Joe’s Jukebox – “How to Write One Song”

Welcome to another installment of “Joe’s Jukebox,” a new series highlighting the library’s most marvelous musical materials– presented by Adult Services & Acquisitions Librarian, Joe O’Brien.

Over the past few months, I’ve been enthusiastically recommending this book that came out late last year called How to Write One Song by Jeff Tweedy. If you don’t know, Jeff Tweedy has been an accomplished musician for over 30 years now, first as a member of the band Uncle Tupelo, and then later with Wilco, the band behind fantastic albums like Being There, Summerteeth, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, A Ghost is Born, and The Whole Love, to name just a few. 

He also wrote a memoir back in 2018 called Let’s Go (So We Can Get Back), which I loved, and which I would highly recommend if you’re already familiar with, and interested in, his work. But How to Write One Song I would recommend even if you’ve never heard of Jeff Tweedy. The book contains, just as the title suggests, all sorts of tips on songwriting, although a lot of the advice in here could also be applied to just about any kind of creative process. If you are a songwriter though, as I often like to fancy myself, you couldn’t find a better source than this. Not only is Jeff Tweedy someone who’s written dozens and dozens of incredible songs in his life, he’s also an excellent prose writer who’s able to convey his own creative processes in clear and inspiring ways. Check out these excerpts from a couple of my favorite passages:

“…find some way to sidestep the part of your brain that wants perfection, or needs to be rewarded right away with a ‘creation’ that it deems ‘good’– something that supports an ideal vision of yourself as someone who’s serious and smart and accomplished. Basically, you have to…have a party and not invite any part of your psyche that feels a need to judge what you make as a reflection of you…

“…I think it’s a skill that one would more likely relearn than learn. Kids are, in my experience, usually able to commit to creating in a way almost completely devoid of judgment.  I love watching kids sprawled out on a carpet drawing or coloring. To me, it’s the ideal creative state, and it’s what I strive for more than any other aspect of what I do…

“I don’t like every song I write, but I like that I wrote it. I know that for every four or five songs I write, I’m going to have one that means a lot to me, and it wouldn’t have come to me if I hadn’t written the other four songs, if I hadn’t practiced getting to that place. A place that’s as close to coloring on the floor as I can get.”

Again, even if you’ve never heard of Jeff Tweedy before, or heard any of his songs…even if you’re not a songwriter per se, but as long as you want to get better at any creative pursuit– drawing, painting, poetry, sculpture, whatever it is– there’s a wealth of valuable information in here. Plus, it’s a very slim book that you can read super-quickly. And of course, it is also in our print collection here at the Livingston Public Library— though if our copy is currently unavailable, we can get one from one of our fellow libraries in the BCCLS consortium. How to Write One Song is also available as an audiobook or an eBook from Overdrive, with your Livingston Library card. You can also borrow all the great Wilco albums I mentioned earlier– not to mention a bunch of great music Jeff Tweedy recorded with Uncle Tupelo, and as a solo artist– through streaming or downloading on Hoopla Digital, or on CD through BCCLS.

Til next time: Remember to remember me, standing still in your past, floating fast like a hummingbird…

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