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on January 6, 2005
I'm about 10 pages from the end of this book, and I've got mixed feelings about it. On the one hand, it's a great behind-the-scenes look at one of my favorite bands, but on the other hand, it's like sausage and politics -- if you like either, you shouldn't see how they're made.

Same for this book.

Kot is clearly a Wilco fan, no secret there, and he's got a shine for Jeff Tweedy -- this has a way of excusing or justifying Tweedy's behavior towards fellow bandmates, covering Tweedy's rear by painting him as a musical genius, guilty of the same eccentricities as so many others -- inability to communicate with bandmates right up til the inevitable splits, excusing the inexcusable way Tweedy has dismissed bandmates with little or no warning by saying the ends justify the means.

I'm a fairly recent fan, being turned on to Wilco through their work with Billy Bragg -- I've since become a die-hard fan of Uncle Tupelo and Wilco and have all their albums. That said, the chapter on the Mermaid Avenue Sessions was depressing, because it paints a fairly negative picture, I'm sure accidental, of Bragg and Tweedy. They come across as spoiled, arrogant, dismissive of each other, and manipulative. I think this wasn't intentional, but it left a sour taste in my mouth.

I initially thought Kot spent a bit too much time on Uncle Tupelo, but it is a good basis for understanding the turmoil within Wilco and why Tweedy makes the kind of music he's made in and out of Wilco, and why the record industry can't quite figure out Wilco. The story of UT and the whole Farrar-Tweedy relationship paints well the future divisions and jealousies in Wilco.

All in all, a good book, and it's given me a look at Tweedy as more than a musical genius -- he's also a putz with little social graces when it comes to internal band politics, but clearly he's a talented genius and has surrounded himself with other equally talented geniuses, and doesn't care how many albums Wilco sells or how many songs, if any, make it to radio. Wilco's record sales are incredible given the lack of radio and MTV support, but the book doesn't really make this point.

It also shows how the industry treats artists, and how two different labels within the Warner umbrella treat artists differently. Record execs should read this book, if only to understand the long-term benefit of supporting heritage bands, rather than spending time and money on flash-in-the-pans.

I only gave three stars, because regardless of what other reviewers write, I think this reads too much like a die-hard fan writing giddily about their favorite band. He's got good sources, both within the band and within the industry, but he's a too little eager. I mean, really, this is what I would have written, being the star-struck goober I tend to be around famous folk.

Kot also spends as much time writing in great detail about singular events as Tweedy and Bennett did in producing YHF, and then glosses over months and years with little or no explanation of what happened during that time. Jay Bennett's 6 year stint in the band seems much shorter given this treatment.

As much as Kot excuses Tweedy's twists and turns, it's made him more human, more fallible. I know it's heresy, but the book has made me like Tweedy a little less, but like and appreciate Wilco a bit more.
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on June 13, 2004
Part biography of Wilco's Jeff Tweedy and part story of the band, this is an eminently readable book, packed with interesting stories and enough detail to satisfy even the most ardent Wilco fan. Kot was able to get almost everyone involved with Tweedy's career to talk -- including Jay Farrar, his bandmate in Uncle Tupelo, and Jay Bennett, his key collaborator in Wilco, who was kicked out of the band just after "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot" was recorded -- and people are surprisingly honest. The book has a bit too much of a rock-journalism tone at times, and is almost painfully earnest. But if you love Wilco or Uncle Tupelo (or both), you'll find this a nice read.
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on June 22, 2004
As someone who likes Wilco, but is not a die-hard fan, I really appreciate the book for what it is: It is not a critic's review, it is not a fan-oriented biography-it is simply a superbly written, well-researched book about all that goes into the loaded concept that is "making music." Through his elegant prose, Kot delves into human relationships, band dynamics, artistic struggles, and identity-both personal and public. If you like Wilco, read this book. If you like music, read this book. Or, if you admire those moments when the creative process manages to overcome life's obstacles, read this book.
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on January 6, 2005
As a die hard fan of Wilco, let me just say that I learned a lot about the group. It's nice to finally read something about Wilco that is honest, warts and all, and not just a rant about how the music industry has once again screwed over the little guy.
That said, however....
I really felt that Kot's rhetoric really distracted from the purpose of the book, which I can only assume was to present readers with an honest assesment of the band. The author seemed to have some opinions that led me to think that perhaps he was a bit more biased than he would like to think himself. Also, it bothered me that he took direct quotes from "I AM Trying To Break Your Heart" (a film by Sam Jones) and interpreted them COMPLETELY out of context, with the result of changing the meaning of the statement.
That's all, I guess. The anecdotes were really neat.
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on November 6, 2015
About a week after I finished this book, Jeff Tweedy received some props in Nick Offerman's new "21 Great Americans" book. Even though it's a bit tongue & cheek, I think Offerman efficiently explains why Tweedy is such a fascinating artist- stories of being true to oneself & one's artistry. Offerman- who has hosted Tweedy as a special guest on his TV sitco- loves Tweedy's commitment to true artistry, irrespective of the short term financial impact.

I too have always loved the music right from the beginning, but the Uncle Tupelo style, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot negotiations & online streaming, and the consistent growth/experimentation of Wilco are each fascinating stories for fans of music, art, and humanities.

In all those cases, Tweedy wanted to do what his vision called him to do. He didn't care what conventional wisdom suggested- he tried to stay true to his passion. I agree with Offerman that this is what makes the Tweedy story so compelling, in fact - in our 24x7 world of flash before substance- it does make Tweedy an American Hero.
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on August 10, 2011
Being a Wilco fan and growing up in a town in southern Illinois not far from where Jeff Tweedy grew up, I bought this book primarily to read about Wilco and Uncle Tupelo's early days.

Overall, the book reads more or less like an extended magazine article, like something you'd read in Rolling Stone or Spin, except that it's 250 pages long. As a Wilco fan, I quite enjoyed reading about Jeff Tweedy's early life and some of the background stories to some of their songs. Since the book ends around the time of "A Ghost Is Born", it would be nice if Kot writes a follow-up book (or additional chapters to be added in newer versions of this one) about Wilco's more recent years.

However, if you are not a Wilco fan, I can't imagine that you'd get much out of this book.
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on June 25, 2004
After reading this book, I feel like I've received the secret decoder ring that unlocks the stories behind some of my all-time favorite artists. We all speculated on the reasons why UT split ... this book spells it out for fans with first-hand accounts from guys like Tweedy, Farrar, Hennemann and Heidorn. I seriously cannot put it down ...
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on June 14, 2005
Learning To Admire Jeff Tweedy more accurately portrays the content of this prodigious look into the singer/songwriter's history. Albeit Greg Kot's book is about Wilco as a whole, the reader prompty - and pleasantly - finds himself reliving Tweedy's high school days back in Belleville, IL. Kot winds through Tweedy's history in Uncle Tupelo, even thouching on the delicate subject of the, then overlooked by many, tension between Tweedy and bandmate Jay Farrar. Through the latter half of the book, Kot sees to it that the reader sees Tweedy slowly come into his own from Wilco's first day of existence to the present. From A.M. to A Ghost Is Born, Kot uncovers everything from ugly truths to moments of genius. Tweedy's personal life is touched on enough to know he loves his family, and withheld enough to keep the reader wondering. Kot goes in depth with details concerning the major merge between AOL and Warner, including several comments from past and present employees of Reprise Records. An easy read with a touching message from Tweedy. Overall a great book for Wilco fans.
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on January 9, 2011
First, the kindle version is loaded with hundreds of typos. Kot would cry if he saw what his publisher did to get it quickly into the world of e-books.

I am a huge fan of Wilco (own every disc, seen them live twice) but much like other reviewers, after reading about how the "sausage is made," in some ways I wish I didn't know about it. In reality, Wilco is Jeff Tweedy and his employees. They can be fired at any time for any reason. In the end, I found that most of what I enjoy about Wilco comes from these under-appreciated employees, not from Tweedy. Kot does his best to make excuses for him, but Tweedy comes off like a royal jerk. Also, like other reviewers, I believe that the Uncle Tupelo part went on far too long. A third of the book!

I did gain a little insight into the genesis of the music, but I would recommend watching "I am trying to break your heart" on DVD instead of reading this book.
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on July 3, 2004
That's how I felt reading this rich, wonderfully researched and intimate portrait of one of the most vital bands around. Yes, I'm a Wilco fan and perhaps predisposed to like the book -- no, strike that, I could very well dislike it intensely for that reason -- but even if you're not, if you're simply a lover of great artists and great music and fascinated with the creative process, this is necessary reading. Gret Kot captures not just the sights and sounds, but the desires and heartbreaks, along with the occasional triumph.
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