NPR logo Old Flames: Wilco

Old Flames: Wilco

If the law of diminishing returns applies to music, then the more you listen to a band or an album, the less you get out of it. This happens to me all the time. I'll fall in love with an artist or group, like Bon Iver or Death Cab for Cutie, then totally overdose on its music. When I decide it's time we start seeing other people and break it off, months or even years can go by without my hearing another note.

Over time, something inevitably happens: Maybe I hear one of their songs played overhead at a coffee shop or in a movie, and I suddenly find myself falling in love all over again. It's like running into an ex on the street and finding out there's still a spark between you.

Wilco and I have been seeing each other almost exclusively for the past few weeks now, following a lengthy break from one another. I first fell in love with the band when Yankee Hotel Foxtrot came out in 2002. Things got even steamier when A Ghost Is Born was released two years later. But, as expected, things started to cool off. By the time Sky Blue Sky came out in 2007, I knew it was over.

I started thinking a lot about Wilco again not long after Jay Bennett died. It was a tragic loss, of course, and it made me reflect on what he'd contributed to Wilco's sound, and speculate about all the new music we'd never get to hear from him.

Feeling the need to reconnect with the band, I recently re-watched the 2003 documentary about Wilco — and the making of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot — called I Am Trying to Break Your Heart.

Before the opening credits ended, accompanied by Jeff Tweedy's solo acoustic version of the title song, I was swooning.

I pulled out my favorite Wilco albums and started listening to them again. Enough time had passed that it all sounded new and fresh. I was, once again, starry-eyed over Tweedy's inspired poetry, the brilliantly controlled chaos in the production, and the beautiful melodies. I've been taking Wilco with me everywhere — running errands in the car, walking to work, going to the gym — and it feels like starting over. And, much like the narrator in "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart," I keep wondering, "What was I thinking when I let go of you?"

Who are your old flames?