Jeff Tweedy from Wilco on Religion, Music, and the Dolly Parton Song He Doesn't Like

Jeff Tweedy from Wilco on Religion, Music, and the Dolly Parton Song He Doesn't Like

In my life, I've lived with a significant musical vulnerability. I like songs that I can sing along to. I enjoy the traditional song structure, where we go through a couple of verses but always approach the bridge. And when we get there, it's going to be great because it's the emotional center of the song, and there might be some powerful chords that I can play, and perhaps the lyrics are dark and countercultural – but maybe not.

Maybe they're about the most universal experiences: love, sorrow, and loneliness. And perhaps all of this seems too vague to be interesting, but I don't care. Because the way all the notes are arranged makes me feel more alive than before the music played.

In the 1990s, I was studying in college in Tacoma, Washington. When I came in for my first year, I had a collection of CDs with the top 40 pop hits of that time. Janet (Miss Jackson if you're nasty). In Vogue. Depeche Mode.

But the cool guys in the hallway – and seemingly everywhere on campus – smoked weed, listened to Dylan, and handed out bootleg Grateful Dead tapes. Then everyone was raving about a Seattle band called Pearl Jam.

No one ever said, "Hey, Rachel, you have a very simple musical taste, which means you're very simple." At least not to my face.

He decided to honor his mom's life with a psychedelic cartoon. ENLIGHTEN ME WITH RACHEL MARTIN He decided to honor his mom's life with a psychedelic cartoon. I tell you all this because I just had to interview a guy who, from my perspective, seemed a lot like the cool guys in the hallway of my dorm.

Guys (mostly guys), who for hours, if not days on end, discussed the quality of Led Zeppelin albums and evaluated other people's musical tastes. Not maliciously, essentially just laying out critical remarks, and then interrupting each other with vague musical references. I've had enough. Can't you just say it?

Poor Jeff Tweedy. Wilco's frontman thought he was coming for an NPR interview about his new book "How to Write One Song," and he picked up on my emotional baggage about musical preferences.

But I promise, we talked about many other things. And he's a great guy who is not responsible for my personal insecurities.

This book pays tribute to songs and songwriters that inspired him to start making music in the first place and then continue doing so for a long time. And although you'll hear that we disagree on the integrity of Dolly Parton's classic, we agree on something very fundamental. The highest form of music is the one that makes people feel less lonely.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Jeff Tweedy: I think in the form of a song. I think it's just a characteristic of being immersed in records my whole life.

Rachel Martin: In the book, you write that the song that caused the first "problem in your musical consciousness" is Deep Purple's "Smoke on the Water."

Deep Purple performs "Smoke On The Water."

YouTube Tweedy: At the time I'm talking about in the book, I didn't know the name of that song. I don't think I would have known anything about it at all if it weren't for the instance where I picked up a guitar and tried to imagine someone playing it, I put my hand on the fret and started playing the riff.

It's so elementary. You know, it empowers you, and it's the first thing that occurred to me that I can really do this. And I think this song has influenced many people who became musicians.

It's important. It's like stumbling upon some new element added to the periodic table or something. You know, when someone comes up with such a riff, we have to give it a scientific name and atomic weight.

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