Originally posted on Tumblr in June 2010.
I was already a big Wilco fan when I began this book; I am now a significantly larger Wilco fan, though this book goes through some swampy, personal territory that might push other fans away, or at least turn them off to the guys who make up the band.
It begins with a brief history of Jeff’s childhood, then quickly moves onto his first major music pursuit, being a bass-player in Uncle Tupelo. Nearly half the book is about the progression and rise to fame of this punk-grown alternative-country band that unknowingly sprouted an entire generation of followers and imitators. They truly created a completely new sound, having been ‘raised’ on punk rock, but playing what was basically grungy-country, and rounding up a significant fan base in their town (Belleville, IL) and the surrounding larger cities with their energetic, drunken, noise-fest performances.
It then moves on to Jeff Tweedy’s growing tension and eventual falling out with Jay Farrar, Uncle Tupelo’s lead man. After being kicked out of Uncle Tupelo with no warning, being told second hand by his manager that Jay wanted him out, Tweedy started Wilco only weeks later with a few musicians he had worked with previously.
The book then moves systematically through each album, how and where each was recorded, some of the quirky methods and ideas that went into each one, the ever-changing lineup of players in Wilco, Reprise/Warner Bros. Records cutting them from the roster, and Jeff Tweedy’s thoughts and emotional battles through all of this. The book concludes at the point in the band's history right after 2004’s A Ghost is Born is finished being recorded.
Greg Kot is a good writer, especially for this genre and even this band. He is an award-winning music critic for the Chicago Tribune, and at first the book’s name-dropping, references, and comparisons get a little tiresome, like he’s trying to make a really killer, audaciously-worded review into a 240 page book. But then… you kinda start to realize that he’s exactly right! His references are smart, accurate, and sometimes obscure, and his ability to put musical moments and sounds into words are impressive. He also paints well the conversations and confrontations between band members throughout (and there are a lot of them).
Ultimately, for some people, if you like something, it can be best to not find out about what goes on behind-the-scenes. This is somewhat the case for this book, partly because Jeff Tweedy is such an anti-hero of a person, and somewhat of a 'tortured artist.' I don't care for that term, but read it and see how true it is about him. The book often mentions Jeff's depression, migraines, intense anxiety-attacks, and overall self-destructive personality. He even comes across as kind of a douchebag at times. But you can’t help but love him, his passion, his creativity, and the unwillingness he has to comprise his art. If you love Wilco enough to want to know intimate and intricate details about them as people and musicians, then this is indeed the book for you.