We already knew Jeff Tweedy could write. Both as the frontmen for Wilco and Uncle Tupelo and as a solo artist, he’s penned rock songs, experimental folk tunes and twangy alt-country jams. From Wilco’s first album A.M. in 1995 to the recently-released singles from his forthcoming solo album WARM, Tweedy music has cemented his status as a steady and adored musical scribe.
We didn’t know Tweedy could write an entire book, and do it really well. But with the arrival of his new memoir, Let’s Go (So We Can Get Back), out last week, it’s clear Tweedy is just as adept at writing nonfiction as he is songs. Let’s Go is a dry-witted examination of Tweedy’s personal life and career so enjoyable even the most casual of fans will be hooked.
From the get-go, it’s clear Let’s Go is going to be an entertaining ride. In the introduction, Tweedy begins the book by offering an explanation for one of the band’s seemingly mindless decisions: putting a white persian cat on the cover of their 2015 album Star Wars. Their reasoning behind choosing a feline cover star was just as thought-out as that for naming their album after George Lucas’ popular sci-fi series: it wasn’t, really. “My point is, there isn’t a fascinating or aesthetically complicated reason for why we put a cat on the cover of our album and called it Star Wars,” Tweedy writes, after describing in great detail the various art and photographs adorning the walls inside The Loft, Wilco’s famed recording studio and hangout in Chicago. “The album needed a name and a cover.” For Wilco, it’s never been about aesthetics—not of the visual variety, at least. Their other album covers display everything from a camel to an egg to another cat, which say nothing about the music.
It’s little nuggets like these throughout Let’s Go that make it such an interesting read. Before tackling the Uncle Tupelo and Wilco years, Tweedy candidly writes about his childhood in the gray town of Belleville, Illinois, where his family made their livelihoods working on the railroads. His father worked as a superintendent on the tracks, and his two brothers followed suit. Tweedy, however, wasn’t destined for the same life, as his mother predicted. “She was hell-bent against it,” he writes. “I don’t know if she just wanted better for me or if she worried it was too dangerous.” Whatever the case, it’s lucky that Tweedy wasn’t primed for the labor-heavy work on the railroads. Instead, he requested a guitar at age six and taught himself to play at age 12, inspired by his fierce love for classic punk rock (the Clash, Sex Pistols and the Ramones) and made immobile one summer by a bicycling accident. In high school, he bonded with classmate Jay Farrar, with whom he later started Uncle Tupelo, because of their shared love for the Sex Pistols. Fans of Uncle Tupelo will be pleased to learn more about the band’s genesis; Let’s Go explains, in part, the alt-country band’s punkish tendencies.
When reading about Tweedy’s childhood, readers will experience the urge to feel sorry for him. His parents bickered, and his mother seemed more concerned with raising Tweedy as an ally than as a son. But Tweedy writes about his family with love—and respectable humor. As with any sterling memoir, Let’s Go views various personal events and relationships through a lens, albeit an honest one. Tweedy doesn’t gloss over much, but he has a witty flare for describing anything he deems worth mentioning. He writes simply and blunty, but with enough vocabularic charisma that the sentences don’t run together.
It’s no secret Tweedy has struggled with addiction, and he covers that in the book, too. In the book’s hilarious introduction, Tweedy walks the reader through a laundry list of what to expect in the following near-300 pages. Number two reads, “There will be no mention of prescription painkillers,” followed by number three: “That last part was a joke.” Tweedy knows his readers want the full picture of his life, mess and all. “Jesus, of course I’m going to write about the drugs,” he writes. He later goes into detail about his struggles with drugs, including his decision to quit cold turkey and a conversation with his wife Sue (whom he affectionately refers to as “Susie” in the book) about whether or not to include the “Toby In A Glass Jar” chapter, which details Tweedy’s battle with drug and alcohol addiction, in the book. Tweedy isn’t one to reduce his past pains to maudlin memories. His voice is firm, and his recap is absolutely necessary to the story.
More than anything, Tweedy sounds grateful in Let’s Go—Grateful for his past, his wife, his band and his sons, the oldest of whom, Spencer, plays drums in a father-son band called Tweedy. They released an album, Sukierae, in 2014. Both Spencer and his younger brother Sammy sang with Jeff in a band called The Racoonists, even though they were never heard “outside of the basement.” It’s too bad; that’s a pretty awesome band name.
At the end of this month, Tweedy will release new music, but not with Wilco, Uncle Tupelo, Tweedy nor The Racconists. He’ll release his first ever solo album of new material, WARM, on November 30. It’s about aging and gratitude, so it’s a fitting follow-up to Tweedy’s memoir.
Wilco and Tweedy often get slammed with the “dad rock” label, but with the arrival of Let’s Go and WARM, Tweedy seems to be embracing it.
Listen to Wilco’s 2011 Daytrotter session below. Further down, watch the band perform a full concert in Chicago circa 1996 via the Paste vault.