At Recovery Unplugged, we discuss at length the power of music to alter mood, improve our day and enrich our emotional experiences. What we’ve left out up to now, however, is that listening to Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot on vinyl with headphones may convey this concept better than any spoken or written words ever could. The architect and de-facto musical therapist behind this record, as well as nine others by Wilco and four with his previous band Uncle Tupelo, is Illinois native Jeff Tweedy, a man who can be safely described as one of the most prolific and influential songwriters of the last two decades. In his new memoir “Let’s Go”, Tweedy writes with candor, honesty and a trademark sardonic charm about his career, musical legacy, addiction and trauma.
A Raw, Unflinching and Human Account of Addiction and Trauma
“If you picked this book up looking for wild, druggy stories about my addiction to opiates, you’re out of luck. I want to put those years behind me,” Tweedy writes of his addiction and trauma. A few sentences later, the reader gets this reality check: “The last part was a joke. Jesus, of course I’m going to write about the drugs.” Tweedy writes specifically about the ultimately toxic relationship between himself and former Wilco instrumentalist Jay Bennett, who he said enabled one another’s painkiller addiction, saying that not firing Bennett meant probable death. Bennett left the band in 2001 in a well-publicized split and died in 2009 of a fentanyl overdose.
Tweedy is harder on himself than Bennett, or anyone else, in the book, relaying metaphorically self-immolating accounts of his behavior at the height of his opioid addiction, including stealing morphine from his terminally ill mother-in-law. This admittedly hard-to-forgive story is accompanied by a tragic account of Tweedy being sexually assaulted by an adult woman when he was 14 years old.
A Riveting Read and Resonant Message
Perhaps the most valuable takeaway from this treasure-trove of lived experience and artistic wisdom is Tweedy’s philosophy on the creation of art in the face of addiction, trauma and all other types of adversity: “I think that artists create in spite of suffering, not because of suffering. … To exalt an artist’s suffering as being somehow unique or noble makes me cringe.” Tweedy relays an ultimately universal message in “Let’s Go”: addiction can take us to scary and undignified places, but that art and inspiration can still flourish independently of these experiences. The book was released on November 13th.