Jeff Tweedy on Anxiety, Addiction and a Lifetime Making Art
By Bob Boilen
Jeff Tweedy’s written a book that’s incredibly open-hearted and honest. Let’s Go (So We Can Get Back) A Memoir of Recording and Discording with Wilco, Etc. is a journey in music, friendship and family — from getting his first guitar (which didn’t work out so well), to the formation of Uncle Tupelo with his friend, Jay Farrar, their surprising breakup and all the various incarnations of Wilco. It’s filled with stories of insecurities, drug dependencies and thoughtful reflections.
On this edition of All Songs Considered, I talk with Jeff Tweedy about his remarkable life story, play clips from the Penguin Random House audio version of his book and dig a bit into his new solo album called Warm, which addresses a lot of personal thoughts and feels, to me, like a companion to his book.
A few years ago when I talked with Jeff Tweedy for a book I wrote called Your Song Changed My Life, he said something about being in a band that stuck with me: He said his image of band life was shaped by The Monkees, both the TV show and their music. He said he’d concluded “that a band’s supposed to live together and have madcap adventures together.” So we began our conversation by listening to mid-sixties hit by The Monkees called “Last Train To Clarksville.”
You can hear our full conversation with the play button at the top of the page and read edited highlights below.
Book Excerpt: Jeff Tweedy On Realizing Life In A Rock Band Isn’t So Glamorous
“As I sat in our ramshackle excuse for an apartment in Belleville and waited for [former Uncle Tupelo member] Jay [Farrar] to come back, it was so glaringly not a Monkees house. Not just because there was no spiral staircase or advice-dispensing mannequins. It wasn’t a true Monkees house because it was empty. There was never an episode of The Monkees where Micky Dolenz said, ‘This isn’t f****** fun anymore, I quit,’ and then disappeared.”
On His Friendship With Jay Farrar
“But writing the book, I was able to talk a little bit more than I’ve ever been able to about how much Jay and I loved each other — I mean, or at least I loved him. He changed my life and he helped me learn how to play the guitar. We shared a lot of information about records and spent an awful lot of time together trying to figure things out about music and how to be in a band and what other people’s music meant to us.”
On Performing Live With Debilitating Migraines
“There have been many, many nights where it is just everything I can do to get to the end of the show, and I’ve really prided myself on the fact that I’ve hardly ever cut a show short.”
Book Excerpt: On The Darkest Days Of His Narcotics Addiction
“The worst of it happened when I was alone in my hotel room having panic attacks, taking too many pills and then panicking because I’d taken too many pills. Every night I’d lie in bed — or just as often, in the tub until the bath water would get cold — telling myself, ‘if I fall asleep right now, there’s a pretty good chance I’m not waking up. People die in this situation all the time.'”
On Pain And Songwriting
“I have a lot of strong opinions about the ‘tortured artist myth,’ and, in my opinion, the mistaken notion that art grows out of pain. Everybody has pain in their life. Everyone suffers. If art grew out of suffering alone there’d be a lot more art, and a lot of really true horrific suffering on this planet is done by people in positions where they don’t have the means of production of any type of art. Their daily struggle is survival…
“I think it’s just that art becomes great when people are able to see themselves and recognize themselves in it. And unfortunately one of the most shared experiences for humans is sadness and suffering.”
On Being An Artist
“You’re going to write a lot fewer songs, fewer poems, fewer books if you sit around and wait for a bolt of lightning. I think you should put a pencil in your hand, put the guitar on your lap and get to work.”