Top critical review
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dirt and all....
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.