"Jesus, Etc." is the fifth track on the album Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, immediately after the song "War on War," which is the only released single from the album to chart. Illinois-based Wilco was originally the band Uncle Tupelo, active from 1987-1994. When songwriter Jay Farrar split from the band in 1994, most of the remaining band members reformed into Wilco. Central to the Farrar split was the hostile verbal confrontations between Farrar and Jeff Tweedy. Tweedy has been the front man for Wilco since.
Jeff Tweedy suffers from migraine headaches, a condition which temporarily caused an addiction to pain-killers. He is also open about suffering from both clinical depression and panic attacks. However, along with these difficulties he might be considered to be something of a martinet: during the making of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, he fired drummer Ken Coomer and co-front Jay Bennett.
In a 2002 interview with The Nation, Tweedy said of this song: "It's one of the last things we recorded, and I think it's one of the only things that Glenn, our [new] drummer, plays on that wasn't a re-approach of something that we'd already recorded, or a song that had been around for a while. It's one of the first songs of the new lineup and it came about very quickly. And then it got a really inspired performance. I don't want to think that it's just from a sense of newness. It's just that Glenn is really great and I really love playing with him. And when I think about it - I haven't really thought about it - I think that's probably one of the first things that he really just got to approach without knowing what Ken [Coomer, former drummer] did.
And that's another thing that I'm excited about. In that song, there's the first string arrangement that I've done untutored or without someone else charting stuff out and helping. John [Stirratt, bassist] and I kind of collaborated on that. I'm really happy with how it all panned out, because the goal was to have each section of the song commented on a little bit differently with the string texture. If you listen to it the parts change; each is varied from the one before it. I don't know if someone who went to school for that stuff would think it's good. I just listen to it and think, 'How did that happen?'"
So what's up with the title? After all, the word "etcetera" (abbreviated "etc.") doesn't show up in the lyrics. According to Jay Bennett, the song was originally titled the much more logical "Jesus Don't Cry," but he got lazy one night and labeled the CD "Jesus Etc." to save him the hassle of writing out the entire title, and the name stuck.
The Yankee Hotel Foxtrot album seemed to have a bad omen about it. First there was the great boondoggle with their record label, when Time Warner merged with America Online in 2001 and the group was subsequently dropped. This led them to simply offer the whole album on live stream from their website. However, if they hadn't been dropped, the release date would have been September 11, 2001, which, as anyone can tell you now, would have been less than opportune. Warner Brothers affiliate Nonesuch Records eventually signed them in November of 2001.
With the lyrics about tall buildings shaking and skyscrapers scraping together, this song conjured memories of the September 11 terrorist attacks. Jeff Tweedy says that the song was certainly not written about 9/11, as it had already been written by then, but he told Rolling Stone, "There were a lot of eerie echoes of 9/11 that I heard on Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, maybe because some of the focus on that record was being introspective about America. I understood how people could hear that in it. I'm obviously very, very honored if anybody found any kind of consolation in that record, at that time or now."
This was covered by the Alternative Country trio Puss n Boots for their 2014 No Fools, No Fun album. "We did The Bridge School Benefit and Wilco was on the bill," Norah Jones from the trio recalled on SiriusXM Outlaw Country. "We were like, 'Hey man, are you guys gonna do 'Jesus, Etc.' because we're gonna do it. We're gonna cover your tune.' So they did it that night and then we did it."
"We were hanging out afterwards with Wilco, and Jeff Tweedy comes up and he's like, 'Man, that was cool. You changed the lyrics, it was cool,'" Jones added, "I was mortified because I know that song so well and I didn't even Google the lyrics. I like had it memorized from just listening to it, and I guess I heard it wrong."