World Within a Song: Music That Changed My Life and Life That Changed My Music

World Within a Song: Music That Changed My Life and Life That Changed My Music

by Jeff Tweedy
World Within a Song: Music That Changed My Life and Life That Changed My Music

World Within a Song: Music That Changed My Life and Life That Changed My Music

by Jeff Tweedy


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Notes From Your Bookseller

This is a book about connection, inspiration, and healing, in music or in general. You dont have to be a superfan of Wilco to connect with Jeff Tweedy’s love of music.

~New York Times Bestseller~

An exciting and heartening mix of memories, music, and inspiration from Wilco front man and New York Times bestselling author Jeff Tweedy, sharing fifty songs that changed his life, the real-life experiences behind each one, as well as what he’s learned about how music and life intertwine and enhance each other.

What makes us fall in love with a song? What makes us want to write our own songs? Do songs help? Do songs help us live better lives? And do the lives we live help us write better songs? 

After two New York Times bestsellers that cemented and expanded his legacy as one of America’s best-loved performers and songwriters, Let’s Go (So We Can Get Back) and How to Write One Song, Jeff Tweedy is back with another disarming, beautiful, and inspirational book about why we listen to music, why we love songs, and how music can connect us to each other and to ourselves. Featuring fifty songs that have both changed Jeff’s life and influenced his music—including songs by the Replacements, Mavis Staples, the Velvet Underground, Joni Mitchell, Otis Redding, Dolly Parton, and Billie Eilish—as well as Jeff’s “Rememories,” dream-like short pieces that related key moments from Jeff’s life, this book is a mix of the musical, the emotional, and the inspirational in the best possible way.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780593472521
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 11/07/2023
Pages: 256
Sales rank: 2,966
Product dimensions: 2.30(w) x 7.10(h) x 0.50(d)

About the Author

As the founding member and leader of the Grammy Award–winning American rock band Wilco, and before that the cofounder of the alt‐country band Uncle Tupelo, Jeff Tweedy is one of contemporary music’s most accomplished songwriters, musicians, and performers. Jeff has released four albums, written original songs for thirteen Wilco albums, and is the author of the New York Times bestsellers Let's Go (So We Can Get Back): A Memoir of Recording and Discording with Wilco, Etc. and How to Write One Song. He lives in Chicago with his family.

Read an Excerpt


Smoke on the Water

I'd love to claim that at the age of six, hearing the brief passage of Mozart (incorrectly identified as Rachmaninoff) performed in the movie Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory was the catalyst that set me on my way to a lifetime of music-making . . . or that I was somehow introduced to some Jacques Brel or Leonard Cohen by an eccentric den mother at a Cub Scout meeting and I never looked back, having immediately absorbed the nuance and depth of the wordplay and how the simple melodic arcs embrace eternity . . .

In fact, I'd much prefer to have you believe just about anything other than what truthfully made the first dent in my musical mind. That's because the truth is that it was "Smoke on the Water" by Deep Purple. It kills me to admit this for a lot of reasons. Foremost of which is the fact that as I grew older and as this song maintained an ominous loitering presence on the airwaves of St. Louis rock radio, it became more and more indefensible as something I could admit to myself that I liked.

Things were different then. Without much else to distinguish ourselves from each other as adolescents (fewer clothing options, same shoes, our moms all cut our hair), we were forced to broadcast our allegiances (jock, nerd, sosh, etc.) by the music we professed to love. By the time I was a full-blown teenager, this bong-bruised, coughed-up lung of a song had evolved, in terms of the people who liked it at the time, to signify a distinct type of danger to a sensitive boy like myself. Kind of the way some insects develop brightly colored wings to tell predators, "Trust me, you're better off not fucking with me." This song came to indicate a certain toxicity, in other words.

But alas, I cannot deny its importance to me, and countless others, as a budding musician. Because the fact is, this riff (I'm not even sure I could speak to the rest of the song considering how much I've avoided it in the nearly fifty years since my first introduction; I know it has something to do with Frank Zappa and some semiautobiographical band exploit, but to me, even if I HAD paid more attention to the words, this riff is so dunderheaded and massive it blots out the sun-hippie mumbo jumbo lyrics don't stand a chance) . . . this riff is absolutely the first thing I ever played on a guitar, back when I was seven or eight years old. This, my friends, was the "Seven Nation Army" of my day. The likelihood you could teach yourself these four notes on the bottom string of a guitar within a few minutes was very very high.

So I must bow to the rock gods. Who cares if it took a riff so demeaning and dumb to instill a little belief in myself as a potential musician. We all start somewhere. I started with "Smoke on the" goddamn "Water."


Long Tall Glasses

You know, not everything that ends up having a profound influence in your life is easily identified as enjoyable. In fact, I think I could safely argue that it's pretty rare for life lessons to be imparted free of concern and full of mirth. Songs, or at least most of the songs I've chosen to talk about here, are unique in that way. They really can teach with serenity, form wisdom while the mind drifts carelessly, or even shine a little light into the dark corners of a banging head.

But not always. There are still important kernels of knowledge that can only be whipped into us through discomforting experience. Take this Leo Sayer song for example. Sure, it seems pleasant enough. And taken as a single dose, I'm almost certain one would recover fairly quickly from its mild toxins. But let's take this same song and play it . . . oh . . . let's say roughly forty-five times between six p.m. and nine p.m. on weekday evenings, and upwards of seventy times a day on the weekends. Let's continue this ritual for several months and try to imagine the world-warping effect this little ditty might have on one's psyche.

If it weren't for the fact that I believe my father sincerely enjoyed such a routine, I would find it easy to subscribe to the possibility that the method behind such madness was in service to a DARPA program set up by the DOD to study the mind-altering potential inherent in repeated exposure to a single insipid storytelling pop song.

If you're unfamiliar with the song . . . first of all, CONGRATULATIONS . . . but I should give you a little outline of what its "deal" is. It's a musical tale of a man down on his luck (natch) who stumbles upon an establishment offering up food and drink to one and all. It goes on to describe said spread (which is where he unloads one of the most diabolically infuriating rhymes of all time: "There was ham and there was turkey / There was caviar / And long tall glasses / With wine up to . . . YAR"). It ambles along for a while before we get to the kicker: If he wants to partake in the bounty before him, he's gonna have to dance for it. But alas, he doesn't know how to dance, and he's sad, the music is sad, we're sad . . . but then . . . but THEN . . . Spoiler alert: Turns out he CAN dance after all.

Incredible. At this point in the song the refrain "You know I CAN'T dance" sung like a donkey doing a Bogart impression becomes "I CAN dance!" This is the moment where my beer maudlin-ed father would jump out of his chair and spill his Pabst (Extra Light) dancing and bellowing along. "I CAN DANCE!" EVERY. SINGLE. TIME.

So what did I learn from this hardship? Why am I writing about this particular song in a book designed to highlight the inspiration I've taken from the music I've consumed?

Well, I guess I'm not sure how to answer that. But I can tell you that at the time this was all happening, I was sure I was learning about things I would never do and ways that I would never be. As a musician, as a songwriter, as a father, and as a human, I guess.

Every now and then I throw this song on, and as I sit and listen, as this smug bauble of pop arcana winds its way through the paths in my mind that it's beaten down to dust, the memories of my father become so vivid I swear I can smell him. I am with him again. But this time without judgment. Only joy for his joy. Name something else in the world that can do that.

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