‘Let’s Go (So We Can Get Back)’

South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Sunday) - - Books -

As Jeff Tweedy would ad­mit — and more or less does in his new mem­oir, “Let’s Go (So We Can Get Back)” — his life hasn’t been all that in­ter­est­ing, at least for a rock star. Raised in a dys­func­tional fam­ily (his father drank a 12-pack ev­ery night), he grew up in a de­pressed Mid­west­ern town (down­state Belleville, Ill.). As a kid who had trou­ble get­ting no­ticed in school, he em­braced mu­sic (rock, coun­try, punk) for the com­pan­ion­ship and es­cape it of­fered. When he got older, he suf­fered from his own de­pres­sion and drug ad­dic­tion be­fore turn­ing things around.

But in his new mem­oir, the leader of Chicago’s long-run­ning band Wilco isn’t in­ter­ested in the usual re­hash­ings of life and ca­reer. Those ex­pect­ing lots of back­stage dish will have to set­tle for his ac­count of be­ing mis­taken for an usher at the Gram­mys by Sean “Diddy” Combs. He ac­knowl­edges bands that in­spired him, like the Re­place­ments, and devotes a chap­ter to his re­cent col­lab­o­ra­tions with the great Mavis Sta­ples. But as for hero wor­ship, Bob Dy­lan’s “im­por­tance to me feels like it’s too ob­vi­ous to bring up,” he writes, get­ting to it to­ward the end of the book.

Tweedy, who spends time on the mak­ing and res­cu­ing of Wilco’s anointed 2001 mas­ter­piece, “Yan­kee Ho­tel Fox­trot,” but barely men­tions the al­bums By Jeff Tweedy, Dutton, 304 pages, $22.35 by the band’s cur­rent in­car­na­tion, is much more in­ter­ested in ex­am­in­ing the painful lessons he has learned from his life as a song­writer and a fam­ily man. In this he suc­ceeds in en­ter­tain­ing and oddly re­veal­ing ways, mov­ing with shape-shift­ing ease from wry self-ef­face­ment to what he calls Mid­west­ern sar­casm to naked con­fes­sion.

“My com­fort level with be­ing vul­ner­a­ble is prob­a­bly my su­per­power,” he writes, test­ing that the­ory by telling how, at the rock bot­tom of his ad­dic­tion, he stole mor­phine from his can­cer-stricken mother-in­law. When his wife, Sue Miller, for­mer op­er­a­tor of Lounge Ax, the pop­u­lar Chicago club where they met, lightly asks whether Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy opts to re­flect on life lessons over back­stage dish in “Let’s Go (So We Can Get Back).”

he re­ally needs to in­clude such per­sonal de­tails, he re­sponds, “I don’t want to ro­man­ti­cize any of this. It wasn’t glam­orous or fun, it was aw­ful.”

To some­times in­gra­ti­at­ing ef­fect, he acts as though “Let’s Go (So We Can Get Back)” — a pet ex­pres­sion of his father’s — is be­ing writ­ten as it is be­ing read. “I need strings that sound like me, a doom-dab­bling, fifty-year-old, bor­der­line mis­an­thrope, nap en­thu­si­ast,” he writes, be­fore, as he of­ten does, telling the reader that’s not quite what he meant.

He saves his best writ­ing for a bril­liant, Philip Roth­ian anal­y­sis of an en­counter he had in Belleville with two women, for­mer class­mates he never knew. “Are you still in that lit­tle band?” one of them asks. “Are you

still to­gether?”

Writes Tweedy, “It was sub­lime po­etry, the way they danced be­tween foggy mem­ory and un­der-ther­adar in­sult. … They smiled and nod­ded, but like you do when some­body tells you they’ve been liv­ing in their par­ents’ base­ment and sleep­ing on a bean­bag chair.” Mid­west­ern sar­casm, he adds, “makes you lis­ten more closely. You have to treat ev­ery con­ver­sa­tion like a safe­cracker.”

For some­one who writes so per­cep­tively about his own de­scent into drug hell, Tweedy is rather muted in dis­cussing the pill-pop­ping de­cline and even­tual over­dose of his ex­trav­a­gantly tal­ented, per­pet­u­ally wired Wilco mate — and neme­sis — Jay Ben­nett. Tweedy says he fired Ben­nett, whose cre­ative ge­nius in the stu­dio

lifted such al­bums as “Sum­mer­teeth,” be­cause his de­struc­tive an­tics were tear­ing at the col­lec­tive fab­ric of the band — and be­cause “I knew if I didn’t, I would prob­a­bly die.”

Some be­lieve Ben­nett, for whom Tweedy ex­presses love and ad­mi­ra­tion, got a raw deal. “I get it when Wilco fans are still an­gry at me about Jay Ben­nett,” Tweedy writes. “I don’t like it, but I un­der­stand. They don’t think Wilco is as good now as it was when Jay Ben­nett was in the band, be­cause he’s on all of the Wilco al­bums that mean the most to them.”

But, he came to re­al­ize, that kind of ex­treme de­vo­tion to “some­thing en­tirely made up like a ‘band’ is silly.”

He him­self had been hurt when the other sig­nif­i­cant

Jay in his life, Jay Far­rar, his part­ner in the pi­o­neer­ing alt-coun­try band Un­cle Tupelo, told him the group “was over.” But the two were never close. Far­rar dis­ap­peared one day, never to re­turn to the group, and that was that.

Con­sid­er­ing Tweedy’s life-threat­en­ing ad­dic­tions and his wife’s fright­en­ing bouts with can­cer, you can un­der­stand why such dis­tant events might lose some of their edge. “Leav­ing be­hind as many of the myths sur­round­ing suf­fer­ing and art as I pos­si­bly could was the only path for­ward,” he writes. This book is a sig­nif­i­cant step in that di­rec­tion.

Lloyd Sachs, a free­lancer, is the au­thor of “T Bone Bur­nett: A Life in Pur­suit.”


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