Jeff Tweedy is on the phone from the Loft, his rock band Wilco's Chicago headquarters, which he calls "the magical recording studio/bunkhouse that I dreamed about while watching The Monkees."
That description is found in Let's Go (So We Can Get Back), Tweedy's new work of nonfiction, subtitled A Memoir of Recording and Discording with Wilco, Etc. The book will bring him to the Parkway Central Library in Philadelphia on Thursday.
On Nov. 30, the 51-year-old father of two and Dad Rock godhead will put out WARM, an aptly titled, acoustic-guitar-centered record of uncharacteristically autobiographical songs.
It's the first album for Tweedy under his first and last names. (Sukierae, the 2014 album titled after wife Sue Miller's nickname, features his son Spencer on drums and was credited to family band Tweedy.)
Let's Go's title comes from a favorite phrase used by Tweedy's late father, Bob, that betrayed his anxiety about leaving the house. That hereditary uneasiness courses through the book, as Tweedy details a battle with an opioid addiction that, at his lowest, led him to steal morphine from his cancer patient mother-in-law.
Tweedy, who grew up across the Mississippi from St. Louis in Belleville, Ill., might seem too young or just too normal to be authoring a career-spanning tell-all rock memoir. And there is little that's scandalous in the book. But after getting off to a goofy start, Let's Go settles in with affable virtues that match Tweedy's.
It's engaging and self-questioning, whether focusing on his relationship with Jay Farrar, his partner in the alt-country punk band Uncle Tupelo (whom Tweedy paints as a talented, humorless "grim protector of music's sanctity") or chronicling his ongoing musical adventures with Wilco, who plan to get back to recording and touring in 2019.
I think art is a great consolation in general. And music seems to have that ability more than any other art form. There's something consoling about feeling you've been recognized.
When some piece of art feels like it was made just for you, or you can respond to it in a way that is so particular to what you need in that moment, there's almost a sense of being seen.
I think that's extremely important for people. I see it in heavy metal kids and K-pop kids. People that find their music find their people. And themselves through that music.
To me, that's maybe the lowest bar you should shoot for, maybe making anything, is to hopefully be honest enough that it can provide some consolation. I think the highest aspiration is that you can make somebody crazy to make something.
Something like that. [Laughs] I thought that sentence would get edited out.
It's true. The greatest achievement of almost any work of art is that people continue to make art. It perpetuates itself and regenerates. And when people have the impulse to create, I think they have a lot tougher time subscribing to philosophies that require destruction.
It was the first time she had held a pencil, she claimed, in years. And that simple act of making something that wasn't there before was profound.
There are parts of me that aren't confident. I don't feel like there's any point for anybody to deny those weaknesses. Especially as a dad or a parent. … I don't feel like it's unique at all to be sad or deal with depression. All of those things are just extremely common and typical. And I think we've bulls- each other enough.
A rock memoir is pretty low stakes. I don't know if I felt an enormous amount of pressure to blow the lid off the genre. That being said, I really like literature. I like books. And I did my best to write in a clear way what I wanted to say. The only way I think I would have failed was if I wasn't honest.
I didn't have an ax to grind with anybody. To the contrary, I felt like it was an opportunity to tell some positive stories about how much those guys mean to me. I don't think I've ever been asked once since Uncle Tupelo, 'Tell me something fun you and Jay [Farrar] did.' It's just not the narrative. So I enjoyed that part of it.
I've actually been doing a lot in the past five or six years that's primarily been me making all the music. Most of the last few Wilco albums have been done that way. So in that sense, I've been working more in a solitary fashion than I ever have. I love working with other people. I love making records with Mavis. Music is a social endeavor. There's nothing that quite feels like that, when you share the intimacy of making music with another person.
I'm already kind of recoiling from the notion that it's the first time I've ever been this direct, even though I wrote that. I'm trying to put my finger on what feels different about this material. It's probably proximity to writing the book that makes it feel more open and outward-looking. There are some things of me directly looking straight at the listener, and then — object permanence — I disappear again.
Of course, music doesn't really exist until you put it out in the world. But I prefer to stay in the head space of having a lot of material around that I'm still working on, where it's still mine and it still has potential. And it's still someplace to disappear, really.
That guy was trolling. He was intentionally reminding people of something that had upset them that day. … I don't like being angry on stage. Anger is not an emotion that is easy to get rid of. And I was happy to be able to get rid of it fast enough that I could finish the show and get back to a place where people were singing along, and it was a communal environment. That was important, and it's always important. Maybe more so now than ever.
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