I wish I could say that I knew about Uncle Tupelo much earlier in their existence, but I cannot. I had heard the name mentioned from my friend, and fellow contributor here, Jeff many times before, but just had not reached the portion of my musical “journey” where Uncle Tupelo would eventually break through. I can vaguely recall driving around Belleville one day and hearing “Gun” come over the airwaves – on the 105.7 The Point, no less – and thinking to myself, “Hey, that’s the band my friends have been talking about.” This was just before Anodyne was about to be released, and I can remember going out and buying No Depression, Still Feel Gone, and March at the same time on cassette. At the time I did not have a CD player yet, so cassettes were still where it was at for me.
At this point I should also state that at this time in my life I had completely abandoned any hope of liking country music. I absolutely hated it actually. I grew up in Greenville, IL, which could only be considered a “big” town due to the fact that it was surrounded only by farms and really, really small towns. Greenville is a cool little town and I still enjoy going back there from time to time, but it was always a place that never seemed to be completely open-minded and a bit limiting. I associated, maybe unfairly, country music with my charming little hometown.
So, when my family moved to Belleville, IL in the summer of 1986, I left the country music behind in Greenville, IL. For the record I should also state that my musical tastes at this time were primarily hard rock/metal and rap, so there is no way possible I could conceive of liking country music. By the time high school rolled around, the metal and pop-R&B I had been listening to gave way to the wave of alternative music that was being introduced to me by friends and the then new 105.7 The Point.
Fast forward a little bit and there I was opening the three new cassettes I had purchased by Uncle Tupelo. I decided to listen to them in chronological order. I listened to No Depression a few times through. I then did the same with Still Feel Gone. I can remember really enjoying the rockin’ stuff on both records. I can also remember liking the country/folky stuff on the records, but I think I still had a little bit of the anti-country defenses up and didn’t allow myself to admit that I loved it.
Then it was time to listen to March 16-20, 1992. Where the two previous Tupelo records had plenty of hard driving rock tracks to “allow” myself to listen to the country tracks that accompanied them, March had no fast paced rockers for me to fall back on. March was a steam locomotive of raw folk and country music barreling its way at me just daring me to jump off the tracks. I let that train completely run me over. I was wrapped up in the beauty of the simplicity of the music and overwhelmed by the lyrics. “Wipe The Clock,” still my favorite Jay Farrar song, was the knock out blow that made me realize I could admit to loving country music.
I think that the lyrics of Farrar and Jeff Tweedy reflected so much of where I lived also really helped a lot. The fact that these two guys were from the same town that I lived in and wrote songs about the people and places I was surrounded by, really drew me in to the music even more. Maybe I couldn’t directly connect with “Coalminers” as none of my relatives worked in a mine, but the theme of hard work made me think of my family members that were farmers and laborers. I started to realize that I knew a few people that the song “Black Eye” could be about. “Moonshiner” always makes me think about my grandpa and the blackberry wine that he used to make. I could always just envision him having a still out somewhere in one of his fields. Maybe everything in the songs was loose connections, but they were connections all the same and they somehow made this music seem so much bigger than maybe it was.
March 16-20, 1992 isn’t the reason I started to love country music, it was just that last big nudge I needed to push me off the high dive. Even though I came in late to the Uncle Tupelo party, I was fortunate to see them a couple of times live at the end. Those shows introduced me to the Bottle Rockets and Blue Mountain. I would also start listening to The Jayhawks, Waco Brothers, and the Old 97s. Next thing I knew, I was right in the heart of this newly coined alt-country scene. The music that I had turned my back on had now become one of the most significant parts of my life. Ain’t life funny?