Jeff Tweedy sits down in Milwaukee to talk about his World Within Song
For most of us, music is a memory trigger. We associate songs with memories. Songs can transcend time and take us back to specific moments. In his latest book, “World Within a Song,” Jeff Tweedy flips that on its head, sort of, and reflects on how certain songs have influenced him, impacted his life and moved him forward to the man he is today. The subtitle of the book makes the intention clear: “Music That Changed My Life and Life That Changed My Music.”
“World Within a Song” is Tweedy’s third book. He writes in the intro that this probably should have been his first book. “This book is the one I probably would have written first if I were more ambitious, and if I had been a little more clear-eyed about what I care most for in this world, and what I’ve thought about the most by far. Other people’s songs. And how much they have taught me about how to be human — how to think about myself and others,” he writes.
Tweedy has been making lots of appearances on TV, radio, podcasts and even a few in-person engagements on stages around the country to talk about “World Within a Song.” One of those appearances was in Milwaukee Saturday, Nov. 11 at the historic Pabst Theatre. Moderated by Josh Modell, executive editor of Talkhouse (a media company and outlet for musicians, actors, filmmakers), the evening — wrapped tightly into a one-hour presentation — included questions from Modell, prescreened questions from the audience and ended with a four-song performance by the Wilco band leader.
If you’re not familiar yet with the book, in it Tweedy identifies 50 songs and shares what each means to him. Between many of his musings on those songs he intersperses little snippets of tales from his life — what Tweedy calls “rememories.”
Right off the bat, Modell questioned the author how true was his statement that the songs selected for the book were “just the ones that came to me first.”
“I made a list at one point early on of things that I thought I would not want to forget to include, and then I never really referred to it again until the very end,” said Tweedy. “There were only one or two things that I hadn’t covered from that list.”
Tweedy admitted that he very likely could have written a very similar book with 50 different songs. “Some of the stories obviously wouldn’t be the same, but the general point of the book would have been very similar,” he said. And maybe, he said, he’ll write another one. “Once it was turned in, more songs kept coming to me, and I was like, ‘wow’ I can’t believe I didn’t write about that.”
In the book, there are several songs that Tweedy adamantly refers to as “not good” — among them, “Happy Birthday,” “The Star Spangled Banner,” Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You” and Bon Jovi’s “Wanted Dead or Alive.” In person, however, he takes a more gentle stance. When asked by Modell if he’d ever give “Wanted Dead or Alive” another chance, Tweedy had this to say, “Obviously, I couldn’t tell somebody else that it’s not good. I’m saying it as a joke in the book, because I think it would be unrealistic to put this book out and not take some shots at some songs. Because we all like what we like and don’t like what we don’t like.”
When asked by Modell about music’s power to create empathy, Tweedy had this to say, “It’s similar to the way literature teaches us how to be human. We get to crawl around in someone else’s consciousness. Songs can do that when we have an authentic world revealed to us that we didn’t understand before, because it wasn’t our own experience. When you really put yourself into the song you experience empathy. You sense what it’s like. When you hear a song that really shares something poignant about someone else’s perspective, you can’t help but become a little less closed off to other experiences.”
While the book is an interesting read for any music lover, it likely holds more meaning and insight for Tweedy’s fans. If you could care less about Jeff Tweedy, then even if you are a huge music fan, you will likely care less about this book. If, however, you enjoy Tweedy’s music and even more so if you found yourself religiously tuning into every “episode” of The Tweedy Show to not only get you through the pandemic but to get closer to the man, this book is sure to bring you closer to understanding who the man is and what makes the man tick. And you may even develop a bit of empathy for him.
If nothing else, it’s an interesting read simply to learn about how songs you may know have impacted someone else in similar or different ways from your own experience. And you might discover some new songs worth checking out.
As part of the evening’s “programming,” four preselected members of the audience were invited to come forth and tell Tweedy what meaning one of his songs has for them before he would share his own thoughts about the song and then perform it.
Those songs in Milwaukee, included the Wilco songs “Sunken Treasure,” “Dawned on Me” and “Hummingbird,” and a song Tweedy penned for Mavis Staples 2010 album of the same name, “You Are Not Alone.”
Find more of the latest on Jeff Tweedy at his website here: https://wilcoworld.net
Enjoy our previous coverage here: REVIEW: Jeff Tweedy Chelsea Walls