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Over a more than three-decade long career, Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy has quietly become an icon of American Music.

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Jeff Tweedy
Jeff Tweedy

Jeff Tweedy is an internationally successful musician and the frontman for alternative rock band Wilco.

Born in 1967, Tweedy grew up in Belleville, IL, and learned to play guitar at age 12. In high school, he joined classmate Jay Ferrar in the band that became Uncle Tupelo. When Farrar left the influential alt country group in 1993 after four albums, Tweedy recruited the remaining members to join Wilco.

With its lyrical songwriting and musical experimentation, Wilco’s fourth album (of eleven), Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (2002), cemented a transition from alt country to indie rock. It sold over half a million copies and was named one of the best albums of the 2000s by numerous publications. The followup, A Ghost Is Born (2004), won the Grammy Award for Best Alternative Music Album.

Tweedy has also played with groups Loose Fur and Golden Smog and recorded several solo albums. In 1998, Wilco collaborated with English musician Billy Bragg on Mermaid Avenue, the first of three celebrated collections of songs based on lyrics by Woody Guthrie.

Tweedy released his bestselling memoir Let’s Go (So We Can Get Back) in 2018.


Over a more than three-decade long career, Wilco front man Jeff Tweedy has quietly become an icon of American Music.

(Jeff Tweedy singing from “Art of Almost”) 


I froze 

I can’t be so 

Far away from my wasteland 

I never know when I might 


Hoist the horns with my own hands 



Jeff Tweedy, the leader of the iconic alternative rock band Wilco, is in a contemplative mood. In his bestselling memoir, he looks back on the ebbs and flows of a three-decade long career that has made him, for many, a national treasure. The New Yorker called him “Our great, wry, American consolation poet.” But when Jeff Tweedy describes himself, it’s in more self-effacing ways, “a moderately successful indie rock stalwart”, “a doom-dabbling, fifty-year-old”, “borderline misanthrope, nap enthusiast.” 

Jeff Tweedy: That one’s probably the most accurate. You could just shorten it to nap enthusiast. I’d like to see that. 

Growing up in post-industrial Belleville, Illinois, Tweedy always felt like an outsider. He was the shy, deep-thinking kid who didn’t quite fit in. But in music, he found the possibility of belonging. 

Tweedy: I think the thing that drew me to musicians and rock musicians was this feeling, this sense that I got that they were more empowered somehow than I was, that they were okay with themselves, that they could stand on stage and have people looking at them, and that the guitar was somewhat of a shield, and that the guitar was almost a weapon against other people’s ignorance and judgment. I honestly really thought of it, especially once I started listening to bands like The Clash, and there was so much romanticism to the way that band portrayed itself as a gang. I definitely saw it as something I wanted to belong to, as a self-liberated soldier of some sort, I guess, against dismissive thinking and injustice. I don’t know to get super grandiose about it, but it wasn’t so much, it wasn’t grandiose thinking at all. It was just I did experience a lot of anti-intellectual judgment and bullying in a town like the one I grew up in. There was no outward way of showing anybody without being a violent person or a physical person that you deserve to be treated a little better. 

Tweedy dropped out of college twice to focus on Uncle Tupelo, the alt-country-rock band he co-founded with childhood friend Jay Farrar. They enjoyed a seven-year run during which they built a solid following. When the two fell out in 1994, the band split and Tweedy started Wilco. He would eventually find liberty in his new independence and gradually evolve his own unique melodic style and surrealistic approach to lyric writing. 

Tweedy: Somewhere I came across the idea that you can’t put two words next to each other without meaning being generated, and I love that idea. I’m fascinated with testing the limits of that idea. And certainly, lyrics are a place where you can put words and most people coming to it are compelled to understand it, to find some meaning there that makes them feel like they’re not being left out. And so, I just think a lyricist should use that. I think they should use that impulse.  

(Tweedy singing from “I am Trying to Break Your Heart”) 

I am an American aquarium drinker 

I assassin down the avenue 

I’m hiding out in the big city blinking 

What was I thinking when I let go of you 

The song that opens Wilco’s seminal 2002 album, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, is a great example of Tweedy’s own conventional approach to narrative. “I am Trying to Break Your Heart” was inspired by a line in a letter from Vincent van Gogh to his brother Theo in which he described the feeling he was trying to evoke in one of his paintings. “Theo, I am trying to get at something utterly heartbroken and therefore, utterly heartbreaking.” 

Tweedy: That made total sense to me, so I wanted to put it in a song. That is what I’m trying to communicate. I’m trying to communicate an idea that even when you feel like you’ve got things under control or feel like you’re the boss of the situation, there’s still a level of hurt that underlines the whole thing, and then you’re ultimately trying to communicate that as an effort to make some connection and to reach out and to be closer.  

(Tweedy singing from “I am Trying to Break Your Heart”) 

I always thought that if I held you tightly  

You would always love me like you did back then 

Then I fell asleep and the city kept blinking 

What was I thinking when I let you back in  

I am trying to break your heart 

I am trying to break your heart 

But still I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t easy 

I am trying to break your heart 

In 2004, after years of problematic substance use, a 37-year-old Jeff Tweedy entered rehab where he found, not a higher power, but an idea that has guided him since, that creativity brings us closer to our higher selves. 

Tweedy: Another woman that was in the hospital with me is a heroin addict and was in art therapy class, but I watched a magical transformation in this woman, and the only thing that I could account for is that she was, for the first time in many, many years, creating something that wasn’t there before, and that gave her some power over her life that she had not felt for a long, long, long time. And it made me think that when people participate in creation, in the making of things, simple things that just weren’t there, not necessarily great works of art or anything, just making something, they align themselves with creation. They align themselves with the world as opposed to destruction, and I think that for myself the impulse to destroy is diminished the more I create, and I have the impulse to destroy. There are a lot of things that make me very, very angry about the world that I would like to tear down, but I think it probably happens in a more sustainable, long-term way through changing people’s perceptions by putting more beauty into the world, by aligning yourself with creation. 

And Jeff Tweedy has indeed created a powerful body of work.  

(Tweedy singing from “Bombs Above”) 

I leave behind a trail of songs 

From the darkest gloom to the brightest sun 

I’ve lost my way but it’s hard to say 

What I’ve been through should matter to you 

 A man so drunk he could hardly stand 

Told me once holding my hand 

Suffering is the same for everyone 

He was right but I was wrong to agree 

Ah, ah, ah, ah