The Music of Predictions

Ten years ago an album by the band Wilco came out titled “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.”  After touching the lives of millions of fans and gathering for itself a mythology, the Chicago based band joined a long list of musical groups that somehow found itself surrounded by unintentional predictions, similarities, and coincidences regarding one of the largest terrorist attacks in the history of the world.  And they were not the first band to be joined by imagery that predicted world events with uncanny accuracy.  How do musicians find themselves channeling future events – however unintentionally?

Generally when we link the world of music to the Fortean and the paranormal it is through stories like the ghosts of Michael Jackson or Elvis and the sightings of spirits by pop musicians like Lady Gaga.  Rarely does the product created actually predict with such accuracy a major world event in a way like Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.  The album, originally slated to be released on September 11, 2001 showed a pair of buildings (the Marina Towers in Chicago) that looked eerily similar to towers in New York that would fall that day.

Because the lead guitarist and vocal artist Jeff Tweedy did not wish to change record labels, the album was delayed until nine days later.  With fans proclaiming it to be the one of the best albums ever produced, the content of the music has often been listened to in the context of the events that transpired immediately before and after its release making it one of the most prescient rock albums of all time.

The titular “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” of the album is based on a numbers station which can still be picked up on shortwave radio today which showcases its eerie repetitive tones on the album itself.  The inclusion of the numbers station would be the centerpiece of a legal dispute between members of the Conet Project and Tweedy.  Tweedy, and the project who shared a longtime interest of numbers stations, decided to settle the matter out of court.

Between the visual motifs of the album art and the unforgiving drone of the numbers station itself and the devastating events surrounding the album’s release, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot earned a reputation as one of “those” albums which had more going on in it than just music.

Similar musicians have found themselves at the heart of controversy around album predictions since the 1960’s and before.  A previous titan of the musical genre, The Beatles found themselves at the center of their own mythology when a rumor began that the album “Abbey Road” predicted the death of Paul McCartney.  The rumor soon went pre-internet viral with musical sleuths unearthing the hidden symbolism everywhere from college dorm rooms to radio stations.  The idea that Paul McCartney had secretly died while an imposter lived his life became a mainstay in contemporary conspiracy lore.  Since then, the musician has had several tours while a few fans can’t shake the original notion that there were too many coincidences and hidden clues to ignore.

Another band to have eerily prescient cover-art is the British rock band Supertramp, which had as one of their album covers a picture of a passenger’s eye view out the window of a jet airliner staring out at the twin towers as the craft made a sharp turn.  In a similar “Paul is Dead” or “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” way, if you reverse the image of the Supertramp album cover, the name of the band, partially obscured by the Twin Towers, make what fans say looks disturbingly like three numbers, “911.”

Is it all a coincidence?  Is it simply what happens when millions of fans look at the same images looking for deeper meanings?  Or are musicians the world over operating on a higher wavelength that very occasionally allows them a prophetic look into our future?