Here Comes the Summer

Jeff Tweedy used to be in a band called Uncle Tupelo. He's not anymore.

It's no wonder Jeff Tweedy finds it hard to return to St. Louis. The city's not known for its legion of fancy Rock Stars -- and he'd probably cringe at the use of the term. But in St. Louis, he's a genuine Rock Star, and when one sprouts from around here, we cling. We stare. We imagine. And, God forbid, we reminisce.

To the big musical world, all those names associated with the music created 'round here -- Jeff Tweedy, Jay Farrar, Mike Heidorn, Wilco, Son Volt, Uncle Tupelo, the Bottle Rockets, Chicken Truck, Coffee Creek -- are but a blip that just so happened to start a tiny revolution, one that will end up a footnote somewhere in the rock book. But to us down here, they're huge, and even those of us who feel dumb about tossing the word around, especially in reference to someone we kinda know, we're proud -- proud that something we were privy to a decade ago has been deemed special by a larger world, that something we were a part of as fans is also something that a legion of like-minded folks all over the place would love to have witnessed.

It's a lot to hang on a humble Tweedy, who used to be in a band called Uncle Tupelo and for the past four years has been in Wilco (and though he repeatedly stresses he's a member of Wilco, not the leader, he sings and writes all the lyrics). In the past few years, he's been whisked away on a whirlwind ride that would make even the most big-headed Rock Star a bit dizzy: overwhelming praise for Wilco's work with Billy Bragg on the Mermaid Avenue project last year, on which, at the behest of the estate of Woody Guthrie, the musicians created remarkably inspired new music to accompany unscored Woody Guthrie lyrics; an appearance with fellow Wilco member Jay Bennett and Roger McGuinn, a founding member of the Byrds, at Anthology of American Folk Music compiler Harry Smith's tribute concert, where they performed alongside the Fugs, the New Lost City Ramblers and Peter Stampfel, among others; raves for their second album, 1996's Being There, on which Tweedy eschewed the requisite use of Tupelo twang, or at least tried to, and succeeded in nudging his fans' perception of who he is as an artist; and, finally -- and most important -- Summer Teeth, Wilco's new record (see review on p. 44), and one that announces once and for all that Tweedy has left St. Louis and entered a magical netherworld that has as its home the wide-eyed wonder of unlimited possibility.

On Summer Teeth, Tweedy and Wilco venture to this place, a place where some bassist from some country-punk band and his band remake themselves simply because they can -- go out on a limb, do a little dance there and leap off to land on a trampoline of sound, all at the risk of alienating an audience of twang-obsessive followers whom he perhaps never wanted to lead in the first place. In essence, Tweedy harnessed his reputation and lineage, dropped the mask and created what could be considered a debut record.

Recently Tweedy talked to The Riverfront Times about Summer Teeth, pretension, St. Louis, exquisite corpses and Jewel's tits.

RFT: Is this a nerve-wracking time, right after you've finished recording and all the reviews are coming in?

Tweedy: It's not really nerve-wracking. It's a depressing time. I don't know why, I just always get a little wigged-out -- not waiting for the reviews, or anything like that. It's more about just waiting to have something to do, to be able to go play the songs and have people know them -- stuff like that. I pay attention to the reviews.

You do pay attention to them, huh?
Yeah. I read other people's reviews, so I don't see why I shouldn't check out what people say about us. I think I've been doing this long enough that I really can't stop it now, you know. I don't really understand them that much, but generally there's something interesting in them. The crazy thing is, I don't even really care about the actual reviews. I only care about the stars (laughs). Just kidding. I get really furious if I only get, like, anything less than five stars.

'I made the perfect record. What is wrong with everybody?' Are the reactions different in, say, Europe than in America, different in the alternative-country community than they are in the pop marketplace?

They're different everywhere. More than ever, I can't be an objective judge of Wilco stuff, but it's one of the only records where I'll probably see 90 percent of the reviews that get written. I think it's more obvious than ever how different the agendas are for all the different magazines. And in Europe it's cool because there's not as much baggage going into every review as there is here. There's not all the Uncle Tupelo baggage, so all that stuff doesn't matter as much. But they also still manage to put Gram Parsons in every review. Also, the focus gets put on me every time, instead of it being a band. I mean there's a certain amount of it that's understood, but I'll see an interview where I know I've said "we"every time, like, "We decided to do this." And they'll change them all to "I." It's like they think I've made a mistake or something.

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