I’ve always regretted not writing you a fan letter when I was a teenager, although when I look back at the things I actually did write at that age, it’s probably for the best. A few weeks ago, my hard drive crashed, and it took a week to repair. I don’t currently have a record player, so this meant that I had exactly three pieces of physical media I could actually listen to without a laptop – a cassette of Nirvana’s In Utero, and CD copies of The Spirit Room and Hotel Paper.
I’ve moved around a lot and subsequently moved my music collection to zip drives, but I’ve been carrying your CDs around with me for a decade, and I’m not really sure why. There was a year during my grumpy teen era when I listened to them almost exclusively, to the point where I think just seeing the covers and holding the discs in 2016 has an instant calming effect, like Xanax in a jewel case. I used to break my headphones on a monthly basis, and “Everywhere” was my test song – if it sounded good in the new pair, then I’d keep them.
I have occasionally gone on rants about how brilliant these records are, and that yes, the singles are great but it’s really about the deep cuts like “Drop in the Ocean” and “One of These Days” and b-sides like “Wanting Out.” At this point people usually nod politely and make a mental note to not get me started on this topic ever again, thus stopping me before I can discuss how record labels are Evil. But there you go.
I’ve always wanted to hang out with you, drink booze, and talk about label issues and the behind the scenes insanity of being a pop star. The Wreckers were a perfect antidote to the blandness of corporate country radio, and instead of seizing the moment they panicked and tried to water it down. I’m imagining a lot of men in suits using “Nashville” as a noun and a verb in the same sentence.
I loved the way you seemed to be fighting the machine – random little things come back to me on occasion, like how you mentioned that nobody should be shocked that you wrote your own material, because that’s what you’re supposed to do. It was inspiring. In 2003, I voted for you to win a People’s Choice Video Music Award despite being 21 years old and well out of MTV’s target demo. When you won, I turned into a teenager watching Krist Novoselic bonk himself on the head with his bass again, screaming “YES.”
While my laptop was being fixed last month, I dug out my old boombox and listened to your albums on a loop, mixed with the occasional Nirvana interlude (which made more sense then you’d think it would). They have held up, and the older, even grumpier version of me can probably appreciate them more. The lyrical references to photography, the French part of “‘Til I Get Over You.” The fact that the title track to “Hotel Paper” packs more of an emotional punch than anything The National have ever recorded.
So, thank you, Michelle. Thank you for being you, and for refusing to stop writing music despite what must be the most discouraging of record label situations. (If you ever wanted to put out a big box set of demos like Robert Pollard, I’d buy it.) Thank you for occasionally replying to my tweets, and for being a true rock star in a world of bland ones. And, of course, for sarcastically thanking God “because I’m sure he reads liner notes all the time.”
Bonjour et merci,