, Uncle Tupelo CD in hand. Ironically, one of my favorite songs on the album is merely a demo — a rough, but fully arranged track titled “Outdone.” Another song that got my interest is the first track on the compilation. “No Depression,” also the title of their debut album, is a song written and originally performed by the Carter Family (then referred to as “No Depression in Heaven”). Now, in 1936, “the Depression” had an entirely different meaning than it did for Uncle Tupelo in 1990. I love how this song was able to survive and take on a new meaning.
I still haven’t taken the time to check out Son Volt, but I wouldn’t say that I’m a huge fan of Uncle Tupelo, really. I am rapidly becoming an avid Jeff Tweedy and Wilco fan. Even Wilco’s debut album (A.M. in 1995), which Tweedy himself referred to as their attempt to “tread some water with a perceived audience,” is head and shoulders above the Uncle Tupelo CD, in my humble opinion. I can’t believe I’ve only heard three of the six Wilco studio albums…
Lots more to look forward to!
Without further ado, I’ll let you get to the actual video. I chose “Screen Door” because it’s deceptively simple. It could be taken as a Southern anthem about people sitting on their front porches, singing songs, and dealing with the heat. However, the chorus adds an interesting angle — “We don’t care what happens outside the screen door,” Tweedy sings. It’s an interesting social statement that I think applies in all parts of the country. In New England, for instance, it may not be the screen door, but we certainly have developed a sense of apathy for those who pass by us, outside our circle of friends, family, and colleagues.
And now I’ll actually let the song speak for itself. Don’t forget to rush back tomorrow for another all-new session with Jeff…
See you next session!