Wilco (The Gas Station)

Music Reviews Wilco
Wilco (The Gas Station)

Crude (snake) oil by the barrelful

If the mom-and-pop gas station is dead, Wilco is its funereal knell. The I-75 WilcoHess service plaza of Jackson, Ga. (renamed after the longtime rivals set aside their creative differences and formed a diesel-pumping supergroup), postures itself as an erudite foil to the glossy, prefab, overproduced fueling stations that dot the highways and byways of this nation. My recent stop at this Wilco station exposed the true nature of this façade. Wilco (The Gas Station) runson a series of clumsily executed pop-philosophy clichés that reflect the sensibilities of a once-great truck-stop empire in its twilight, struggling for relevance in a world it no longer understands.

Wilco’s approximations of Americana play on the homespun kitsch of a vintage Esso station. It’s midcentury Shell by way of Star Motors, a union that would work were it not also attempting a cheap knockoff of Mobil’s rustic charm.They are, at heart, making a futile claim to blue-collar bona fides in their deconstruction of America’s workhorse—the trucker. The store’s merchandise pairings form binary oppositions, an ostensible structuralist analysis of trucking’s inherent dualities: the natural and the artificial, the sacred and the profane, the meditative and the mindless.

It’s a rote exercise of covering bases in ways that can’t help but insult the audience’s intelligence. Baskets of fruit (“The original fast food!” a handwritten sign reads.) sit atop motor oil racks. Crucifix statuettes are stacked caddy-corner to idolatrous crystal figurines. Jeff Foxworthy’s faux-lowbrow comedy shares a shelf with the book-on-tape versions of R.A. Salvatore’s faux-highbrow fantasy-fiction. No amount of implied authenticity vis-à-vis discounted trucker hats could mask the banality of this critique. To Wilco, the trucker’s paradox—long hours of physical inaction wedded to the mental toil of endlessly repeating stretches of pavement—is pure caricature.

Quasi-erotic porcelain figurines and Zippo lighters embossed with crude representations of Jesus and Mary are Wilco’s sole moments of inspiration: a much-needed reprieve from what would otherwise be a derivative retread of the decades-old work accomplished by far superior truck stops (the legendary service plazas of the D.C.-to-Boston I-95 corridor come to mind). Even at its best, it’s cheap populism in the guise of trenchant critique.

During a brief exchange, a Wilco employee told me my visit was a “fool’s errand.” He didn’t know how right he was.

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