Yankee Hotel Hoopla

Wilco commits commercial suicide and succeeds as never before

Another move that paid off was the band's decision to release the CD over the Internet. Contrary to all the doom-and-gloom industry propaganda, Wilco's self-bootlegging strategy didn't hurt sales when the album was officially released last April -- in fact, it debuted at number thirteen on the Billboard charts, the band's highest position ever. In retrospect, streaming Yankee Hotel Foxtrot over the Web seems like a stroke of marketing genius; at the time, it was just something the band wanted to do for its fans. "I don't think it's a God-given right to get paid for your music," Tweedy says emphatically. "I'm happy that the younger generation of music buyers feels entitled to the music. They should, the way they've been treated. I think people want to be treated more like fans or patrons of the arts or whatever you want to call them rather than consumers.

"Probably the happiest I've ever been was when we were touring and the record was only available as a download," he continues. "People were really aware of our songs and knew the new music and were singing along to songs that they hadn't paid for. It created an environment where we could be very patient about signing a record deal, too. It was like we were the Grateful Dead or something. Whatever the Grateful Dead did musically is irrelevant to me, other than the fact that they probably had it more right than anybody in history about how to treat their fans."

Speaking of which, St. Louis fans are in luck: Until recently, Wilco's performances here were few and far between, but with three Pageant dates in a little over a year, the unofficial embargo seems to have been lifted. Tweedy, a Belleville, Illinois, native who now lives in Chicago, got his start in St. Louis, and even though he hasn't lived here for more than a decade, it's still, in a sense, his hometown. "I think it's always gonna feel a little weird to play St. Louis," he admits. "Any time you play a show that involves a lot of family coming, it can increase your anxiety, and then there's all the familiar faces that you haven't seen in a long time. It involves a certain amount of suspended disbelief, to get up there and sing to people, like you're worthy to do that. And then you see a bunch of people who saw you puke on the carpet and pass out at Cicero's -- it's just hard to deal with that kind of duality sometimes." He laughs softly, a little self-consciously.

Jeff Tweedy of Wilco
Jeff Tweedy of Wilco


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"But, yeah, it's definitely less weird as I get older," he continues. "I've got two kids. In general, on good days, I'm not nearly as uptight about anything as I used to be. I don't really look at any show as being something that's gonna make or break my ability to play music. A bad show's about the worst thing that could happen, and that's pretty fucking irrelevant to the quality of my life, you know?"

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