I Am Trying to Break Your Heart: A Glimpse of the Wilco Documentary
Part rock-n-roll Zapruder film, part David-and-Goliath, I Am Trying To Break Your Heart, the new documentary about Wilco, is like a three-act playbut one that no playwright could have envisioned.
Originally conceived as a movie about the making of an album, the film begins as such, in the studio with Wilco as they construct, teardown, and re-work material that would become Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. There is a real sense of purpose here, of a band concerned with progressing to another level musically. To create something beyond themselves, but that comes foremost from within.
But within every band there are egos, conflicts, and eventual power struggles. Though Jeff Tweedy and Jay Bennett have been the driving force behind the group, its always been clear that this is Tweedys show. Bennett ultimately becomes a tragic figure when he is banished for his overt ambition. Forced to begin again, one of the most moving moments in the film is his solo version of My Darlin (We were a family, my darlin) played over a group shot of a Bennett-less Wilco.
Once the album is completed and submitted to Wilcos label the unthinkable becomes reality: they are dropped, and the record is shelved after Tweedy refuses to alter the contents to produce a more commercial product. Product is the key word here, and its how record company executives regard even bold artistic works like Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. The bottom line always comes down to one factorwill it sell? Yes, it is an experimental album, but far from uncommercial, and still very much a pop record. Theres a profound sense of beauty and depth of sound in those encoded pits, an emotional labor that cant be immediately penetrated; especially by suits with dollar signs for eyes.
After a rash of negative publicity, the label allows the band to buy back the albumand at a fraction of its production costs. This turns into a once in a lifetime situation for Wilco, and they eventually sell the record to Nonesuch Records for three-times what they paid. The magnificent irony being that Time-Warner is the parent company to both Nonesuch and Reprise, the label that decided there was no financial gain in releasing Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. The great rock-n-roll swindle happens to the best of them.
Director Sam Jones is allowed free-reign within the Wilco circle, capturing the tension and communication breakdown within the group (Tweedy is even filmed while vomiting in a studio bathroom stall after a confusing argument with Bennett). Relief is provided via exhilarating concert footage, band follies, and knowledge that, in the end, the good guys win and Wilco triumphs. The film is a coup of sorts, preserving (in radiant black & white) what no filmmaker could have possible anticipated. Foreboding, metaphoric, and ironic, I Am Trying To Break Your Heart, like The Last Waltz and Let It Be, is a rare rock-n-roll document, and one that is not easily forgotten.
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