There was a time when I thought of myself as a fairly devoted Wilco fan, but that was before I attended a Jeff Tweedy solo show in Kingston, N.Y., a couple of weeks ago. It seemed that everyone there, from the guy in the beer line to the stranger sitting on my left, considered it routine to follow the band from show to show. But for those who don't treat the band as a religion -- who perhaps haven't seen the documentaries "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart" and "Man in the Sand" or paged through "The Wilco Book," read Greg Kot's biography of the band, "Learning How to Die," and checked out Tweedy's book of poetry, "Adult Head" -- well, Wilco is an American rock band that matters. They also put on one of the better live shows around (to get a sense of just how good they are onstage, check out their new CD "Kicking Television -- Live in Chicago" ). Wilco plays the way a mighty river moves: speeding up and slowing down, winding across a great range, taking in smaller eddies and currents, but always rolling together toward a single, fathomless end.
Jeff Tweedy also happens to be a fairly eloquent guy with an engaging personality. Salon's own Hillary Frey interviewed him back when she was with the Nation and reports that he was extraordinarily kind in person. But as Tweedy tells Amazon.com music editor Jason Verlinde in this short interview (3:02, Windows Media), we shouldn't presume to know him from his interviews. In another cut (3:40, Windows Media) from that interview, Tweedy tells Verlinde about how "The Wilco Book" was put together.
Fascination with Tweedy's personal life pops up again in this recent backstage interview (6:05, Real Audio) from Minnesota Public Radio's "The Current." Tweedy discusses the "pathology of performing," whereby he strives to get some kind of definition of himself by eliciting reactions from other people, how he wanted to crawl into a hole after attending the theatrical debut of "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart," and how his older son, in contrast to his own experience, has grown up thinking that being a musician might be a normal thing to do.
In this interview (26:17, Real Audio) from NPR's "Fresh Air," Tweedy makes the most of some painfully dweeby questions from Terry Gross (Did having a family change his life as a musician? Did he go around the house singing the Ramones' "I Want to Be Sedated" as a kid?), and plays acoustic renditions of "I Am the Man Who Loves You" and "Hesitating Beauty." Tweedy's wife, we learn, wishes he would write more songs about what a great marriage they have. Steve Edwards of Chicago Public Radio's "Eight Forty-Eight" is thankfully a little more with it than Gross. In this conversation (12:48, Real Audio) with Edwards, Tweedy talks about overcoming depression and an addiction to painkillers and suggests that his process of learning to live in the present is similar to Wilco's process of making music. Tweedy quotes Gertrude Stein on how we'll never really know how a masterpiece is made because the creator isn't really there when it happens. Tweedy mentions this same passage in this longer interview (56:15, MP3) from the "Bob Edwards Show" on XM Satellite Radio. Tweedy also confesses his love for ABBA's "Dancing Queen," and explains why he shrugs off the "alt-country" label and why old-time country is scarier than Henry Rollins.
Lastly, on a panel titled "Who Owns Culture?" (46:12, MP3) hosted by Wired magazine at the New York Public Library, Tweedy advocates for the free copying and sharing of his -- and everybody else's -- recordings. "To me, the only people that are complaining," he says of copyright violations, "are the people that are so rich I don't understand why they ever need to be paid again."
-- Ira Boudway