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Going through my weird record history with Jeff Tweedy

Jeff Tweedy’s road manager looked at me like I was being invited to the airport. More accurately, I think it was a look he saved for when someone saw him as a conduit to get a band’s demo into Wilco’s hands. carefully – that’s the word I’m thinking of. He is good at his job and I know this because he seemed so tired of me and my idea. In my conversation with Tweedy, I explained that I was high concept and This Why do I carry my record collection around in a plastic case from Target?

He shrugged. My funeral.

“‘High concept,'” Tweedy said suddenly, looking at the record case next to me.

A few hours before embarking on a brief tour of Tweedy’s new book, “The World in a Song: The Music That Changed My Life and the Life That Changed My Music,” we strolled into the concrete shelter of the green room beneath the Athenaeum Center. The book is a funny, generous installment of a rather clever trend in music autobiographies: Rather than recalling a life from birth to success, individual songs serve as entry points into artists’ personal history. Some of those books — Paul McCartney’s “The Lyrics,” a collection of nearly 160 songs, many of which he co-wrote with John Lennon, and Bono’s “Surrender: 40 Songs, One Story,” which uses the U2 catalog as writing prompts for personal reflection — are his own. They stick to their style. the authors’ own music. But Bob Dylan’s strange and fun “The Philosophy of the Modern Song” from last year and Tweedy’s newly released “The World in Song” serve as delicious encounters of sorts. You imagine yourself next to Dylan and Tweedy; each has his own jukebox – none of them has his own song – and just… To listen.

The idea was so fun that I wanted more.

Hence, bringing a small, random, pathetic vinyl collection to the interview.

“Can’t this be all you have?” said Tweedy, looking at a half-full trunk.

“I have so many CDs,” I explained, “they’re all stored in a closet, with no CD player to play them.” And Spotify. But other than a handful of staples from my mom’s house in New England — “River,” “Sticky Fingers,” “Kiss Alive II” — that’s about it.

“No,” Tweedy said quietly, refusing to acknowledge such sadness.

I said yes.

He leaned over the trunk and turned it over, to my relief he found a new stack of records and a new opportunity to think. I guess that’s the case with music and your history with it. I didn’t take out any records or put anything in the chest to put a finger on the hipster scale. This is just what I have on vinyl and no Wilco. First record in the dumpster: A worn-out copy of the “Official Sesame Street 2 Book and Record Album” (circa 1971). Tweedy smiled.

Translate. Translate.

He stopped at “Al Green Gets Near You” and turned to the setlist, running his finger toward “I’m an Aries.” He said: “I remember seeing Mavis (Staples) see if it was an off-the-record thing when I worked with her. I’ve always gravitated towards ‘I’m an Aries’, which has a very tough-sounding style. I just saw Al Green at the Chicago Theatre. “He was great, but he said some homophobic things, which were boring.”

Translate. Translate.

Noticing that he wasn’t satisfied with Bruce Springsteen’s “Letter to You,” I asked: “I don’t know why, but I get the feeling you don’t like Springsteen.” In “World Within a Song,” which compares Springsteen’s starker-than-simple “Nebraska” to the even starker punk minimalism of Suicide’s “Frankie Teardrop,” Tweedy (who frequently acknowledges Springsteen as an influence) describes Springsteen’s vision of desolation as “subtle.” “and convincing,” he gamely calls it, comparing “Nebraska” to a “beautifully lit” contemporary Western.

“I admire Springsteen and I love some of his records,” Tweedy said. “But there is a nostalgia that seeps into his music early on that I suspect. I don’t think this was malicious or intentional in any way, but it did contribute to the idea that the working class is almost exclusively white. “This is a misconception that undermines solidarity in this country.”

Translate. Translate.

Jam’s “Sound Effects.”

“Okay, I love this record. In it…” – reading the track listing – “‘That’s Entertainment’ and that’s the kind of song that always appeals to me on an album like this. I like the punk sound, but the quieter songs, any song where I can hear what they’re doing – ‘Oh, Now I can see what’s happening here. Maybe I can play this?’ I remember thinking that.”

Translate.

A battered copy of “Rock 80,” one of the numerous hit compilations released in the 1970s and 1980s and sold through K-Tel’s TV ads. I said I may have played this record more than any other record on here; A devilish mix of Blondie, Gary Numan, Pat Benatar, The Pretenders…

Tweedy said: “This is a great example of how the record industry doesn’t know what to do with certain acts, so on a K-Tel record you describe New Wave as everything from Pat Benatar to the Ramones to the Knack. To me, ‘Chipmunk Punk It’s reminiscent of ‘s and I think there’s a lot of the same songs.” (In fact, “Chipmunk Punk,” released the same year as “Rock 80,” grouped the Knack, Billy Joel, Queen, and Linda Ronstadt as punks.)

Punk was often sold as scary in 1980. I asked Tweedy if any bands scared him.

His mother said she didn’t want him to listen to “acid rock.” As he writes in the book and in his recent article on Abba for the New York Times, disco often carried a frightening subtext. “We forget now but the nightly news showed the punk scene in London and people spitting on each other and stabbing their cheeks and my parents were saying: ‘Oh, no – add that to acid rock and the list of music you can’t listen to.’ But look, it was good for business. The culture industry learned in the 1960s that they didn’t know what to do with the records they sold but didn’t understand, and they eventually reduced some of the generational suspicion. They exploited these things because it affected their profitability. It was an unwise philosophy that the older someone making art was, the less likely you were to gain anything from listening to them. This does not exist in movies, books, visual arts. Rock as art was disposable. So actually this is a watchmanship. And to some extent I understand this: Young people need to divide themselves and form their own identity. However, the interaction between generations is much more efficient.”

Translate. “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” soundtrack. Translate. Donny Hathaway.

Stop. Elton John’s “The Tumbleweed Connection.”

“This was in the record case my brother gave me,” Tweedy said. “But I never gravitated towards that. I love Elton John though. As personalities and performers, some artists transcend the entire catalogue. You can’t stand everything they do yet… That’s what Dolly Parton is like. That’s what Johnny Cash is to me. The heights are so high that the overall package becomes incredibly meaningful.”

"The World in a Song: The Music That Changed My Life and the Life That Changed My Music" By Jeff Tweedy.

For example, she notes in her book that Parton wrote “Jolene” and “I Will Always Love You” on the same day, but: “All I’m saying is ‘Jolene’ is enough work for one day.” He reserves his most open distaste for Bon Jovi, writing that they have “the kind of arrogance that forces one to swing for the fences with every step taken.”

Hating certain music and overcoming assumptions is a secondary theme in the book. He told me that early in his career, he assumed that the purpose of a band was to limit their inspiration to only music that contributed to its sound. “But I found this to be completely wrong. In fact, the opposite was true! The more interesting the band, the more open they would be to adopting influences from anywhere and paying attention to music that wasn’t at all evident in their own music.

Translate. Parquet Courts. Translate. Kamasi Washington.

Stop. Kendrick Lamar’s “DAMN.”

“I don’t have a story about it, but you can’t argue with its mastery.”

Translate. Replacements. Translate.

Stop. Lana Del Rey’s “Norman (expletive) Rockwell!”

“Of all the big pop stars right now,” he said, “he’s great. Unbelievable, really. I mean, it’s incredible how big his records are, considering they’re almost all ballads! He’s the closest of them all to Leonard Cohen, not in tempo or volume.” , there is a slowly boiling energy, and yet it is so big. He smiled at the thought and nodded.

It made me think that vulnerability in music — Lana Del Rey sounds nothing if not vulnerable — was once a traffic sign for hating an artist. Especially if you were a kid in the ’70s who was told that disco sucked and most Top 40 radio was synth crap. “‘Dancing Queen’ is the song I always think about,” She writes. to think I don’t like anything.” For me, I guess that translates to Fleetwood Mac, whose indie years of the 1980s were synonymous with dull, bloated ennui. ME hated Fleetwood Mac.

“Hate is a strong word,” he replied, “but back then it was hate. It’s a true word. You’re not just taught to dislike a sound, you have to be active in disliking it. I don’t see it very much today. My own children, their generation, are wide open: ‘Wow. Damn, look at this music people have been making for decades.’ “That’s the Internet. Everything feels current. But maybe when I grew up in a small town (downtown Belleville), there were fewer things to come up with ideas for. There were barely two places to buy clothes!”

I asked him if being able to meet so many famous artists now affects his thoughts about their music. “If something like this happens, it will happen with a contemporary artist. Everyone I grew up listening to could totally (expletive) come to me and I would still love them. She once unknowingly performed a show for Lou Reed and was later frightened by his decision. “What Lou Reed actually said was, ‘No, it’s not you!’” he writes in the book. Everyone else. Addicts, perverts, misanthropes, Metallica… Yes! You? No, you suck!’”

Translate.

“I love Curtis Mayfield.”

Translate.

Wu-Tang Clan.

Translate.

Stop. Dylan. “Nashville Skyline.”

“It’s a great record.”

But was it him? Really A 7-year-old Dylan fan writes? “Before speaking, my mother pointed to the stereo and told me to turn on a record. Seven? Yep, look at online videos of kids memorizing rap songs in their car seats. Possible! What else is there to connect at seven? There’s a lot of visual stuff in Dylan, and ‘Don’t Think Twice, It’s Okay’ (there’s a chapter in the book) is very clear in its narrative: ‘When your rooster crows at dawn, look out your window. and I’ll be gone.’ I wanted to leave at seven in many situations. “My mother and father did not get along very well.”

Translate. Translate.

Neil Young’s live album “Tonight’s the Night”.

“’Tonight Is the Night’ is one of my all-time favorites. It was too big for Uncle Tupelo (his band before Wilco). It was the inspiration for our last album. It’s quite vivid and just documents one voice. Since the time we had to spend in the studio was limited, the idea of ​​a documentary-style recording was helpful. We got mixed results when someone tried to show how to create a track and use a studio as an instrument. So yeah, I love this.

Translate.

Bowie’s “Lodger”.

Translate.

Woolworth’s budget recording of a New Jersey orchestra playing John Williams.

Translate.

“Squirrels Sing the Beatles.”

“I bet you’ve carried some of these records with you most of your life,” Tweedy said.

I have.

“Wherever you go, you bring them with you.”

This is true.

“Yes. I understand. This is a sweet record box.”

The road manager poked his head into the room.

“I have to go now,” Tweedy said. “Or this guy will kick your ass.”

cborrelli@chicagotribune.com

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