Thursday, November 15, 2018

Chicken Pot Pie: Thoughts on Jeff Tweedy's Memoir, 'Let's Go (So We Can Get Back)'




Let's Go (So We Can Get Back) is not Jeff Tweedy's way of trying to be clever with a book title

The title only makes sense if you finish reading his memoir, which was released this week. I won't be mentioning any spoilers here minus the most obvious one: you have to read it for yourself.

I will, however, tell you how it made me feel.

I found it fascinating, and a bit sad, the way Tweedy writes about his former Uncle Tupelo band mate, Jay Farrar. Living in St. Louis, if you're semi-close to the music scene here, you hear a lot of stories about the two, and those stories usually offer more confusion. More often than not, they fill my head with negative thoughts. And let me be clear -- I have never been a Wilco vs. Son Volt guy. I love both bands.

But the emotional, honest impact that Tweedy delivers in the pages of Let's Go (So We Can Get Back), has me feeling different today. Tweedy gives plenty of insight about his relationship with Farrar, and also another Jay -- the late Jay Bennett.

I met Jay Bennett once in Chicago. It was right after he was fired from Wilco by Tweedy, and he was opening for Cowboy Junkies at the Lincoln Park Zoo. After the show, I walked up to him to introduce myself, and he was the nicest guy -- but also shy and had a curious, guarded look in his eye. If I've ever been able to tell how a human has been feeling on the inside, then it seemed obvious to me that Jay Bennett was hurting somewhere deep.

The next day, I drove up to Milwaukee for the next show of the tour, and Bennett barely made it in time for his opening set. It was a mess. Rushed, sounded terrible, the look of a man who was completely overwhelmed and broken at the same time. That was the last time I ever saw Jay Bennett perform.

Again, no spoilers, but of course Tweedy writes about Bennett, mainly during the time they were working on Summerteeth and Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. I got emotional reading it -- the stories about Bennett and Farrar.

And also the ones about his mom and dad.

You should really read this book for those stories.

And I suppose it is okay to share one of my own.

On September 16th, 2002, my friend Anthony and I made the trip to Columbia, Missouri to see Wilco at The Blue Note on their Yankee Hotel Foxtrot tour. Anthony was and still is (we just saw Neil Young and Crazy Horse in Fresno earlier this year) a wild card, meaning that he would be by my side at one point in the show, and then would disappear more than a few times throughout the evening.

On this particular evening, I hadn't seen him for quite a while, but earlier in the night, he made his presence known by shrieking out this God-awful sound that resembles a seal. He had done the same thing at The Pageant in St. Louis the previous year, and it actually got a "Okay, who brought the seal?" from Tweedy on stage.

But on the night in Columbia, he didn't stop there. When Wilco began the song "Red-Eyed and Blue," there was a pause at the beginning -- maybe Tweedy had forgotten the words? My memory is unclear (there is, however, a bootleg of the show somewhere). But I do remember Anthony yelling out, "chicken pot pie!!" And Jeff ran with it and sang, "we got...chicken pot pie!" Funniest thing I remember at a concert. What might have been funnier was that the next day, a popular Wilco message board was wondering if "chicken pot pie" had any hidden meaning. (There was no hidden meaning. That's just my crazy friend Anthony. He has probably pissed off a lot of people with "the seal" over the years. I'm sorry.)

Anyway, like I was saying, Anthony had disappeared for pretty much the last 45 minute of the show, and when it ended, I started to get a little nervous. This was 2002, and Anthony did not have a cell phone.

I thought maybe he had gone outside, but as I was exiting the venue I saw him in the corner, helping an older gentleman down the steps. He was helping Bob Tweedy, Jeff's dad, because it was dark, not because Bob couldn't walk. Because when Bob reached the bottom, he walked right up to me with a smile on his face, wondering if I needed any Wilco merchandise.

"Got it out in the trunk," he said. "Follow me!" (A couple years later at The Pageant, I would meet Bob again, and he told me -- twice -- that Yankee Hotel Foxtrot was #1 on Amazon.com. The man was a joy to talk to, and extremely proud of his son.)

On the night in Columbia, Bob didn't walk me to his car to sort through Wilco merch items in his trunk, though. He took me to Wilco's tour bus, and when we got there with Anthony, he said, "Wait here just a sec!"

In a few minutes, he walked out with his son. Bob had a huge smile!

Anthony and I did, too. It was amazing! I was 23, had to drive two hours home and be at work the next day, but that trip to Columbia helped spark an interest in live music -- an interest in art -- that is still burning. Art is my full-time job now.

Thank you, Jeff. Thank you, Bob.