Am Trying to Break Your Heart
nothing like a happy accident. When first-time filmmaker
Sam Jones, who spends his days photographing the glitteratti
for glossy outlets like Vanity Fair, undertook to
make a documentary about the band Wilco, he knew he was
taking a gamble. As Jones explains it, he was looking to
“capture the creative process. I wanted to show what goes
into making an album.” Jones conciously took the chance
that Wilco, a critically acclaimed rock & roll band
with a small but loyal following, would create something
special. It was his great good fortune that the album, Yankee
Hotel Foxtrot, would be universally acclaimed as a classic
by critics, and also—after much corporate wrangling—would
become the biggest selling disc of Wilco’s career.
The complicated, dark road to that happy ending is what
gives I Am Trying to Break Your Heart its drama.
It also serves as a cautionary tale about the record business,
which, controlled by multinational corporations and overseen
by bean counters, is fast losing patience with acts that
don’t move a lot of product in a short period of time.
Two days before filming began, Wilco fired their drummer.
Jones’ cameras captured the relatively happy period of recording
that followed, though tensions grew between principle songwriter
Jeff Tweedy and multi-instumentalist Jay Bennett. Then,
after being left for months in blissful isolation by Reprise
records, Wilco were told by the label that the album wasn’t
acceptable. Word leaked to the press, and Wilco—one of the
most respected American bands—became a cause celebre for
journalists and fellow artists. If Wilco could be tossed
aside, who might be next?
Speaking by telephone from Los Angeles, Jones talks about
why he made the film. Though undoubtedly a big Wilco fan,
Jones “did not make it just for the fans,” he says. “I approached
it differently—I wanted something a little more timeless.”
Jones, working in the tradition of cinema verité, deliberately
kept the number of interviews to a minimum, preferring to
“capture the moment, and tell the story by being there as
This technique was a necessity in working with an enigmatic
character like Tweedy. When interviewed, Tweedy tends to
give elliptical answers to perfectly straight questions.
Much more revealing, however, is the way Jones presents
him—in his element. There’s a scene in which Tweedy nervously
meets fans after a show. They press him on his music; Tweedy,
squirming, endures this for a few minutes, mutters monosyballic
answers, and then splits. “That’s one of my favorite scenes
in the film,” Jones says proudly. “He’s that kind of guy—you
can tell a lot more from watching him than talking to him.”
It’s no surprise that with his background as a professional
photographer, Jones would be very careful in planning the
look of the film, which was shot in black-and-white. He
constantly asked himself, after filming a shot, “Did the
image look beautiful?” Referring to his choice of black-and-white,
he explains, “I wanted something that would seem a step
removed. Black-and-white film does that very well.” Jones
adds that he was as concerned with the sound of the film
as with the picture: “I wanted it to be sonically and visually
beautiful, to be experienced on the big screen.”
Am Trying to Break Your Heart opens tomorrow (Friday,
Aug. 23) at the Spectrum 7 Theatres (290 Delaware Ave.,
Albany). Call 449-8995 for information, or visit www.spectrum7.com.
McWilson, Amy Allison, Mike Thomas
a time when it was damn tough to be alternative in Seattle—it’s
the city that made alternative mainstream, after all—Christy
McWilson (pictured) bucked the tide. Just when grunge was
all the rage, she and her country-rock band the Picketts
steamed ahead with their heartfelt roots rock, country,
rockabilly and honky-tonk.
The Picketts lasted three albums and roughly 10 years, and
McWilson, coming to Valentine’s tonight (Thursday), became
much loved by the flannel city. In addition to Pickett duty,
McWilson provided backing vocals on a few Young Fresh Fellows
albums, as “Crispy” McWilson (and as Mrs. Fresh Fellow Scott
McCaughey). She forged out on her own once it seemed the
Picketts had slowed to a standstill, releasing The Lucky
One on Hightone Records in 2000.
Mac daddy Blaster Dave Alvin decided to produce McWilson’s
debut, which was made up of mostly original songs, and featured
the likes of Alvin, Peter Buck, Mike Mills and Syd Straw.
Alvin once again took the production chair for McWilson’s
second solo effort, Bed of Roses, released this past
March. Many of the musicians that appeared on her first
album are present in her second, with hubby McCaughey making
an appearance, and when McWilson toured behind Bed of
Roses in late March, Alvin, McCaughey, Joe Terry and
Bobby Lloyd Hicks (of the Skeletons and Dave Alvin’s Guilty
Men) were her backup band.
McWilson, who has been likened to Patsy Cline and Chrissie
Hynde (and Alvin has called her “the roots-rock Sylvia Plath”),
is bringing a killer band with her, and, opening up for
her is Mose Allison’s daughter, New York City-based Amy
Allison. Christy McWilson and Amy Allison will be joined
by Mike Thomas at Valentine’s (12 New Scotland Ave., Albany),
tonight (Thursday, Aug. 22). The show starts at 8:30 PM;
tickets are $7. Call the club at 432-6572 for more information.
Mines’ Red Beads
theater group Mabou Mines joins forces with puppeteer Basil
Twist and composer Ushio Torikai to present Red Beads,
a quasi-opera incorporating dance, music, text, and wind.
Wind? Yes, wind: It is the essential force in bringing Twist’s
15-foot-tall silk puppets to life. Twist is internationally
renowned, the only American to ever be accepted in the
French school for puppeteers, L’ecole Superieure Nationale
des Arts de la Marionette.
Written and directed by Mabou Mines cofounder Lee Breuer,
Red Beads, opening tomorrow at MASS MoCA, is the
story of the spiritual-mystical connection between a mother
and daughter. Adapted from traditional Siberian mythology,
it is intended, according to Breuer, as something of a scary
ghost story. (So, even though the show features puppets,
don’t bring the kids.) Red Beads has an impeccable
pedigree; nearly everyone involved in the production—Twist,
Breuer, Torikai—is a multiple award-winner for past work.
MASS MoCA regulars will recall that an early work-in-progress
version of the show was presented in February 2001.
Beads will be performed tomorrow (Friday, Aug. 23) and
Saturday (Aug. 24) at 8 PM at MASS MoCA (1040 MASS MoCA
Way, North Adams, Mass.). Call (413) 662-2111 for tickets
and information, or visit www.massmoca.org.