The mythology around Wilco’s fourth studio album Yankee Hotel Foxtrot – a canny classic of early-noughties country-tinged alternative rock – remains today well known and well worn. And if you are well known and well worn better to be well loved, and today it remains that people are fond of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot at least pretty much.
After frontman Jeff Tweedy befriended Jim O’Rourke, and replaced drummer Ken Coomer with the abler Glenn Kotche, despite internal squabbling over production responsibilities, by the autumn of 2001 Yankee Hotel Foxtrot was done. It was in the can, to use a euphemism, and ready to be released. And when was the record to be released, you might now wonder? Only 11 September, when the world watched in horror as the twin towers came down.
11 September was meant to be Wilco’s moment, but as it turned out they would have to wait. The merger of AOL and Time Warner impacted Reprise Records, Wilco’s label, and in the shakeup which ensued Yankee Hotel Foxtrot lost its slot. In the end they streamed the record on their website to forestall the nascent digital bootleggers and released the album instead more than a few months later in the spring of 2002 on Nonesuch.
But if the album was written and recorded and produced before 11 September, what were those strange echoes contained therein? And not only therein for the resemblances started with the cover, showing Marina City in Chicago, but twin towers all the same. Then there were the lyrics, which evoked the ‘Ashes of American Flags’, and on the song ‘Jesus, Etc.’ seemed to prophetically envision:
‘Tall buildings shake
Voices escape singing sad sad songs’
Skyscrapers are scraping together
Your voice is smoking’
slightly morose but more pressingly harrowing stuff.
Now one itinerant travelling musician, steeped in damp clothes and alcohol as much as Wilco lore, is taking Yankee Hotel Foxtrot global, or at least to parts of Europe, Canada, and the Contiguous United States. Going by the name Jake Breezenhoffer, or Jake Breezy for short, the young man’s plan is to scour for fledgeling building disasters, which will provide stunning real-time backdrops as he begins to perform.
Queasily relevant if inopportune, Breezy hopes that listeners will nevertheless find poignancy in his renditions of Wilco’s eerie and lovelorn lyrics, even as they flee from falling debris or wail at the thought of their own newly lost loves. Unfortunately most of the towers that tumble are radio masts and transmitters, and try as he might the workaday hero’s voice simply cannot project.
The recent tragedy at Grenfell Tower provided a perfect opportunity for the execution of the singer’s cunning artistic plan, but he was stuck instead somewhere off the coast of Sweden, as harsh winds threatened a two-storey barn. Breezy needs liquidity, to be able to travel swiftly and at whim, and it is here where contemporary crowdfunding technology – in a word, Kickstarter – comes in.
Creating out of the impending void, engaging Yankee Hotel Foxtrot in an act of constant renewal, all the while singing heartfelt covers with a folksy bluesy twang, pledge your support for the itinerant disaster musician, even if you don’t want him rocking up outside of your own front door.