Drugs, anxiety and sobriety define Jeff Tweedy as much as his music


>>Sreenivasan: FOR NEARLY 25 YEARS, THE BAND WILCO HAS BEEN BENDING THE EDGES OF ROCK, COUNTRY AND INDEPENDENT MUSIC. LONG A CRITICAL DARLING, THE GROUP HAS BUILT A LEGION OF FANS WITHOUT EVER SCORING A TOP TEN HIT. BUT WITH HIS NEW MEMOIR, THE SINGER, SONGWRITER AND WILCO FRONTMAN JEFF TWEEDY APPEARS TO HAVE A LITERARY HIT ON HIS HANDS. NEWSHOUR WEEKEND’S CHRISTOPHER BOOKER RECENTLY SAT DOWN WITH TWEEDY IN WILCO’S CHICAGO LOFT- STUDIO TO DISCUSS A MUSICAL CAREER SPENT WELL OUTSIDE THE USUAL BOUNDARIES. ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ I DON’T EVER WANT A MOVIE OF THE GOSPEL… ♪>>Reporter: EVEN AFTER RECORDING NEARLY 20 ALBUMS, WINNING TWO GRAMMYS, AND WRITING A NEARLY 300-PAGE MEMOIR, TRYING TO EXPLAIN WHERE IT ALL COMES FROM REMAINS AN ELUSIVE TASK FOR SINGER-SONGWRITER JEFF TWEEDY.>>IT’S ALL MYSTERIOUS STILL. I CAN’T EVEN EXPLAIN HOW PEOPLE CAN WHISTLE IN TUNE, YOU KNOW? I THINK, LIKE, YOU COULD READ EVERYTHING THAT I SAY AUTHORITATIVELY IN THE BOOK WITH A, “HUH?,” YOU KNOW. YOU COULD PUT A QUESTION MARK AT THE END OF MOST OF THOSE SENTENCES. ♪ I LEAN ON A WALL LIKE A BROOM, CONFUSED ♪ BY THE SCOPE OF IT ALL ANY FOOL CAN TELL THE TRUTH. ♪>>Reporter: TWEEDY’S MEMOIR, “LET’S GO (SO WE CAN GET BACK),” IS AN EXPLORATION OF CREATIVITY, MOTIVATION AND HERITAGE– THE STORY OF A CHILD OF AN ALCOHOLIC FATHER; THE STARTS AND STOPS OF MUSICAL STARDOM; AND THE STRUGGLE AGAINST ANXIETY, DEPRESSION AND ADDICTION. IN A LOT OF WAYS, THE BOOK ISN’T JUST WORKING TO PULL BACK THE CURTAIN BUT ALMOST REMOVE THE CURTAIN ALL TOGETHER.>>YEAH, I REJECT THE PREMISE OF THE CURTAIN TO BEGIN WITH. I’VE ALWAYS FELT LIKE THE MORE HUMAN THE MUSICIANS THAT I LOVE HAVE BECOME TO ME, THE MORE I HAVE FELT EMPOWERED TO BE A… A MUSICIAN OR AN ARTIST.>>Reporter: THE YOUNGEST OF FOUR KIDS, TWEEDY WAS RAISED IN BELLEVILLE, ILLINOIS, AN OLD MANUFACTURING TOWN ABOUT 20 MILES OUTSIDE OF ST. LOUIS. HIS FATHER WORKED FOR THE RAILROAD, HIS MOTHER DESIGNED KITCHENS FOR A LOCAL CABINET MANUFACTURER.>>MY MOM AND DAD WERE BOTH REALLY, REALLY SMART, AND IT WAS RECOGNIZED, BUT NOT IN THE TRADITIONAL WAY, YOU KNOW. THAT’S THE THING I’VE REALLY LOOKED BACK AND PROBABLY PUT TOGETHER FOR THE FIRST TIME IN… TIME IN MY LIFE RECENTLY IS, LIKE, “OH, I’VE… I’VE HAD A LIFE VERY SIMILAR TO THEM.” I DIDN’T REALLY MAKE IT MUCH PAST HIGH SCHOOL, BUT I TAUGHT MYSELF A TRADE.>>Reporter: TWEEDY’S TRADE STARTED WITH A LOVE OF PUNK ROCK– BANDS LIKE THE RAMONES, THE CLASH AND THE MINUTEMEN. A BICYCLE ACCIDENT KEPT HIM INDOORS FOR AN ENTIRE SUMMER. TO PASS THE TIME, HE PICKED UP THE GUITAR STASHED IN HIS CLOSET. AS A TEENAGER, HE PLAYED IN A NUMBER OF BANDS BEFORE CO- FOUNDING UNCLE TUPELO, A CRITICAL DARLING OF THE EARLY ’90s CREDITED WITH SPAWNING AN ENTIRE NEW GENRE OF MUSIC: ALT- COUNTRY. BUT AFTER FOUR ALBUMS, HIS PARTNER AND CHILDHOOD FRIEND, JAY FARRAR, ANNOUNCED HE WAS NO LONGER INTERESTED IN MAKING MUSIC WITH TWEEDY AND THAT HE WAS LEAVING THE BAND.>>I WAS REALLY HURT BY UNCLE TUPELO ENDING THE WAY IT ENDED. AND THEN, IT JUST, LIKE, KIND OF LIKE A PRACTICAL NOTION OF, LIKE, “WELL, NOTHING I CAN DO ABOUT THAT NOW. THAT’S OVER WITH.” AND THEN, IT DAWNING ON ME: THAT PRESENTS OPPORTUNITY SOMEHOW. YOU KNOW, AS A… AS A CHILD OF… OF AN ALCOHOLIC OR AN ENVIRONMENT OF ALCOHOLISM, THERE’S A LOT OF UNPREDICTABILITY. EVEN THOUGH MY DAD’S ROUTINE WAS PREDICTABLE, HIS MOODS WERE UNPREDICTABLE. WHICH INHIBITS, I THINK, A LOT OF FEELING COMFORTABLE WITH YOUR PROJECTION OF THE FUTURE. THAT’S PROBABLY WHERE IT REALLY COMES FROM, IS, LIKE, HAVE… HAVING A… HAVING TO ADAPT TO YOUR BEST PROJECTION OF THE FUTURE NOT REALLY WORKING OUT. ♪>>Reporter: FOR TWEEDY, THE ADAPTATION THAT FOLLOWED UNCLE TUPELO WAS THE FORMATION OF WILCO. ♪ A LOT OF WILCO’S HISTORY IS HERE?>>YEAH. THIS IS, LIKE, YOU KNOW, 20 YEARS OR SO WE’VE BEEN HERE, AND ALMOST EVERYTHING FROM “YANKEE HOTEL FOXTROT” ON HAS HAD AT LEAST A PART OF THE RECORD WORKED ON HERE OR RECORDED HERE. ♪ SHE FELL IN LOVE WITH A DRUMMER ♪ SHE FELL IN LOVE WITH A DRUMMER… ♪>>Reporter: BUT AS THE 51-YEAR- OLD RECOUNTS, THIS PATH WAS BY NO MEANS SIMPLE AND TIDY. WHILE THEIR FAN BASE AND CRITICAL ACCLAIM GREW STEADILY DURING THEIR EARLY YEARS, WILCO WAS FAMOUSLY DROPPED BY THEIR RECORD LABEL AFTER THEY REFUSED TO ALTER 2002’S “YANKEE HOTEL FOXTROT.” THE PROCESS WAS CAPTURED IN THE DOCUMENTARY, “I AM TRYING TO BREAK YOUR HEART.”>>ULTIMATELY, WHAT IT CAME DOWN TO IS, THEY TOLD JEFF TWEEDY, “WE DON’T LIKE YOUR ALBUM, WE DON’T WANT TO RELEASE IT.” ♪ >>Reporter: FOR THE BAND, THE ALBUM WAS A NEW DIRECTION, MOVING FROM THEIR ALT-COUNTRY BASE TO EXPERIMENTAL ALTERNATIVE ROCK. BUT THE LABEL DIDN’T HEAR A HIT SINGLE. RELEASED ONLINE AND IN STORES UNDER A NEW LABEL, THE ALBUM WAS CERTIFIED GOLD IN 2002, AND “ROLLING STONE” MAGAZINE NOW RANKS “YANKEE HOTEL FOXTROT” AMONGST THE TOP 500 ALBUMS OF ALL-TIME. THE SUCCESS OF “YANKEE HOTEL FOXTROT” WAS FOLLOWED TWO YEARS LATER BY THE GRAMMY-WINNING “A GHOST IS BORN,” CEMENTING THE BAND’S STATUS AS A FORCE IN AMERICAN MUSIC. BUT THERE WAS LITTLE JOY FOR TWEEDY. IN THE LATE ’90s, HE HAD BEGUN TAKING VICODIN, AT FIRST TO ALLEVIATE SYMPTOMS FROM MIGRAINES, DEPRESSION AND ANXIETY. BY THE TIME THE BAND ENTERED THE STUDIO IN THE FALL OF 2003 TO RECORD “A GHOST IS BORN,” HE WAS BATTLING A FULL-TIME OPIOID ADDICTION.>>YOU KNOW, 15, 16 YEARS AGO, IT USED TO BE ON A NIGHTLY BASIS, BEING IN A DEBILITATED HEAP, CRYING ON THE FLOOR MOMENTS BEFORE WALKING ON STAGE, YOU KNOW. JUST REALLY, REALLY STRUGGLING TO GET THROUGH THE FIRST FEW SONGS.>>Reporter: UPON COMPLETION OF “A GHOST IS BORN,” TWEEDY QUIT OPIOIDS COLD TURKEY. BUT IN THE WEEKS THAT FOLLOWED, HE SUFFERED A MENTAL COLLAPSE AND CHECKED HIMSELF INTO AN INTENSIVE INPATIENT TREATMENT CENTER IN CHICAGO. DID YOU FIND WRITING THE BOOK AND KIND OF CHRONICLING IT THIS WAY, DID IT CHANGE THE WAY YOU THINK ABOUT YOUR ADDICTION?>>NO, I DON’T THINK IT DID. I THINK… I’VE HAD THE… THAT’S THE THING I’VE THOUGHT ABOUT THE MOST FOR THE PAST 15 YEARS, PROBABLY, IS WHAT I NEED TO DO NEXT TO STAY HEALTHY OR TO STAY SOBER, OR HOWEVER YOU WANT TO PUT IT. I’M A BIG BELIEVER IN WHEN THINGS GET A LITTLE BIT OVERWHELMING, TO SLOW YOURSELF DOWN AND… AND THINK OF WHAT THE NEXT RIGHT THING TO DO IS. AND I HAVE ALL THIS EVIDENCE FROM MANY MORE YEARS OF… OF MY… OF LIVING THAT REASSURES ME I’M… I’M PROBABLY GOING TO BE OKAY, I’M PROBABLY GOING TO MAKE IT THROUGH THIS. ♪ >>Reporter: BEING OKAY HAS ALSO MEANT BEING PROLIFIC. IN THE YEARS SINCE HIS TIME IN THE HOSPITAL, WILCO HAS RELEASED FIVE STUDIO ALBUMS, LAUNCHED ITS OWN MUSIC FESTIVAL IN WESTERN MASSACHUSETTS; WHILE JEFF TWEEDY HAS ALSO PRODUCED A NUMBER OF ALBUMS WITH GOSPEL LEGEND MAVIS STAPLES, RELEASED A SOLO ALBUM AS WELL AS AN ALBUM WITH HIS SIDE PROJECT, TWEEDY, A DUO WITH HIS OLDEST SON, SPENCER. AT THE END OF THIS MONTH, HE WILL RELEASE HIS SECOND SOLO ALBUM.>>THERE ISN’T, LIKE, A… A CAREER GOAL THAT I’M LIKE, “OH, I WANT TO ACHIEVE THIS.” IT’S… I REALLY VERY SIMPLY JUST… I LIKE BEING ENGAGED IN A CREATIVE PROCESS. I FEEL SUSTAINED BY IT. I FEEL GOOD ABOUT IT. ♪ I LOVE THAT FEELING OF BEING UNBURDENED BY SELF, OR UN… YOU KNOW, YOU CAN REALLY GET IN A SUPER MEDITATIVE STATE IN, LIKE, IN THE ACT OF CREATION THAT… THAT I DON’T KNOW WHERE TO… I DON’T FIND IT ANYWHERE ELSE. ♪

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