Monday, December 10, 2018

Always in Love

I read Jeff Tweedy's memoir, Let's Go So We Can Get Back, over Thanksgiving. It wasn't as strange as the year I read Chris Offutt's book My Father the Pornographer, a compelling, empathetic read, but as discussed last month, Let's Go So We Can Get Back has a stark cover that telegraphs a bit of what's inside. I used to bring a little pep to social situations. Now I just sneak away to read books about drug addiction and mood disorders.

Let's Go So We Can Get Back starts with an anecdote about a cat or, more specifically, a cat portrait. In other words, I wasn't sure it would be worth the read. Turns out, it was. 

In Petty, by Warren Zanes, Tom Petty says when he hears the album Southern Accents, he can taste the cocaine that went into it. Apparently it went from a deeply-felt, personal project to something finished carelessly by a producer who sort of ruined it.  For some reason, I think about that line - I can taste the cocaine - all the time, and I thought of it when Tweedy talked about making Summerteeth, the most painful Wilco album for him to listen to now.  I came of age to Summerteeth in my twenties, and the person I was then is so different from the person I am today (hellelujah) that I relate to that sentiment a lot.  

I don't want to get bogged down in an album-by-album analysis or an analysis of my past selves, for that matter, so I'll just say: I really enjoyed Let's Go.  If I weren't such a fan of Tweedy, I might not have enjoyed it, but I am and I did, and I appreciate why he wrote the book - so others might feel less alone with addiction.  The book covers standard biographical territory - who Tweedy's parents were, how he got started in music, etc., - and veers toward addiction and recovery in the second half, but it isn't exhaustive by any means and I'm sort of hoping he writes another.  There's certainly room for that.  

My favorite line comes from a passage where Tweedy talks about how he used to try out songs on his mom.  She was, he said, a tough audience - not because she was harsh, but because he knew if he choked up while singing something to her, then he had to keep it. He writes:

"That's what made me feel like I could be a songwriter. . . . It was realizing that I'm okay being vulnerable. . . . I wasn't the cool kid. I wasn't the strongest. I wasn't the one you could depend on if things went wrong. . . . I was the guy who could burst into tears in front of his peers and not care what they thought. I had a bone-crushing earnestness, a weaponized sincerity, and I was learning how to put all those feelings into songs."

It reminds me of something else in the book, something Rick Danko from The Band told him once: that when Tweedy sings he sounds desperate, and he should never try to sound any other way.

Let's Go So We Can Get Back chronicles the start of Uncle Tupelo, Tweedy's first band (which was almost named Black Shampoo!), and in a satisfying, graceful way discusses the dynamics of Tweedy's relationship with Jay Farrar, including how Farrar quit the band. It covers the beginning and end of guitarist and multi-instrumentalist Jay Bennett's time in Wilco, including how he and Tweedy were estranged at the time of Bennett's overdose in 2001. Basically, the book has a lot of what you want to hear and is thankfully devoid of boring exposition about concerts and technical play-by-plays. It goes into how Tweedy writes lyrics and how Wilco has recorded some of their crazy sounds, but what I like about is what I love about the band itself, which is the sincerity and devotion lurking behind it all.

Of the album Sky Blue Sky, Tweedy writes:

"I found myself actively avoiding my instinct to hide. In a lot of ways I can see it now as a fairly typical recovery-themed record. 'Either Way' is basically a rewording of the Serenity Prayer, for crying out loud." 

I was happy to hear that, because I've always found Sky Blue Sky full of comforting songs. I was in graduate school when it came out and weirdly stressed.  I played it over and over in my airy ranch house and sometimes practiced yoga to it in the kitchen. I still write to it today, and somewhere in the back of my mind is that time in my life, a time when my older brother once visited with his wife, and my whole family came to hear me and Tim read from our theses.  It's funny what sticks in your mind through the years. 

Speaking of back in the day, I finally saw the Whitney Houston documentary Whitney, and sort of held my breath through the whole thing. I don't think I ever understood that she drowned in a bathtub at the end of her life. I guess I just heard the word "overdose" and left it at that, but drowning due to an overdose is so much more gruesome to me, so much more of an Elvis way to go: alone, in a bathroom. The documentary made me sad, but more than anything, it made me feel the way I want every film to make me feel: which is more understanding of the whole story. The movie describes Whitney's origins in the neighborhoods of Newark, New Jersey, and breaks down her marriage to Bobby Brown who, the film states, was basically her two older brothers rolled into one person.  As the youngest child and only girl in my family, I could certainly relate to wanting that sort of comraderie in your life at all times.  The film also reveals Whitney's relationship with a woman and basically hypothesizes that her drug use stemmed back to childhood molestation, an event that scarred her psychologically and prevented her from living a life more true to herself.

There are so many jokes about Bobby Brown in our culture, many of them problematic, but holy cow, when I saw a young BB dance in Whitney, I felt like I could watch it on loop, forever.  I was too young when Bobby Brown got famous to understand him as a breakout artist from New Edition and later I wasn't paying enough attention to understand why he was in the news all the time, but now all I can think is, the man may have 99 problems, but dancing sure ain't one of them. 

Also, why don't we all have spandex with our last name down the side?  If you don't remember the video for Brown's hit song "Every Little Step," see minute 1:00 of this video and paralyze yourself for the day.

In other news, did we have to put a lock on the trash drawer after Ellis reached in, grabbed an apple core, and ran to the other room while happily eating it? Yes, we did.  And does Tim accuse me of playing Bon Iver every day while it snows and I'm home alone, sipping coffee, staring out the window? Why yes, he does and yes, I do.

Finally, I checked out a memoir called My Girls about Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds, written by Carrie's brother, Eddie Fisher, and it's pretty good.  I also watched Won't You Be My Neighbor, the Mr. Rogers documentary, which was beautiful because of the subject itself, but ultimately a little bit plain.  I also finally watched Unzipped, per my nod to Amelia's epic 2014 gift guide. May we all have mothers who believe in us like Isaac Mizrahi's mama believes in him! And may we all have Mr. Rogers sitting on our shoulders all day long, saying: Love your neighbor and love yourself.

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