A Brief Note on Wilco’s Bright Leaves

Wilco’s Ode to Joy, released in October, 2019, is absolutely a joy to listen to if you enjoy melancholy musings. And the first track, Bright Leaves, welcomes us into this album’s darkly ironic landscape of lyrical contradictions. The lyrics are:

I don’t like
The way you’re treating me
Warm winter rain
I found my keys
Under the snow
An empty page glowing
Alone for days
Behind a quiet door
Sitting in a drift
Us in a car
Arguing I’d forgive
But I always forget
Which side I’m on
I never change
You never change
It’s my fault
There’s no decision
Sometimes I’m just a hole
For you to get in
I never change
You never change
Somehow we’re bright leaves
You and I beneath the old snow
Being set free by the winter rain
And I know it’ll never change
You never change
You never change
You never change
You never change
You never change
You’re never gonna change
You’re never gonna change
You never change
You never change
You never change
You never change
You never change
You’re never gonna change
You’re never gonna change

The refrain, I never change/You never change is both an accusation and a self-indictment. And the ostensible meaning of the phrase is undermined by the central imagery of the song: the bright leaves (or keys, as it were) set free by warm winter rain. The bright leaves are dead (that is, unchanging) and they signify change itself, that of the seasons. And the warm winter rain signifies the impermanence of even the coldest of frozen states.

So, this song is our welcome mat into the rest of the album where change is hard and cold and impermanent:

And when you die, who’s to blame?
Did you think everything would be okay?

Fucking gorgeous. Thank you, Jeff Tweedy.

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