I picked up Jeff Tweedy's memoir on the advice of Austin Kleon. I was reading Robert Galbraith and then a YA book about the Holocaust and finishing those I looked at Tweedy but set it aside for Dani Shapiro's Hourglass (which is INCREDIBLE!!!) and thought I wouldn't end up reading Tweedy at all. What was a rock and roller going to tell me? Wasn't it probably ghost written anyway? I finished Hourglass and ended up picking up Let's Go (So We Can Get Back) to read myself to sleep until I could find something good.
I read 89 pages and was really tired the next morning, damn it. This book is good. It's really, really good.
Tweedy talks about addiction and music, but that's not what got me. He gets into being creative and how he works. He talks about how to be an artist, how he works on his own, how he has come to believe in himself, how he works with others, his compromises and things on which he won't compromise, the ways in which he balances family and a creative life, and on and on and on.
This book gave me hope and direction as a writer.
Oh, and he is funny too. There's one bit where he says he needs to kill and eat the heart of Dave Grohl that had me laughing for good little while.
Here are some excerpts that worked on me:
That moment was just as important as the day I finally pulled the neglected guitar out of the closet and forced myself to figure out how chords worked, or found the courage to walk onstage and sing in front of a basement full of strangers, or put words and notes together to make a song that hadn't existed before. For any of that to happen, I had to envision what it would feel like to be that person, to be somebody who had accomplished all of these things already. (42)
Learning how to play guitar is the one thing I always look back on with wonderment. I'm reminded of "What ifs?" every time I pick up a guitar. Where would I be? I have sort of a survivor's guilt about it that makes me want it for everyone. Not the "guitar" exactly, but something like it for everybody. Something that would love them back the more they love it. Something that would remind them of how far they've come and provide clear evidence that the future is always unfolding toward some small treasure worth waiting for. At the very least, I wish everyone had a way to kill time without hurting anyone, including themselves. That's what I wish. That's what the guitar became for me that summer and is to me still. (65-66)
Too much ambition gets a bad rap in my line of work. If you grew up in the late twentieth century loving or wanting to be a part of the punk or indie rock scene, you were expected to at least give the appearance of not caring and giving the least possible amount of effort. Of course, it's a lie. Does anyone think Devo just happened with minimum effort?! The Ramones?! Pavement?! I'd be willing to bet every band you've ever heard of worked hard and had crazy ambition. Maybe it went away at some point or they got content to coast, but trust me, at some point they worked their asses off and dreamed grand and triumphant dreams. Listen, it's a cop-out to hid ambition and pretend aspirations are shameful. It's a way to protect yourself. Preemptive sour grapes.
Here's an aspirational thought I've had about what I do that kind of turns Chuck Close's quote inside out. Sometimes I think it's my job to be inspired. I work at it. That's what I do that most resembles work. It seems to me that the only wrong thing I could do with whatever gifts I've been given as a musician or an artist would be to let curiosity die. So I try to keep up with other people's creative output. I read and I listen. I'm lucky that's what I get to do with my time -- keeping myself excited about the world and not being discouraged when it loses its spark. By now I've been doing it long enough to say with some confidence that if you can remain open to it and you're not afraid to call it work sometimes, inspiration is limitless. (169-170)
A band in the nineties wanting to get any attention at all also had to make videos. I wasn't interested in being a visual artist or selling music that way, but I also wasn't a puritan who was adamant abut not selling music that way. The way I looked at it, Bob Dylan and other songwriters far more talented than me had done promotional videos. So who did I think I was, a fucking artist? My line in the sand over what I will and won't do has always been really instinctual, and I've tried to keep it separate from ideology. My goal was to not put any unnecessary impediments in the way of being heard. By refusing to do a video, you're basically telling the people trying to help your band be heard that they don't know what they're doing. From early on, we erred on the side of letting them do their job. As long as their job wasn't interfering with the music, we tried to trust them. We signed a contract to make records and deliver them, that was our job. And their end of the bargain was to sell them, that was theirs. If they were staying out of our way, why would we stand in theirs? (183-184)
(This has me wondering about my stance on social media. Tell you what, when a publisher tells me to get back on Twitter and Facebook to promote our publishing deal, I'll do it. Deal?)