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Jeff Tweedy

The Wilco frontman, 51, on parenting, addiction, and the one thing he still keeps private

Illustration by Kathryn Rathke
Illustration: Kathryn Rathke

A lot of people have a fantasy about creativity — that you just sit around and wait for the stars to align and the barometric pressure to be correct, then you’re struck by this bolt of lightning and inspiration. I think it’s the other way around: You get yourself into a position to receive some inspiration by doing the work. You focus on the process. And that’s comforting to me.

The worst part of being famous when you’re as famous as I am is reminding people that you’re famous.

I care about making art, and I care about my family. And that’s about it. There’s hardly anything else that gives me great satisfaction.

Near the end of his life, my dad told me that only a handful of the things he worried about in his life came true. On one hand, I was really blown away by the beautiful simplicity of that and how helpful it is. On the other hand, I was pissed off that he waited until he was 83 to tell me.

I have survived some things that I’ve witnessed friends and acquaintances not survive. If there wasn’t something to gather from all of that, if you let your pain go to waste, it would be a travesty.

When you’re an addict, you’re kind of a sociopath. You become very adept at deception. In my case, it was hiding the amount of drugs I was taking and stealing them.

I like spending time with comedians. They’re the only people who are more unhappy than musicians. There’s something poignant in the desire to make people laugh that I recognize as pure. It’s similar to the desire to make somebody feel good by playing a song.

When you’ve got an acoustic guitar and a reputation for being a sad sack, it’s easy: You can say almost anything that’s not serious and you’ll get a laugh.

My wife’s Jewish, and in the process of our son Sammy being bar mitzvahed, he was struggling with not wanting to go through with the work that it takes. So as a commitment to go through it with him, I started the conversion process. I just wanted us all to be on the same team when the shit goes down.

There is nothing more painful than being a parent, because it hurts so much to want to keep somebody from suffering while realizing that you don’t really have control all of the time.

Playing music with my sons is a continuation of what we’ve done for as long as they’ve been around. I just look at it like we’re still getting on the floor together and playing. There’s a connection musically that I can only explain as being related to some shared DNA. It seems almost mystical, but it’s real.

I’ve been properly treated for depression for the past 15 years. That doesn’t mean I don’t have occasional struggles, periods of being more prone to anxiety. But it’s much more manageable, if just in the knowledge that I know what it is. It’s a great relief: You’ve endured this before, and here we are.

My wife, Susie, has gone through primary treatments for a couple of different cancers. And she’s still being treated. It’s not life or death at this particular moment; it’s more like a chronic illness. But it’s an enormous amount of stress, and it can tear families apart. Fortunately for us, it’s brought us closer together and deepened our appreciation of what we’ve managed to build. And it’s allowed me to be a caretaker in ways I’ve never been tested and to find out that I can do it. It’s not something I would have bet on.

There are things you feel are better kept private. But after all these years, there isn’t much left. Maybe pictures of me wearing shorts.

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