Wilco has always been a nurturing band when it comes to embracing their fans: The Chicago outfit has streamed every album online since 2002’s game-changing masterpiece Yankee Hotel Foxtrot well before its release date, and the group supports the bootlegging and MP3-trading of its concerts. But the feeling hasn’t exactly been mutual: Online, fans have been vocal about their concern over Wilco's wandering muse. Over the course of the decade, the band has veered away from its pop and country roots toward experimentation, pop-folk, and, finally, almost goofy directness on this year’s Wilco (The Album). Rather than discussing the band’s newest album and direction, Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy wanted to talk about people’s “willingness to share opinions before they’re even formed,” so before the band's show tonight at Cedar Park Center, The A.V. Club scoured the Internet for some notable anonymous comments to discuss.
Post: “But right now, I’d like to get this out of the way: Jeff Tweedy’s hair looks ridiculous [on The Tonight Show]. I don’t know if it’s thinning, or if he’s teasing it, or both, but it really needs to stop. And as a person who years ago may or may not have purchased a pair of shoes because he saw Tweedy wearing them, I only bring this up because I care.”
Jeff Tweedy: I agree 100 percent. I have no idea what to do with my hair. I wish I did. If this person really cared, they would have contacted me in a forum other than a national magazine to maybe suggest some product, but I don’t think that person really cares. I think they’re just being funny, and I agree. I wish I had an idea.
The A.V. Club: Well, you can turn to the Internet.
JT: It’s a sign that I’m old, I guess, that that’s not my first thought, but it should be my first thought. If there’s any problem, I should be able to solve it by going to the Internet. Well, that’s always been my M.O.: to distract people from my hair by getting them to look at my feet. So there’s a guy working at L Magazine that is wearing clown shoes.
AVC: Are you calling yourself a clown?
JT: No, no, no—but it fits sometimes, I suppose.
Post: “I touched Jeff Tweedy over the weekend. Actually, he spoke to me. More like he said, “Excuse me” when I was blocking his (and his family’s) way, but still. To me – and you can disagree, because this is my opinion after all – he’s one of the greatest musical geniuses (genii?) this city has ever spawned. And yes, I know he’s not originally from Chicago, but who’s going to split hairs here? Not me?”
JT: Wow. Well, same with the guy before, I couldn’t agree more. [Laughs.] I mean, what can you do? I’m kidding, obviously. That is a cry for help, I suppose. It’s really nice, and I’m really flattered that somebody thinks that, but I think I have a tougher time with that than the really, really negative stuff.
JT: Because I have an easier time believing the negative stuff. So I would point her to some Howlin’ Wolf records, and maybe just start there. That would be my prescription.
AVC: Surely you’ve had experiences like this where rather than telling the Internet, the fan will instead share their excitement to your face, right?
JT: Sometimes, yeah. The recognizability factor is off the charts in Chicago, so it can happen more frequently. My kids get a kick out of it because people are so weird. We were waiting for some food one time at a bar and we were taking it home, and this guy turned around and he recognized me, and he said, “Hey, man. I really wish your records would start selling.” [Laughs.]
I think he meant well, but there’s probably a reason this guy was sitting smashed at 4 o’clock in the afternoon, because he’s obviously got a lot of anger. That’s about as passive-aggressive as you can get.
Post: “I like listening to Wilco, but I do find them pretentious (both musically and personally) and that annoys me. It often doesn’t seem to me like they’re having fun.”
JT: That’s just plain and simple projection. He likes it, but he has to find some reason not to. That would be the person who would be taking things too seriously, and may be having some issues with pretension. I’ve got nothing against pretension. If you stand on stage, the idea is to pretend that it’s not fucking ridiculous to be standing on stage, you know? When I read something like that, I honestly feel a weird sadness, because it couldn’t be further from the truth. I thoroughly love what I get to do, and I think we have a lot of fun doing what we do as a band. I don’t think that that person particularly sounds happy, and I think it’s really clear. I mean, why even share that information?
That person is not only sharing the fact that they’re having trouble allowing themselves to like what they like, but they want to make sure that no one else can call them out on liking something because they have a built-in excuse. What the fuck, man? Just like it. Just shut up and like it. Or don’t like it, but whatever.
Post: “What exactly does Wilco stand for, besides good MOR dad rock? Do they represent a band winding down and becoming less adventurous? It’s very hard to see how whatever they are could be threatening in any fashion.”
JT: Well, the goal of all art is to be threatening in some fashion. [Laughs.] Obviously we’ve threatened this guy’s view of whatever it is he’s supposed to allow himself to like. If that’s not threatening, I don’t know what is, because he’s obviously being challenged. People really think narrowly when it comes to those types of challenges, and the idea that something has to be aggressive or avant grade, or atonal, even, to be a challenge. I’ve found it to be the exact opposite. We literally put 15 minutes of noise on a record that did not raise an eyebrow, but if you make a pop song with Feist on it, people are going to cry like the sky’s falling. It’s really going to hurt somebody. Our goal is to make some shit that we fucking like to play and feel good about, with the knowledge that that doesn’t hurt anybody. You’re basically doing something that you love to do, and you’re not really hurting anybody.
AVC: So stop complicating it.
JT: It’s not complicated at all. To finish that, I would say that that person is, if not under 20 years old, really close to 20.
Post: “I don’t know that I can even fathom a ‘top’ list of Jeff’s lyrics. They’re that great to me. He is the Lennon of my generation.”
JT: Wow. Well, you know, I don’t know where else people do that as much as they do it in the music business. Why can’t you just have Jeff Tweedy, and just be happy with it, and not have to fucking compare every single thing to another generation? Or look for some way to put things in context by imagining that everything mirrors another era? There’s very little about what’s happened to Wilco over the last 15 years that, to me, has anything to do with what happened to The Beatles.
AVC: You just wait until Wilco Rock Band comes out.
JT: Yeah, that would sell tens of copies.
AVC: Finally, I wanted to do a lightning round of just words used to describe you in the context of Wilco. In no particular order: “angsty,” “frontdude,” “Jewish,” “rumpled,” “grizzled,” “a not-so-tortured star,” and, “if you met him on a bus, you wouldn’t know he was a rock star.”
JT: That’s a pretty good cross-section of humanity. I’m picturing someone who’s probably in an adult day care center. I don’t know, that doesn’t sound very appealing. Other than the Jewish part, which… I wish I was Jewish. I’m not Jewish, but my wife and my children are Jewish, so that would clear up a lot of identity issues.
AVC: They were referring to that recent synagogue benefit show you did in Chicago with Peter Grosz.
JT: Yeah. Well, Tweedy is a very Jewish name. “Grizzled” I’ve seen a lot. I can understand a lot of those types of words being used. One that reminded me of hearing all that together was I saw a review of our show we played at Jazzfest a while ago. The review said, “You have to get up close to really appreciate how ugly Jeff Tweedy is.” And it was like, “That’s, wow, sideshow material or something.”
I don’t know where to start with that either, except that I’m sure that this person that wrote that is probably one of the most beautiful human beings that ever walked the face of the planet.
AVC: Inside and out?
JT: Inside and out.