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We music critics are (hopefully) smart and clever and analytical; we specialize in breaking down the meaning and importance (or lack thereof) of an album or piece of music. What we don’t do very often is get to the core emotions of what makes certain music put a spell on us. That’s usually because we’re reviewing newly released music, so we haven’t had the time to let it ferment in our lives.

We music scribes here at the Planet have decided to open ourselves up a bit and discuss why a certain album we encountered at a certain time had a particularly profound impact on us. Our first installment comes courtesy of Sarasota staff writer (and former music critic) Mark Sanders, because it was his idea. As always, feel free to join in. You don’t have to write a tome — a couple paragraphs, even a couple of sentences, will suffice. Go ‘head, Mark, get us started …

—Eric Snider

Uncle Tupelo: Anodyne

Girlfriends have always played an integral role in my musical tastes. Before the inevitable breakups, they have always imparted to me some band or album that changes my whole outlook on music. More than one old girlfriend has made me wonder, long after the relationship has ended: Was that the most significant thing I’ve taken away from all this? After the ecstasy and hell, the bullshit and the meeting-the-parents and the out-of-town jaunts and the embarrassing Polaroids — is all that remains just some goddamn recording by some goddamn band that I might never have heard of otherwise?

Uncle Tupelo’s Anodyne is, for me, one such goddamn album. A girlfriend turned me onto it in the fall of ’96, when I was living in Huntsville, Ala., flunking my freshman year of college and playing in a hippie cover band called Freewillienelsonmandela.

I’m pretty sure I hated Uncle Tupelo at first. Their music was slow and twangy, and the lyrics didn’t make much sense. I remember liking co-frontman Jay Farrar’s voice, but Jeff Tweedy’s I just didn’t get. That guy sounded like an adolescent weasel, barely able to hit any notes, and less capable of sustaining them.

My girlfriend was hot, though, and, at 25, seven years my senior. Who was I to change out the CD in her car stereo? She listened to all kinds of bands that I hadn’t, and that I wouldn’t really care about until I was almost as old as she. Girlfriend had a Replacements poster on her bedroom wall, and she had Calexico and the Guess Who and Tortoise albums on vinyl. She smoked pot constantly, dressed like a boy, managed a burrito stand and held the attention of all the young punks who worked under her, not to mention the boss, a guy my dad’s age who pleaded with her to go out with him (and whom, if I’m not mistaken, also drove a sweet-ass old El Camino). She drove this shitty little Honda that smelled like beans and rice whenever we weren’t getting high in the front seat.

(OK, I know this whole story reeks of High Fidelity-type nostalgia.)

She was done with me halfway through my first semester. Dumped me unceremoniously before moving to Nashville, presumably to work some other low-wage job. I moved away of Huntsville soon afterwards, by which time I was listening to Anodyne almost every day. The twanginess I once reviled had grown on me, and I came to associate every sound on that album with my Alabama homeland (never mind that Uncle Tupelo hailed from the outskirts of St. Louis, hundreds of miles away).

I eventually grew to love Tweedy’s voice, too. I bought every Uncle Tupelo album, then every Son Volt and Wilco album (Farrar and Tweedy, respectively, went on to form the latter two bands). I went to Son Volt shows and Wilco shows and scanned old issues of No Depression, searching for references to the band. Years later, when I became a music critic, I jumped at the opportunities to interview Son Volt frontman Farrar and Wilco bassist (and Anodyne contributor) John Stirratt.

On the surface, I wanted to interview those men because of their post-Uncle Tupelo bands, both of which I respect enormously. But subconsciously, I was probably wishing they’d say something to demystify that album, and by association that whole relationship with my muse, the burrito stand woman.

About The Author

Eric Snider

Eric Snider is the dean of Bay area music critics. He started in the early 1980s as one of the founding members of Music magazine, a free bi-monthly. He was the pop music critic for the then-St. Petersburg Times from ‘87-’93. Snider was the music critic, arts editor and senior editor of Weekly Planet/Creative...
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