Posted: 09/28/2002


I am trying to break your heart


by Del Harvey

Also known as Wilco: The Movie, this turns out to be a fascinating dissection of the unpredictably tentative nature of the music business.

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Wilco, the band, successfully becomes Wilco: The Movie, without the usual fanfare or descent into commercialism typically associated with a music documentary. It is a sad commentary on the currently confused state of the music industry that Wilco is not more popular. This is just one of the realizations you come to when watching photographer Sam Jones’ documentary of the making of Wilco’s latest album, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.

Songwriter and singer Jeff Tweedy’s music is not only the heart and soul of the band, but also some of the most beautiful and pure music written over the past decade. Lyrics and compositions that are on par with the best of Lennon and McCartney’s or Holland-Dozier-Holland’s, and which are performed with more concern for the music itself than for attaining the success of other better selling, but not necessarily better, bands.

Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is an incredible recording—an interweaving of instruments, sounds, and live noise—all combined to create a vibrant, humming design which is nothing less than exceptional. The result is a collection of songs that stand alone quite well and remain both essence and essential to the whole album. The story of the album’s creation in the studio was the inspiration for the film. As it is in life, things happen, and the film documents not only the album’s creation, but the many surprises which follow.

Wilco’s members include Jeff Tweedy, songwriter, singer, guitarist, banjo, and harmonica. John Stirratt plays bass and sings backing vocals. Jay Bennett co-wrote some of the songs on Summerteeth and Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, and sang backing vocals and played guitar and keyboards. Leroy Bach plays piano, organ, keyboards, vibes, horns, and sings backing vocals. Glenn Kotche plays drums and sings backing vocals.

During the filming of I am trying to break your heart we are introduced to the band and the songs, getting a taste of the processes involved in creating and producing them in the studio. With the band’s steady, if not mercurial, growth in the market, the label decided to allow the band to produce themselves on this outing. History has shown the disastrous results of such freedoms. But Wilco is all about the music, and they proved this once again with Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. In spite of this, things happened, and a rift which had been developing in the band came to a head during the final mixing phase of production. The result was that longtime band member Jay Bennett was voted out. And it’s all on film to see.

But the album was to experience even more trouble in the months to come. This incredible and ironic journey has already been covered in every music magazine in the free world. But the band’s side of the story is captured by Jones in living black and white. The experience of anxiety and angst exists nowhere else as poignantly or personally as it does here.

I am trying to break your heart is a superb documentary, deserving of accolades and awards. Like Don’t Look Back and Hype! before, I am trying to break your heart depicts the full sensations and experiences of its subjects and the subculture through the individuals living in the moment of their creative existence.

I highly recommend this film to anyone who loves Wilco, music, or film.

Del Harvey is a writer and the founder of Film Monthly. He is also a devout Chicago Bears fan, loves Grant Park in any season, and recently taught screenwriting at Columbia College Chicago.

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