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Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy pens memoir, but says ‘I’m just getting started’

November 19, 2018


Jeff Tweedy has never been a fan of the rock star memoir. He admits he’s not well-versed in the genre.

“They never appealed to me for some reason — I don’t know why,” he says. “I’m sure there are a lot of things I could learn from reading other people’s biographies and memoirs. I just don’t have the interest or patience.”

But the Wilco frontman and Belleville native managed to muster up enough interest and patience to write one of his own. His “Let’s Go (So We Can Get Back): A Memoir of Recording and Discording With Wilco, Etc.” is out now.

“It’s a pretty low-stakes genre, writing a rock ’n’ roll memoir. There’s not a lot of pressure. But I wanted it to be honest.”

“Let’s Go (So We Can Get Back)” is the first official memoir by Tweedy, one of the most important modern names in rock to come from the St. Louis area. He was part of the seminal alt-country band Uncle Tupelo and now is with Grammy-winning Wilco, an alt-rock band based in Chicago, where he now lives.

The memoir is a deep dive into Tweedy’s story — his local upbringing, life, music and career — with apparently nothing off limits.

He writes of growing up in Belleville, losing his virginity at age 14, his songwriting process (and stories behind the songs), the rise and fall of Uncle Tupelo, tales of Uncle Tupelo’s Jay Farrar and Wilco’s Jay Bennett, and his own struggles with addiction and depression.

Local references are plentiful: Vintage Vinyl, Euclid Records, Cicero’s, the Checkerdome, Chuck Berry, and his first concert, the Stray Cats at Mississippi Nights.

“To be honest, I didn’t think of this on my own. I was asked by some book people if I was ready or interested in the process of writing a book, and I thought about it for a while,” he says.

One of his first considerations was his wife, Sue Miller, and sons, Spencer and Sam — how they’d feel about it and how they’d be involved. He incorporates his family in a unique way, using conversations as part of the narrative. One is titled “A Conversation With Spencer About How Much of Our Relationship He Really Wants Me to Reveal in This Book.” Tweedy didn’t interview his younger son, Sam.

“They’re a big part of me and have a role to play in how the narrative goes,” Tweedy says. “I felt like, for me to draw the most honest picture, I wanted people to have insight in how my family sees me. I really wanted their voices to be a part of it in kind of a meta way. I thought that was interesting.”

Tweedy, 51, had to ask himself whether it was even time for him to write a memoir.

“I’m just getting started,” he says. “I feel like there’s always a sense when somebody writes a memoir, they’re nearing the end of their career or they’re a little bit older than in their 50s.”

Eventually, he realized writing the book couldn’t hurt anything.

“I might have some stories to share that could help people with the same set of issues,” he says.

Getting started was the hardest part. And getting over his fear of writing prose. He approached it like he was telling a story.

“I wasn’t getting out of it,” he says. “I’d signed a contract.”

Tweedy says he felt comfortable putting his life out there, warts and all, and being as transparent as possible.

“I’m being open about a lot of things people look at as being difficult to share,” he says. “I felt obligated to share some things. I have a position where I’m visible, and I truly believe that a lot of the stigma about mental illness and addiction would be a lot less difficult for people if people were willing to talk about it without fear of being stigmatized.”

He doesn’t think his experiences are particularly unique — or something that needs to be protected or hidden. “But there’s a misconception about creativity and that type of suffering and illness, and I wanted to be clear about that.”

In prepping the memoir, Tweedy says, dredging up memories he hadn’t thought of in decades was cathartic for him.

“It’s strange how memories work. When you start to write things down, you allow yourself to be absorbed in the process of writing. You start meditating on these things that happened long ago, close your eyes and start seeing specific pieces of the picture.

“I’d always thought of myself as having a terrible autobiographical memory. I can’t remember venues played and a lot of things. But the interesting thing about writing is when you focus on trying to convey a specific event, you see the contours of it more clearly.”

Tweedy says there weren’t any particular guidelines or requirements for the book; he was given free reign.

“I wasn’t pushed to dig up dirt or make any salacious claims. I wasn’t required by contract to be scintillating. And I think I would have had a tough time digging up anything to compete with the Mötley Crüe bio.”

Still, Tweedy discusses for the first time a long-ago encounter with Farrar’s then-girlfriend, now-wife, in the Uncle Tupelo van that helped bring the end for the band.

Tweedy writes that he drunkenly said he loved her and that she said it too. He says the exchange was innocent though obnoxious. But Farrar heard it.

“Jay has told the story from his point of view, and it’s more sinister than I remember it,” he says. “It’s my time to clear the air.”

Tweedy would never rule out an Uncle Tupelo reunion, but he doesn’t see one happening.

“I personally don’t have a deep desire to reapproach the music,” he says. “I’m proud of it and what we’ve done. I’m proud of Jay and all the music he continues to make. But obviously, I’m deeply involved with my own music. And I don’t get the sense from Jay that he’s eager to revisit.”

In the end, Tweedy hopes his memoir leaves readers with the feeling that “somebody sat down with them, and we had a conversation that was honest and natural.”

 


McClatchy-Tribune Information Services