Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Brushes with the Famous - Jeff Tweedy

I think I've maybe told this story 25 times. At least.

Some of you may know who Jeff Tweedy is, others may not. Back in the early 90's, there was this band out of Belleville, Illinois called Uncle Tupelo. Belleville is actually a suburb of St. Louis. Uncle Tupelo is given credit for starting the whole "Alternative Country" or "No Depression" music genre. Even though people like Gram Parsons and other people were doing this before them, they were the band that caught people's attention and started the very limited spark that was "Alt Country."

I actually saw Uncle Tupelo in Ames when they just had the "No Depression" CD , their first, out. My friend, Brian Buhman told me, "If you like the Gear Daddies, then check these guys out." I maybe listened to the CD 10 times before the band showed up at People's Bar & Grill on the first Thursday night before spring classes began. People's was serving up $2 mix drinks in quart Mason jars. Is that ever a good idea? I got a whiskey and coke and was able to actually play a few games of pool with the band before the show. I was bumming Mike Heidorn's Marlboro reds.

After the show, we ended up going to Perkins for a meal. I remember jabbering too much as I usually do. They crashed at Buhman's house. They brought the case of Leinenkugels with them that they got from People's. Their heater had just broken, and this was January. We sat around the house at 2 or 3 in the morning playing acoustic guitars. I picked it up and played "Dust in the Wind." Tweedy said, "Dude, I think I'm all dust in the winded-out." Brian Hennemen, who would go on to lead the Bottle Rockets, was touring with them. In the morning, they were gone. They left the Leinenkugels.

The second time I hung out with these guys was on their last tour. Although at the time, no one knew it was their last tour. They played at the M-Shop, which was actually a smaller venue than People's. They came over to the same group of friend's house, only it was in a different location (renting in college, you know). They were more than a 3-piece by this time. John Stirrat had joined and was playing bass. As everyone showed up, I sort of stood back and watched the dynamics. Most everyone in the band was drinking beer. They had brought the case of Old Style that the M-Shop gave them. Jay Farrar, who went on to form Son Volt, was in the corner nursing an Old Style and talking quietly with a roadie of the band. I told him something like, "Thanks for playing Whiskey Bottle during the encore, it's one of my favorites." He said something like, "I sort of messed up the words in the second verse." I knew that he did, but that's show business.

Tweedy comes in and he heads straight for the sink and gets a water. I see this and look at Stirrat and ask, "Do some members of the band not drink?" He says, "Some of us don't," and takes a swig out of his bottle of Old Style.

This is where it gets good...or annoying if you're Jeff Tweedy. I start asking him questions about different lyrics of his songs. I can't be sure what I asked him now. After about the 3rd question, he asks, "Are you going to interview me all night?" I sort of crack a smile and two of my friends, Andy Strom and Eric "Smoke" Smith chime in with, "No, you gotta understand, we've been talking about this stuff for the longest time, and you're the guy who can answer it." Jeff sort of shrugs his shoulders and I think he's left alone for about five minutes.

I didn't talk to him or really anyone else for the rest of the "after-the-show" party. My friends practiced with their friends in that house, and I think they got at least 2 members of the band to jam with them until the neighbors upstairs called the cops. As we were leaving, the band was leaving, too, and Jeff apologized to me for being agitated. I just grinned and shook my head. I said, "It's okay, Jeff, I know how I am." He smiled and nodded. Not sure he expected that kind of response.

Think about it. These guys get accosted by fans every day, and I'll bet you they answer the same questions over and over. Even if they were to post information on their website that would answer these questions, you're still going to get the occasional person that doesn't read it. Think if people did that in your job. It would get annoying really quick.

What's funny, however, is that in Golden Smog, a side project many musicians from about 3 other bands are involved in, including the Jayhawks and Soul Asylum, Tweedy wrote a song called, "I Can't Keep From Talking." Which, when I interpret it for myself, is kind of about annoying people like me, with the final verse being about his feelings for those who ask. You can get this off of iTunes, if you so care to.

I Can't Keep From Talking

Hey ain't it great for us to be alive
I've been lying in wait for you to come outside
I know you don't know me but I know a lot about you
You're the one who knows me better than I do

When I get back home, I'm gonna put your records on
I play 'em way too loud and I'll sing along
I know all the words to every song and I don't really care
But tonight you sang one wrong

And I can't keep from talking
I can't keep from talking about you
And I just wanted to thank you
Thank you for doing what you do

I wanted to tell the world a little bit about myself
Realize my feelings and put them on a shelf
Then jump out the window so you'd all know what it's about
'Cause I can't be there to help you figure it out

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Anonymous flygrrl said...

I used to work for John Stirrat's sister. She's director of the Fine Arts gallery at IU. Cool lady, and takes everybody to see Wilco when they come to town (though I never had the pleasure).

10:53 AM

Blogger Jez said...

Must be John's other sister. Laurie Stirrat was in Blue Mountain, an Oxford, Mississippi band. So that's cool that his other sister is a professor.

6:04 AM

Anonymous flygrrl said...

Betsy. No, she's not a professor, she's a gallery director and artist. Her husband is a professor of photography.

3:00 PM


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