The story of Wilco begins in Bellville, Ill, a town in the middle of the Midwest. In the 1980s High school buddies Jay Farrar and Jeff Tweedy forged a friendship based on their love of music. Both grew up in the harsh economic realities that plagued the Midwest in 1980s (and persist into the present) and saw music as a way out. Together they formed Uncle Tupelo in 1987 and developed a sound that blended elements of punk, country, and folk. Their 1990 debut album, No Depression, was a collection of ragged tracks that created its own genre of "alt-country."
Uncle Tupelo came to prominence in the underground rock scene of the early 1990s, an era remembered for the "grunge" sound from Seattle. Unlike Nirvana, who's themes revolved around teen angst and outrage at corporate America, Uncle Tupelo wrote honest commentaries on the realities of American life. Their second LP, Still Feel Gone, dwelt on these themes in a more coherent set of songs. Tracks like "Gun" and "Looking for a Way Out" captured the banality and emptiness of rural life - minus the romanticism of Bruce Springsteen and more in tone with Sherwood Anderson's novel Winesburg, Ohio. Their next album, March 16-20 1992, was a set of acoustic tracks produced by REM guitarist Peter Buck, in an even deeper examination of American roots music. Kot goes into detail on the creative and personal tensions that befell Tweedy and Farrar during the making of their final album Anodyne (1993) when both began to write their songs separately.
|Jay Bennett and Jeff Tweedy|
An ongoing theme in the book is personal travails of Tweedy as a suffering artist torn between domestic and career obligations. After Being There, Wilco embarked on grueling tours that left Tweedy psychologically drained and plagued with migraine headaches. Long absences from his family also took its toll - along with the usual travails of the road. During concerts, he took on a new persona, getting confrontational with audiences that didn't take to the music. Band members grew nervous about Tweedy's increasingly unpredictable behavior onstage. In 1998, Wilco was asked by British folk rock artist Billy Bragg to contribute music for unpublished Woody Guthrie songs. These recordings resulted in two albums Mermaid Avenue (1998) and the follow up Mermaid Avenue. II were well received despite recurring conflicts with Bragg.
The release of Summerteeth (1999) and Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (2002) marked new artistic heights for Wilco in the midst of conflicts with their record company and painful personnel changes. Summerteeth was a pure pop album with some of the most haunting lyrics in recent memory. Tweedy, worried the songs were too dark in the album's first cut, retreated to the studio with Bennett and added heavy overdubs. Disappointing sales led their label, Reprise, to demand a more "commercial" sounding album next time around.
Fans of Wilco will enjoy this book since the author is a real fan. Earlier, I mentioned this was an up close account in the best since of the term since it avoids going into cheap tabloid territory. It would've been nice to learn a little more about Tweedy's songwriting process and his literary influences. Also, Jay Farrar leaves the narrative far too soon, a figure just as compelling as Tweedy. For insights into the current state of the record business the book is first rate.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5j2ykHinIPg&feature=related - Wilco performs "War on War" on Late Show with David Letterman