Jeff Tweedy, the world in song

Jeff Tweedy didn’t set out to write books. “But one day an agent thought I might write something worth reading. It happened almost by accident.” She was born this way Let’s go (so we can come back)successful autobiography of 2018. A couple of years later, the rocker wrote a second bestseller, How to write one song, in which he encouraged readers to get creative. And now with The world inside a song: the music that changed my life and the life that changed my music (which will be released in the US on November 7), Tweedy is aiming for a hat trick.

Each chapter of the book is dedicated to a song, commented in detail by Tweedy. It has everything from traditional spirituals Satan, your kingdom must fall before Biscochito Rosalia. And then there are the stories from his life, from his childhood in southern Illinois to the start of Uncle Tupelo to his nearly 30 years at the helm of Wilco. It all comes out in a bittersweet and passionate essay.

“Writing is remembering,” he says. “It’s an effective way to recover things within yourself that you otherwise wouldn’t get to, things hidden in your memory.”

While building a parallel career as a writer, Tweedy, of course, did not stop making music with Wilco, on the contrary. A year and a half after the double Cruel countryThe group will be released on September 29. Cousin, 13th studio album. Produced by Welsh art-pop visionary Kate Le Bon (the first time they’ve brought in an outside collaborator for the role in over a decade), it’s a record full of unusual instrumentation, narrative nuance and deep emotion.

“I love her albums and we became friends over time,” says Tweedy, who first met Le Bon when she was invited to perform at Wilco’s Solid Sound festival in 2019. “We both tend to dig, to take things apart. and then put them back together… the album has a Wilco sound, but I don’t think it sounds like any other album we’ve done. After so many years, this goal must be achieved.”

What is the best advice anyone has given you in your life?
Back in the Uncle Tupelo days, I was on Michelle Shocked and The Band’s Arkansas tour. I was rehearsing and suddenly Rick Danko came on stage and said to me: “You sound desperate, you should always play like this, don’t miss this thing.” This is a strange way to convey a concept that I share. I think he meant that people should feel that you care: not that you are desperate, but that you want to communicate, to connect. That’s why we sing, right?

In the book, you talk about current hits you love, from Billie Eilish to Rosalía. Do you follow new artists?
I am not naturally curious, but I want to develop this part because it is fundamental to my work. I want to continue to be excited when faced with something unpredictable. But today you can continue to delve into the past and discover something new every day. As a kid, I would have killed to have something like that: you read about the record and immediately hear what it sounds like. It’s a way to honor the little boy in me.

Photo: Peter Crosby

What’s the most extravagant purchase you’ve ever made?
I have a habit of falling in love with a certain instrument, but I don’t feel like it truly belongs to me until I buy the same one. That’s why I have a lot of duplicates. This is out of fear that guitars will break or change over time. This is a pretty frivolous thing.

You look a little like Bob Odenkirk’s character in I think you should leave: “Triple is better.”
Exactly: it’s me. I think I have three ’68 Gibson Doves.

Going back to the book for a moment, there’s also a chapter about a song you can’t stand. Wanted dead or alive Bon Jovi: “This song sucks and you shouldn’t like it.” What would happen if you met Jon Bon Jovi?
I’ve met him before. And in general, this is not the first time I have said something negative about him. I once appeared on a television program in Canada where they told me, “Jon Bon Jovi says Steve Jobs killed music.” I replied, “Jon Bon Jovi killed music.” It was handed to me on a silver platter: how could I not take advantage of it? Then, when I met him, I admitted it to him, in case he saw the broadcast. Actually, like the rest of the book, I’m talking about myself. I’m the one who doesn’t understand what gives people such security that always makes them be so ambitious.

In your youth you were skeptical about religion, but in adulthood you converted to Judaism. What role do Jewish traditions and beliefs play in your life today?
In our family, we are essentially secular people, but we celebrate major holidays and Seders. It is a community that makes us feel welcome and a gathering that gives families a sense of warmth. When we faced difficult situations, such as my wife’s cancer diagnosis, it was important to have a support network that went beyond just friends.

When my wife ran the club, any Jew in the group automatically felt comfortable and could repeat the same prayers with her. And I thought, “What looks like me? AcronymGilligan’s Island?”.

You’ve been sober for almost 20 years, since you went to rehab for painkiller addiction in 2004. Do you think about it?
Every day. This is something that always needs to be kept under control. But this is not so difficult: the feeling of being on the edge of an abyss has weakened significantly over the years. I am in terrible pain right now because I have very severe osteoarthritis in my hips, but every day I tell myself how lucky I am to know that if I start taking opioids, I may not be able to control them. I know what I have to face, so I can accept the pain. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. I have certain dreams about drugs that I haven’t had in a long time. And I’m lucky because I can put those thoughts back into place.

The book talks a lot about emotional pain. You write about what it’s like to be a sensitive child who “feels so many things keenly” in a world that “always gives a damn.” Has it become easier as an adult? How do you cope with the cruelty of the world?
I don’t want to get used to it. I just learned to take better care of myself and give myself a better chance of survival. I want to be useful. I want to do good things. I want to do things that make me feel like I deserve what I have. I have responsibilities because of what I do: I am one of the few people in the world who makes a living doing what I love. How can you not feel obligated to give something in return?

Ten deadon the new album, Wilko seems to speak about the tragic headlines you read after a mass shooting.
This is what we are immersed in. This is not a political statement, but rather an attempt to describe the psychological landscape that I think most people I know face. We live in a reality in which you hear: “Thank God, there are less than ten dead.” This is shocking.

Bob Dylan is one of your heroes. Last year he published a book similar in structure to yours, in which he wrote about a number of songs and what they meant to him. Have you read it?
I had already planned to write this book, so I was a little nervous when it came out. I read it, but it didn’t have that spirit at all… it didn’t seem like my idea. To be honest, I was a little disappointed. It’s very Dylanesque: somehow it welcomes and repels at the same time. There were things inside that looked like they were written by the guy who helped him Topic Time Radio Hour (program producer Eddie Gorodetsky, whose resume also includes Two men and a half AND Dharma and Greglisted as a consultant for Dylan’s book. ed.).

Speaking of legendary songwriters, in the book you suggest that Stevie Wonder might write a new national anthem to replace The Star-Spangled Banner. It’s a great idea, but why don’t you do it?
(He is laughing) Well, who would you rather write this to: me or Stevie Wonder?

From the American magazine Rolling Stone.

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