Covid Music: What Light

What Light, Wilco

Writer: Jeff Tweedy
Recorded: Nov 2006-Jan 2007
Released: May 15, 2007
Album: Sky Bue Sky
Producer: Wilco
Additional Musicians: Jeff Tweedy – vocals, guitar, graphic design
Nels Cline – electric guitar, 12 string guitar, lap steel guitar
Mikael Jorgensen – piano, organs, Wurlitzer
Glenn Kotche – drums, percussion, glockenspiel
Pat Sansone – organs, guitar, Chamberlin, Mellotron, Wurlitzer, harpsichord, piano, backing vocals
John Stirratt – bass guitar, backing vocals


What This Song Means To Me:

What Light comes from one of the greatest albums to ever be released, Sky Blue Sky. I’ll give a little more background on the album below, but here’s what the song means to me.

From 2006 to about 2013, I worked as a consultant / contractor for a fitness company, providing Google AdWords support.  The success of the ongoing campaign was off the charts, yielding a typical montly rate of return of about 250%. That is, for every dollar they put into advertising, they generated about $2.50 in immediate revenue (not counting long-term subscriptions).

I had created a money-printing machine for them.

In actual fact, I worked as a sub-contractor to someone who was well connected with the organization. He and two others (including one guy who convinced me yield my business and contacts to him, calling me ‘his brother’ in the process) went on to form their own agency, leaving me in the dust. I was given a ‘take it or leave it’ contract rate and left it.

I was very bitter, seeing my work go down the tubes and not being invited to join in with the creation of a new ad agency. I no longer wanted to work in this industry, thinking it could be the only business where shitty people existed. I had that wrong. Shitty people are everywhere!

Anyways, the following summer was tough for me because I was burned out on London, Ontario and the people that I thought were friends shut me out. That was the year that I organized my ‘SHOME Swim’ where I swam the length of Okanagan Lake, about 120 kilometres, over a 12 day period.

Nothing clears the head like plowiing through near-freezing waters at the end of June.

And being around people that will throw themselves under the proverbial bus for you.

The experience was a little extreme, but a good lesson that good people are everywhere too.

It’s a touch on the hyperbolic side to suggest that a song might save your life, but this one comes pretty damn close.

I suppose the ‘sad’ part in all of this is that it took 44 years on this planet to figure out that what you do consistently has a lasting impact on others. Prior to that, I made a lot of bad ‘choices’ with how I projected myself and now I try a little harder to think about the impact of what I do, hoping it doesn’t hurt others.

Thank you, Jeff for singing your song.

(PS This was the first song that I played on guitar in front of other people at a camp fire in Port Franks. I tripped on the chrods a few times, but I still feel the rush of that moment like it was seconds ago.)

SHOME Swim Summary Video from Bill Wittur on Vimeo.

Covid Context:

Use this time to take care of yourself and your loved ones.

If you have some time and energy left over, create. Make something awesome.

The proverbial shit has never hit the fan on this planet in a greater way, what with economic collapse, social distancing and fear of our fellow humans.

Creating something – a journal, a picture, a song, something else – might be a great way to capture what this was all about.

Additional Context:

As I said above, Sky Blue Sky is one of the most complete, complex and best albums ever created. It easily sits on the shelf with so many other albums that you might think are the greatest ever.

Jeff Tweedy, in his autobiography Let’s Go (So We Can Get Back) quickly introduces and then walks away from discussion about Sky Blue Sky. It seemed to me like it was the first time Wilco was truly Wilco, with the roster of musicians, producers and other support that Jeff needed to get his ideas across.

In the book, Tweedy writes the following:

For most of Sky Blue Sky, I found myself actively avoiding my instinct to hide. In a lot of ways I can see it now as a fairly typical recovery-themed album. I think letting down my guard and getting things off my chest in a more humble and plainspoken manner helped me reset an idea of myself as a creative person. Leaving behind many of the myths surrounding suffering and art as I possibly could was the only path forward.

I first heard a few of the songs – Sky Blue Sky, You Are My Face at a friend’s funeral in Ottawa in 2007, seemingly just days after the release of this album. We had entered the final stages of our move to London, Ontario (we actually moved in 2006, but between renovations and endless trips back and forth to Toronto, I felt like I was in a bit of a whirlwind state). Marc’s  death seemed like the ultimate in separation between myself and the many friends that were in Ottawa who were much  closer to him, both physically and socially.

Even though I knew I was pulling away, the moment was a calm lucid few days in my life that will stick with me forever.

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