Thursday, September 14, 2006

True Confessions

Trip’s inclusion of Uncle Tupelo in his list reflects his pitch-perfect taste, and revives a mildly painful memory for me. Perhaps confessing it will help.

I attended the University of Missouri in Columbia from 1986 to 1993, a period that subsumed Uncle Tupelo’s existence as a band. And Columbia was the Tupe’s home away from home, as they frequently made the short jaunt from St. Louis to play the Blue Note, a hot spot for indie music. In one span of about three years, the band must have averaged one or two shows a month (at least) in CoMo, meaning that I probably had fifty chances to catch them live.

I saw them once.

I have many excuses for this (some of them pretty decent), but they all seem so stupid now. The seed of the movement was germinating within walking distance of my house, and I missed it. I could have been at ground zero of a scene, could have written a book, could have witnessed the development of one great band that would spawn two more. But I was at the library, or in bed, or drinking cheap beer in a bar where a soon-to-be legendary band very conspicuously was not playing.

By the time I saw Uncle Tupelo, they had two albums under their belt and were on the verge of releasing a third. They had begun to move away from their rollicking cowpunk roots, toward something more professional and sophisticated. When Jay Farrar sang the traditional “Moonshiner,” I was convinced I was in the presence of a major talent, and it was obvious that Jeff Tweedy was growing out of the junior partner role he had filled on No Depression and Still Feel Gone. Jay was all about Mississippi River mystique, but Jeff was beginning to trek down the Thames, his vaguely English melodic gifts starting to bubble to the surface. It was obvious that they were something special, and I’ll treasure having seen them once, even as I rue missing them all those other times.

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