Song of the Day #1,008: ‘The Lonley 1’ – Wilco

Music about music is pretty hit or miss. While many artists have had success writing about their experiences as professional musicians, just as many have come across as whiny and annoying.

Wilco made the bold move of writing an entire album — a double album, no less — about music with 1996’s Being There.

Frontman Jeff Tweedy wanted to write songs about his experiences both playing and listening to music and, despite the obvious dangers inherent in taking such a path, wound up crafting a superior album.

Being There features songs about being lonely on the road, songs about the songwriting process, songs about being saved by rock-and-roll, both as an artist and a fan.

One of the most poignant tracks is ‘The Lonely 1,’ in which a fan escapes his own loneliness by feeling a connection to the lead singer of his favorite band. The song makes me think of Elliott Smith, a man who suffered plenty but whose music alleviated the suffering of countless others.

I don’t know whether the singer in this song really is “the lonely one” that the fan imagines him to be, or if that’s just a projection. But the point is that it really doesn’t matter. He is what this fan needs him to be at that moment.

After the show you walked right past
Arms reached out for your autograph
And as you flashed your backstage pass
I caught your eye with a camera’s flash

When the band came out they stood behind you
Cymbals crashed, the lights went blue
You stood alone in the halo’s haze
Shiny guitar hung on gold lamé

And you, you were the lonely one
You were the lonely one

When you perform it’s so intense
When the critics pan I write in your defense
I understand I’m just a fan, I’m just a fan

When I get home I turn off the alarm
I’ve checked the phone, no messages on
I play the ones from yesterday
I play your song just to hear you say that….

You, you’re the lonely one
You are the lonely one

4 thoughts on “Song of the Day #1,008: ‘The Lonley 1’ – Wilco

  1. Dana says:

    Very nice song. I tend to gravitate toward music about music. Maybe it’s some identification with the songwriter within me? Or maybe when you are a fan of an artist, you just enjoy getting that glimpse into his world or her process of creation?

    I think you are right that this song, from a fan’s perspective, is projecting a loneliness onto the artist that may or may not really be there, but which the fan emotionally wishes to share with the artist as it comforts him to do so. It’s also an interesting play on the concept of being lonely vs. being alone, since the singer on the stage is clearly the latter, but the fan also conflates being alone with loneliness.

  2. Amy says:

    Couldn’t help it, but this Chalie McDonnell song is all I could think about while reading your entry on today’s SOTD. One of the more clever examples of its genre, I’d say. “My self-referential humor makes up most of what I do.” Come on. The kid is great! 🙂

  3. Amy says:

    Okay, now that I’ve read the lyrics and listened to the song (rather than just focusing on the first half of what you wrote), I am thinking of two more songs:
    “Faithfully” by Journey and “Stan” by Eminem. Dana just mentioned Jackson Browne’s “The Load Out/Stay” as being yet another example. I’m thinking there needs to be a theme week devoted to these songs…

    Today’s is a great one. I like his voice a lot; I’m going to have to listen to some more of their music. I find the music to be particularly effective in today’s song.

  4. Clay says:

    All good examples, and yes, a theme week does seem appropriate. ‘The Load Out’ is one that leaped to mind for me of an example of a truly great song about the music business.

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