Uncle Tupelo–Gun


Uncle Tupelo: Gun

The other day, I started writing a rant about the terrible press coverage of the election, and about halfway through, I realized I was not only repeating myself, but I was saying things that better writers have said better, so I decided to leave it in the draft folder and not subject you to it.

But a blogger needs to blog, and I was searching for something to blog about if I wasn’t going to write about politics.  Then, one of my favorite bands, Wilco, put out a new album, the amusingly titled Schmilco, and I’ve listened to it a couple of times.  So far, I’m not in love.  I mean, it’s OK, and there are some memorable songs, but I suspect that it is being considered a “grower.”  Wilco posted an article on its Facebook page, by Steven Hyden from Uproxx, in which he attempts to answer the Passover-like question, “What makes Schmilco different from all the other Wilco records,” by looking at Schmilco in the context of Jeff Tweedy’s entire career. It’s a good article, and rather than try to distill it down to a pithy phrase, I suggest that you read it, if you care about the new Wilco album.

Hyden starts, appropriately, with Uncle Tupelo, Tweedy’s first real band.  He mentions “Gun,”  the first song from the band’s underrated second album, 1991’s Still Feel Gone, and all of a sudden, I remembered that this is at its core, a music blog.  So, I’m going to write about “Gun.”

And don’t expect me to turn this into an anti-gun rant, because I’ve already done that.  In any event, one of the things that makes “Gun” such a great song is precisely that it isn’t about a gun at all.  The key lyric in a song filled with great lyrics, the one that sticks in your brain, is:

Cause my heart it was a gun
But it’s unloaded now
So don’t bother

That image, of a heart as an unloaded gun, tells you everything about the song–it is about a love that has gone cold.  Or is it?  I actually see the song as being about someone who realizes that his lover has lost interest before he has, and it trying to put up a good front.  But the falsity of that front can be seen in both Tweedy’s anguished vocals and the lyrics, like the first verse:

Falling out the window
Tripping on a wrinkle in the rug
Falling out of love, dear
It hurt much worse when you gave up

And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention this heartbreaking stanza, showing the singer’s paired disappointment and disgust:

Crawling back to you now
I sold my guitar to the girl next door
She asked me if I knew how
I told her I don’t think so anymore

Initially, the power of “Gun” is amplified by the music.  At times pounding, at others gentle, with some unsettling syncopation and lurching stops and starts, it is more alt than country, with  strong Replacements and Dinosaur, Jr. influences (not to mention Rust Never Sleeps-era Neil Young).

But it turns out, the song works, even in a stripped down, acoustic guitar version, for example, in this 2008 solo performance by Jeff Tweedy.  And if you listen closely, I think you will hear a different Neil Young reference toward the end:

As you can tell, I really like this song.  My son learned to play it on his electric guitar, and there was a time when we would go down to the basement, and he would play, and I’d bash along on the drums.
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