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[whitespace] 'I Am Trying to Break Your Heart'
Taking A Heartbreak Break: Wilco's Jeff Tweedy stops for a rest during the filming of 'I Am Trying to Break Your Heart.'

Magical Misery Tour

'I Am Trying to Break Your Heart'--Wilco's woes

By Richard von Busack

THE NEW FILM I Am Trying to Break Your Heart is novice director Sam Jones' account of the way the band Wilco spent the year 2001. The first half shows the recording of the group's album Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, during which Wilco's lead singer/songwriter, Jeff Tweedy, gets into "a $150-an-hour argument" about the producing of a song. The quarrel is punctuated with a migrainous Tweedy barfing in the men's room, duly recorded by Jones. These scenes ought to scare the daylights out of any aspiring musician; they demonstrate the fury that builds up as inarticulate artists try to explain to a tired, exasperated engineer exactly what kind of sound they have buzzing between their ears.

Once the album is complete, the troubles begin in earnest, as Warner Bros./Reprise allows the band to quit because of the album's lack of a hit single. Wilco's manager, Tony Margherita, states more than once that this was the CD that was meant to take the band out of the alt-rock 4/4-time pack and bring it to a new level. Hence, the heavy amount of time and money spent to give Yankee Hotel Foxtrot a thick aural patina. The recording session also leads to disputes and the firing of Wilco's second guitarist/vocalist, Jay Bennett. Labelless, Wilco heads out on a minitour of the Great Lakes region. Tweedy also takes a break to play a solo acoustic show at San Francisco's Great American Music Hall.

Previously, all I'd known of Wilco was its work as Billy Bragg's backup band on Mermaid Avenue. This film didn't sell me on more, either from Tweedy's half-Dylan/half-Cobain solo performances or the home-movieish concert footage. I Am Trying to Break Your Heart may be mostly for Wilco's many passionate fans, although as an account of the group's tribulations, it does have some more general interest. The film supplies yet another indictment of the bottom-line fever that keeps the music industry loathed and loathsome. There is, however, a telling omission: the film doesn't mention that Tom Whalley, the new chairman/CEO of Warner Bros., tried to get Wilco back on Reprise; this oversight may be part of the way Jones sets up this story to emphasize a David and Goliath theme.

Tweedy is so shy that he almost fades off the screen--he looks like a depressed version of Dante in Clerks. Still, he has to be cannier than he seems, firing two members of his band during 2001 (only one bloodletting shown here). It's a little hard, however, to credit a musician of his experience with being so surprised. What? Our record label is interfering with us? I can't believe my ears! There's a faux naiveté in Tweedy's lyrics, as well as in the shots of the band, posed like coal miners against the black-and-white, frosty skyscape of Chicago. We see the city from a distance, and we see this band the same way. Despite the documentary's title, it's not exactly a heartbreaking tale.

I Am Trying to Break Your Heart (Unrated; 92 min.), a documentary about Wilco by Sam Jones, opens Friday at the Towne Theater in San Jose.

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From the September 12-18, 2002 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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