Impossible possible

I’ve never been a guitar girl. If it wasn’t evident by the thorough literary analysis of each earworm, I am a self-proclaimed lyric hoe. That said, there are a few songs I will lay down my life for that have nothing to do with the lyrics. The guitar outro from 2:45-5:57 makes Wilco’s “Impossible Germany” one of them.

“Impossible Germany” has close to 23 million plays on Spotify. In the hundreds of times I’ve listened to this track, it’s never been the lyrics that left a mark. The song starts with a few guitar licks that tease what’s to come later. But first, Jeff Tweedy’s elusive opening lines:

Impossible Germany
Unlikely Japan
Wherever you go
Wherever you land

These lines never made sense to me. As he repeats “impossible Germany, unlikely Japan” it’s unclear where this song is headed, other than creating a soft, jazzy energy early on. He even jests that we’re “not listening” (“This is important/But I know you’re not listening)” – and maybe I haven’t really been listening, fully, until now. Like a teacher staring disappointed into a classroom full of distracted students, he’s commanding our attention.

Tweedy soon admits it’s not an easy concept to catch onto: “If this was still new to me/I wouldn’t understand.” As the song continues, we gather he’s weathered years of experience that circle back to the central truth uncovered in this jam:

But this is what love is for
To be out of place
Gorgeous and alone
Face to face

This is the line that brings the song to focus. Love is anywhere and everywhere – the locations of Germany and Japan just happen to be two places for such a thing to be discovered.

Listening activity: Get off your feet and sway as you rock out to your air guitar. Have fun with it.

If love is meant to be out of place, it makes the unexpected locations of these two seemingly random countries – impossible Germany, unlikely Japan – just metaphors for us to focus our attention.

Tweedy’s telling us it’s when we feel most out of place, or when we’re least expecting it, that we come face to face with something beautiful.

Or as Rihanna sings, “We found love in a hopeless place.” Maybe this is all a stretch, but as long as he’s got our attention, Tweedy sweetly adds, “Nothing more important than to know/ Someone’s listening.”

Enough of the lyrics. The battling twin guitar solos starting up at 2:45 are something you’ll want to listen to very closely. The instrumental breakdown works through the emotion the song purports – and it builds and builds. Unfortunately, writing out “de ne denanaananaa, de NE NE NE DA na na na” (my impression of what the guitar sounds like) does not adequately capture the electric energy. This is one you’re going to have to listen to, preferably at volume 100%, to get the full effect. 

As RuPaul says, “If you don’t love yourself, how in the hell you gonna love somebody else?” This is precisely the type of gassing up I say to myself when I get lost in the guitar solo in this song, and convince myself that despite the fact I a) can’t read music and b) never played guitar in my life, I could absolutely rock this solo. It makes me believe. That’s powerful! (It’s also played by two different people… so virtually impossible).

But if this song teaches us anything, it’s that the impossible is possible. Plus these old heads can absolutely get it.

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