Not My Job: Jeff Tweedy

May 30, 2020
Originally published on May 30, 2020 1:19 pm
Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

PETER SAGAL, HOST:

The best part of every long trip is coming home - at least, I think so. It's been a while. I actually can't remember the last time I wanted to be inside this house.

BILL KURTIS: One of our favorite places in Chicago is Millennium Park, the shining architectural gem right by the lake where a few summers ago, we talked to Chicago's own Jeff Tweedy along with panelists Bobcat Goldthwaite, Amy Dickinson and Peter Grosz.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

SAGAL: When he was a kid, Jeff Tweedy had a guitar but lied about knowing how to play it. Eventually, he figured he'd better learn before somebody called him out. We assume he also lied about forming two of the most important bands of the last 20 years, Uncle Tupelo and Wilco, because he went ahead and did that, too.

Jeff Tweedy, welcome to WAIT WAIT... DON'T TELL ME.

(APPLAUSE)

JEFF TWEEDY: Thanks for having me.

(APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: So, of course, we read that story about you online, so we have no idea if it's true. But is it true that you had this guitar but didn't know how to play, and you lied about it?

TWEEDY: My career is built on a lie.

SAGAL: Oh, really?

TWEEDY: Yeah.

SAGAL: And the lie is that you could play the guitar.

TWEEDY: That I know how to play the guitar.

SAGAL: So right.

TWEEDY: I had a guitar, and I told everyone that I knew how to play it. And I recorded Bruce Springsteen's "Born To Run" off of the radio.

SAGAL: Yeah.

AMY DICKINSON: Wow.

TWEEDY: And I took it to school and told everyone that it was me.

DICKINSON: No.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Really?

TWEEDY: Yes.

DICKINSON: Wow.

SAGAL: You - like, the song? Not, like, a cover it - the song.

TWEEDY: No. The whole album.

SAGAL: The whole album. The whole album.

(LAUGHTER)

TWEEDY: Yeah. Sunday nights in St. Louis, they would play whole albums on the radio. And I recorded "Born To Run," and I learned enough of the lyrics that I could sing along with it. And I was delusional.

(LAUGHTER)

TWEEDY: I told a bunch of my friends in, like, the fourth grade that that was me.

SAGAL: Right. Did they believe you?

TWEEDY: I - no, I don't think so.

SAGAL: No.

(LAUGHTER)

BOBCAT GOLDTHWAIT: Did they ever catch on? Did they go, this guy is ripping you off, Jeff?

TWEEDY: No. One of them did say, I think I've heard that.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: And you're like, yeah, it's getting around.

TWEEDY: And I said, probably. It's pretty popular.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: So how did you then finally decide you should probably learn the guitar your own self?

TWEEDY: I had a terrible bicycle accident, and I ended up in bed for a whole summer...

SAGAL: Oh, wow.

TWEEDY: ...When I was around 12 years old.

GOLDTHWAIT: You think that's funny...

(LAUGHTER)

GOLDTHWAIT: Actually, I don't think that's funny at all. Sorry.

SAGAL: So you're in bed, and you're, like, I need to do something. I might as well finally learn to play the guitar.

TWEEDY: I thought it was my opportunity to learn how to play the guitar before someone asked me to play "Thunder Road"...

SAGAL: Right.

(LAUGHTER)

TWEEDY: ...Which was hard, you know?

SAGAL: Can you play "Thunder Road" today?

TWEEDY: No.

SAGAL: No, you can't do it - never reached that point.

TWEEDY: I still - I started with Ramones songs.

SAGAL: Right. And your first band was in high school, which is true of a lot of people.

TWEEDY: Uh-huh.

SAGAL: Yeah. And what was that band like?

TWEEDY: Well, it was actually kind of Uncle Tupelo, but it was with some of Jay Farrar's other - his brother was in the band. We played mostly '60s garage band covers.

SAGAL: Right.

TWEEDY: And then we actually did very, very well because there was nothing else to do in - around where we lived.

SAGAL: Right.

TWEEDY: So we'd just book a book, like, a VFW hall, and every teenager from every high school in the county would come and drink underage.

SAGAL: Right.

TWEEDY: And that was much more popular than we were, but we benefited from it.

SAGAL: So...

TWEEDY: Right.

SAGAL: That's great that worked. So - and so when did you start writing your own songs?

TWEEDY: Probably around the same time that I started playing the guitar. It was easier for me to make things up than learn how to play someone else's song correctly.

SAGAL: Right. And what were your first songs like?

TWEEDY: You've probably heard some of them. They're, like, about, you know, being born to run and stuff like that.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Oh, wait a minute.

PETER GROSZ: About New Jersey life - life in New Jersey.

SAGAL: Yeah.

DICKINSON: I just picture these fourth-grade girls sort of gathered around you. And you're like, honey, I got to hit the road, you know?

GROSZ: Then they go home, and they're like, mom, what's a tramp? Well, Jeff called me a tramp.

TWEEDY: There weren't any girls...

(LAUGHTER)

TWEEDY: ...Talking to me.

SAGAL: Did that - did you ever get to the point where you actually had the classic groupie situation going on?

TWEEDY: No. No. Of course not.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Yeah. No. I mean...

TWEEDY: No.

SAGAL: ...Wilco did not have, like...

GOLDTHWAIT: What do you mean by...

TWEEDY: Have you ever been to a Wilco show?

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: I found out that you lived here in Chicago, but I also found out something that I did not know about you - is that you're a Jewish person, which I did not expect.

TWEEDY: That is correct.

SAGAL: That's - well, mazel tov.

TWEEDY: Thank you.

SAGAL: Yeah. But you didn't grow up Jewish, did you?

TWEEDY: I did not grow up Jewish. I converted when my youngest son...

SAGAL: Yeah.

TWEEDY: ...Was being bar mitzvahed.

GOLDTHWAIT: Did you - were you bar mitzvahed together?

TWEEDY: He was bar mitzvahed, and I had a conversion ceremony.

SAGAL: Right.

TWEEDY: And I know what everyone is thinking.

DICKINSON: I know. I didn't want to ask, but...

SAGAL: Yeah.

DICKINSON: ...Did it hurt?

(LAUGHTER)

TWEEDY: I had the proper style.

(APPLAUSE)

TWEEDY: But apparently, that's not good enough.

SAGAL: Yeah. Really? No. No. Really? Even though you were all set, they had to go back and do it over again? Is that what you're saying?

TWEEDY: They didn't have to do it over again, but they did have to do something. And I was...

DICKINSON: Jeff...

TWEEDY: ...Picturing an operating suite.

SAGAL: So they had to do a sort of faux procedure on you - a ritual procedure, as it were?

TWEEDY: They took me into a storage closet at a temple.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: So they bring you into the closet.

TWEEDY: Yeah. Well, this guy with a black leather bag...

GOLDTHWAIT: Are you sure he was a mohel?

TWEEDY: I'm not sure. We got him from Craigslist.

(LAUGHTER)

TWEEDY: Well, he showed up with an official-looking leather bag.

SAGAL: Yeah.

TWEEDY: And he asked me on the way to the closet, do you understand what this entails?

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: And you said?

TWEEDY: And I said, I think so.

DICKINSON: (Laughter).

TWEEDY: And so we get in the closet, and he says, take your pants down. And I said, yeah, OK. That's what I expected.

(LAUGHTER)

TWEEDY: And then he - like, I don't know what the NPR word for a [expletive] is - is, like, I guess, phallus.

(LAUGHTER)

TWEEDY: Right? Is that what you were saying?

SAGAL: Yes. That would be the NPR word right there.

(LAUGHTER)

TWEEDY: So he had my phallus in his hand with a...

(LAUGHTER)

TWEEDY: ...With a little bit of gauze - or a lot of gauze, actually. It was a large amount of gauze.

SAGAL: Oh, yeah.

(LAUGHTER)

TWEEDY: He had - it was almost a whole roll of gauze.

(LAUGHTER)

TWEEDY: Exactly. And so he was - he reached down in his bag, and he got a sharp object. And he looked up at me, and he said, my sons are big fans.

SAGAL: (Screaming) Oh.

TWEEDY: So...

(APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: Our virtual trip around the country has come to and end, and I've got to say, there's no place like home. Let's hope we all get to go outside soon and prove it. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.