LAKEVIEW — Singer and songwriter Jeff Tweedy graced the Athenaeum Center with a night of conversation and music Sunday ahead of the release of his book, “World Within a Song: Music That Changed My Life and Life That Changed My Music.”
Presented by WBEZ and moderated by “Wait Wait, Don’t Tell Me” host Peter Sagal, the evening saw the Wilco frontman — trading his signature brimmed hat for a beanie that hid a shock of white shaggy hair — engaged in conversation with Sagal about life, music and the intermix of both that his new book explores.
A New York Times bestselling author already, Tweedy’s previous books include the 2018 memoir “Let’s Go (So We Can Get Back)” and 2020’s “How to Write One Song.” With “World Within a Song,” Tweedy explores 50 songs that have impacted his life for good or ill, writing with the dressed-down, dryly funny voice he has cultivated in his literary and musical careers.
The night opened with an introduction from “Morning Edition’s” Mary Dixon, who entered the stage to applause as she teed up the evening with a signature NPR pledge request. “We love you!” one audience member shouted.
From there, Tweedy and Sagal took the stage, the latter readying the audience for a night of “two Gen-Xers bulls—-ing about the music they listened to as kids.”
The first 40 minutes constituted an in-depth conversation between Sagal and Tweedy, where they discussed everything from Tweedy’s relationship to the songs he connected to throughout his life (“I don’t think of myself as my songs. I think of myself as the songs that made me.”) to his struggles with addiction.
After Sagal’s questions, the night moved to a series of pre-selected questions from audience members, ranging from songs he used to hate that he turned around on to difficult conversations about his fractious relationship with his mother and father.
“This is really sad, I’m sorry,” he offered dryly to the audience.
But through such hardship, Tweedy reminded Sagal and his audience of the joy of writing music that makes an impact on people — whether as a soloist, a member of Wilco, or a collaborator with legendary artists like Mavis Staples.
“Just knowing there’s something you can do to make someone happy, and choose to do it,” gives Tweedy solace, he said.
“Has [your] relationship with music changed with sobriety?” one audience member asked.
If anything, Tweedy’s heartened by the fact that he can listen to music he made while under the influence, and it “still felt like me,” he said.
From there, the night moved to a half hour of Tweedy performing covers of a few songs highlighted in his new book, with introductions from pre-selected audience members who’d requested them. Each had a tear-jerking story connecting them to one song or another: A health care worker requested Golden Smog’s “Pecan Pie,” while a grieving person asked for a rendition of the Wilco classic “Jesus, Etc.”
Wilco’s “If I Ever Was a Child” and “You Are Not Alone,” a song Tweedy wrote for Staples, closed out the night, all delivered with Tweedy’s quiet, unassuming tenor and a simple acoustic guitar.
After this first “hometown sneak peek” of the book in Chicago, Tweedy’s book tour will continue with stops in New York, Cincinnati, Washington, D.C., and elsewhere.
“World Within A Song: Music That Changed My Life and Life That Changed My Music” is currently available in bookstores.
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