For Jeff Tweedy, A New Book Holds Old Truths

In "How to Write One Song," the Wilco front man offers some life lessons

October 13, 2020, 11:58 PM
PHOTO: Jeff Tweedy.
Jeff Tweedy.
Whitten Sabatini

The writer George Saunders has described Jeff Tweedy as “our great, wry, American consolation poet.”

It’s an apt description for an artist who has spent the better part of three decades crafting the kinds of soul-baring, emotionally layered songs that seem to transcend their time.

Though Tweedy gained notoriety in the alt-country music scene of the 1990’s, he and his band, Wilco, pushed the genre forward with ambitious albums like “Being There” and “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot,” records that went beyond pedal steel guitars and gentle twangs. Infused with hints of electronica and keyboards, mixing indie rock noisemaking with retro-pop stylings, the recordings forced listeners to reimagine the genre.

And his experimentation with song structure and sound on records like “A Ghost Is Born” and “Sky Blue Sky” helped stake Wilco’s claim as an important American band and elevated Tweedy to one of the most influential musicians of the past few decades.

Despite the pandemic, Tweedy has remained characteristically productive of late.

This month, he’s out with a new book, "How To Write One Song," and a new album, Love Is The King, a collection full of breezy, infectious tunes. Both were created in the time of Covid, which has left him working from home for one of the longest stretches in his professional career.

“The pandemic has sort of sharpened my focus,” he tells me in a Zoom interview from The Loft, his recording space in Chicago. “Because maybe it’s a little more necessary to push the world away,” he says. “That creates a little bit more of a hermetic seal on the ability to focus on work.”

The new book is Tweedy’s second in two years. His memoir, “Let's Go (So We Can Get Back),” published in 2018, tells the story of his family’s working-class roots in Belleville, Ill., and coming of age in the country-punk and alternative rock scenes in Chicago.

In “How to Write One Song,” Tweedy works to demystify the creative process and instead extols the importance of making creativity part of your everyday life. “The whole point isn’t to get everybody to write a song,” he says. “It’s more to encourage people to actively spend time with themselves and participate in their lives on the imagination side of their brain.”

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