How Wilco’s ‘Yankee Hotel Foxtrot’ Avoided an Accidental Connection With Tragedy

Seven months before Wilco released their cult-favorite fourth studio album ‘Yankee Hotel Foxtrot’ on April 23, 2002, the band narrowly avoided forever linking their record with one of the United States’ greatest tragedies.

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Indeed, all the interpersonal conflict and label tension Wilco experienced during the making of ‘Foxtrot’ turned out to be a blessing in disguise when they decided to push back their initial release date of September 11, 2001.

Wilco Made (And Delayed) ‘Yankee Hotel Foxtrot’ Before 9/11

Wilco began recording ‘Yankee Hotel Foxtrot,’ originally called ‘Here Comes Everybody,’ in late 2000. The band underwent multiple personnel changes during the recording process, including replacing drummer Ken Coomer with Glenn Kotche and producer/musician Jim O’Rourke replacing multi-instrumentalist Jay Bennett as the principal engineer. The writing and recording processes were rife with conflict, as documented in the film I Am Trying to Break Your Heart

The band’s label, Reprise Records, was also in a state of significant flux. When an AOL/Time Warner merger resulted in the termination of Reprise Records president and long-time Wilco fan Howie Klein, the fate of ‘Yankee Hotel Foxtrot’ was placed in the hands of head A&R rep David Kahne. Kahne felt that the album lacked a commercially viable single, even going so far as to say the record was so bad “it would kill Wilco’s career,” per the Chicago Tribune.

Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy, however, disagreed. “[Kahne] told us more things needed to be done for it to be finished,” Tweedy told the Tribune. “We said, ‘This is it. We’re done with this record, and we’re happy with it.’” Ultimately, Wilco and Warner/Reprise parted ways in August 2001, and the band decided to hold off on releasing the record. Then, the terrorist attacks of 9/11 occurred.

The Eerie Connection Between Wilco’s Album and 9/11

Considering the timeline of the album’s creation and initial release, there would have been no way that Wilco’s decision to postpone ‘Yankee Hotel Foxtrot’ had anything to do with the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. Still, that didn’t stop people from making connections between the at-times apolitical album and the historical tragedy that occurred on its intended release day.

Most notably, the album’s artwork seemed like an ominous prediction of the events to come in hindsight. The front of ‘Yankee Hotel Foxtrot’ features a skyward shot of two towers: the Marina City complex towers in the band’s native Chicago. The back artwork features a different upward shot of the Chicago skyline. Although the photos were simply of two different areas of the city, the absence of the cover’s twin towers seemed all the more eerie after 9/11.

Listeners took note of Tweedy’s political and social commentary, too. Tracks like “War on war” and “Ashes of American flags” became unfortunate coincidences following the terrorist attacks. The American tragedy made “Jesus, etc” lyrics like Tall buildings shake, voices escape singing sad, sad songs and Voices whine, skyscrapers are scraping together all the more uncanny.

But Tweedy’s no psychic—just a modern American. “I was trying to put it in perspective for myself,” Tweedy later told The New York Times. “How can there be all these good things that I love about America alongside all of these things that I’m ashamed of. And that was an internal question, too. I think I felt that way about myself.” In the end, ‘Yankee Hotel Foxtrot’ became one of Wilco’s most critically acclaimed records of their career, underscored by the dark underbelly of the tragic events that coincided with its introduction to the world.

Photo by Mike Lawrie/Getty Images

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