American Routes Shortcuts: Jeff Tweedy

Jun 29, 2018

Jeff Tweedy
Credit American Routes

Jeff Tweedy grew up in Belleville, Illinois, a midsized, blue-collar suburb of St. Louis. In high school he started a band with Jay Farrar that became Uncle Tupelo in the late 80s, and later grew into Wilco, the popular indie band now with us for over two decades. When Tweedy was a kid, he spent a lot of time in the tavern run by his maternal grandfather, back in Belleville.

Jeff Tweedy: My mother’s last plan, plan z, whenever she ran into childcare issues when she was working, was to drop me off at the tavern where my grandfather lived and worked. He lived above the tavern and he worked at the tavern, and he taught me wonderful lessons in life, for example, no bartender is worth his salt unless he can skim a hundred bucks a night. Yeah.

JT: You know, it was a pretty seedy, dismal place. It was not a happening bar scene, it was a dying industrial town barfly bar. But I, you know, I would get propped up on the stool, that’s an early memory of mine, and be served chocolate mug in a big, you know, beer mug. And there was a bowling machine, I remember that was one of the other things I wanted quarters for. You know, getting a big handful of quarters would’ve been ideal to survive that environment. That was the only strategy. And the other strategy was that I loved to play the jukebox and listen to records. And it was the kind of bar where it wasn’t really welcome to disturb the dismal silence.

Nick Spitzer: Well what were you picking on the juke when you could be your own DJ? What was there that appealed to you? I mean what are you, 10, 11, 12 when this is happening?

JT: Yeah, I mean things I remember coming out of that jukebox in particular were Roger Miller, you know, Red Sovine, you know things like that.

NS: Do you think of yourself as Midwestern?

JT: To be honest, I don’t really think about it that much anymore. I mean I think that the most recent election forced me to think about it more than I have in a long, long time. To my dismay, actually. You know, thinking that a lot of the people that I grew up with are probably the type of people that were feeling victimized enough to vote for someone like Donald Trump. And I think there are plenty of outside forces to blame for those conditions, those material conditions in those cities, but I also think that there are, sometimes, and I’m trying to be very delicate and careful here because you know, I’m not really in the business of condemning people. I just wished a lot of people that I grew up with had been able to fall in love with something that they loved to do more.

To hear the full program, tune in Saturdays at 7 and Sundays at 6 on WWNO, or listen at americanroutes.org.