Walking and Talking: Wilco’s One Sunday Morning

Yesterday, Wednesday morning, I walked the dogs, as usual, uphill on 1st street (east) around 8 a.m.  It seemed a perfect morning.  A chill air balanced by a warming sun; a blue sky with long intermittent clouds; no traffic (spring break in a college town).  I thought,

Here is a possible eternity.
Here is a moment for which to cry out against dying.
Here is why dying is hateful

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Here is why heaven claims so many minds.

As I reached Jordan and turned to walk down the hill, west, Wilco’s “One Sunday Morning” began resounding.

“One Sunday Morning (Song For Jane Smiley’s Boyfriend)” (audio at YouTube)

This is how I tell it
Oh, but it’s long
One Sunday morning
Oh, one son is gone

I can see where they’re dawning
Over the sea
My father said what I had become
No-one should be

Outside I look lived in
Like the bones in a shrine
How am I forgiven?
Oh, I’ll give it time

This, I learned without warning
Holding my brow
In time he thought I would kill him
Oh, but I didn’t know how

I said it’s your god I don’t believe in
No, your Bible can’t be true
Knocked down by the long life
He cried, ‘I fear what waits for you’

I can hear those bells
Spoken and gone
I feel relief, I feel well
Now he knows he was wrong

I am cold for my father
Frozen underground
Jesus, I wouldn’t bother
He belongs to me now

Something sad keeps moving
So I wandered around
I fell in love with the burden
Holding me down

Bless my mind, I miss
Being told how to live
What I learned without knowing
How much more that I owe that I can give

This is how I tell it
Oh, but it’s long
One Sunday morning
One son is gone


I don’t know how a song could be better.  I don’t know how to speak of the brilliant interplay between piano and guitar as they “walk and talk” between the lyric stanzas.

Tweedy speaks.  Commits to an idea in that space or “room” of the stanza.  The piano counterpoints the lyrics.  Then the guitar takes its turn and walks the listener to the next thought.

The piano seems to be saying HERE, this is the truth, this moment of what is human between us–THIS, not the contention between two perspectives on a future moment that cannot be shared, not the self pushing its ideas into the space of love and relation.  The guitar, still moving us along like the life that continues, is joined by a surprisingly full musical accompaniment that has built underneath it so subtly that only belatedly does it insist you notice.  This is the fullness of what goes on in between the rather weak “mind” that makes life contentious through our narrow thinking.

To be sure I do not want to deny the beauty and skill in Tweedy’s poetry.  It’s hard to find your way out of a line like “I am cold for my father/Frozen underground.”  Here too the lyrics move and build to the realization of the triviality of divisive beliefs coming between us and standing in for us as important “meanings” while the truth found only upon reflection teaches us lessons we needed but could only come to by experience.  We are often blind and deaf to this instruction.

This song offers us a chance to live in that emotion and learn those lessons before we make those thoughtless errors that end up haunting us.

It is almost unbearably beautiful.  It is unbearably sad that we treat an often very narrow conformity of customary mind as “life” while what is real living walks, dances, and plays all around us.


Jeff Tweedy is best in response or in conversation with something other than himself.  But I find that to be true of human thinking and art and living in general and clearly of my own thinking.

I like Tweedy when he works to speak as himself within other selves.  The work the group did with Woody Guthrie lyrics (at the invitation of Billy Bragg) recorded on two albums, Mermaid Avenue I & II is a good example.

This song was apparently born out of a conversation Tweedy had with Jane Smiley’s partner (boyfriend in title) about a clash of metaphysical beliefs between himself and his father.  The conversation was emotional and offered reflection on that clash after the father had died.

The background is somewhat irrelevant (though useful perhaps) because the song exists without it as “fact” but rather as catalyst to the art.

You don’t need the detail of the conversation to know the song is about loss and memory and how it lives in us and creates us out of it.

This moment of creation, of human voice, of human mind, of human art, this alone is a testament to what is best in us.


photo credit: liquene’s photostream

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  1. Eric M. Sargent March 15, 2012 at 11:51 am

    Since when does Tweedy hang out with Smiley and co.? Smil-co?

  2. SS March 16, 2012 at 12:22 pm

    This post makes me actually want to dedicate some time to Wilco!


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