1-5 | 6-10 | 11-15 | 16-20
CHAPTER 1: "You have to learn how to die"
In the Wilco song “War on War” from Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, Jeff Tweedy sings, “You have to learn how to die, if you wanna wanna be alive.” For a shy small-town kid from the Midwest, to risk failure in the name of artistic expression is to contradict a lifetime's worth of social schooling. But the 34-year-old man who wrote "War on War" isn't that far removed from the 4th grader who brandished a cassette copy of Bruce Springsteen's "Born to Run" one day at school and informed his classmates that it was his creation. It was as if the kid wasn't challenging his classmates to believe so much as himself.
CHAPTER 2: "Speed became an end in itself"
The Primitives and punk rock arrive in Belleville, Ill., circa 1981-86. "I just went nuts," Jeff Tweedy says of the day he first saw his new friend Jay Farrar play Gang of Four’s “I Found That Essence Rare” at a junior high-school dance. "Danced like a freakin' idiot. Before that moment, I don't think I had ever seen a rock band live. … I was just completely blown away in awe --- in awe of Jay, in awe of his brothers, in awe of the idea that this could be happening, that I was part of their inner circle, in some way. They were just cool. Cooler than me. They were empowered in the way that I imagined myself to be empowered."
CHAPTER 3: “I got drunk and I fell down”
Uncle Tupelo Jeff Tweedy, Jay Farrar and Mike Heidorn --- find a home in a dank basement bar in St. Louis called Cicero’s, and then take the music as far as their broken-down van will allow. “They had charisma, even though they didn't move a lot on stage,” says Steve Scariano, a fan who was there from the beginning. “A lot of it had to do with being the 'anti' of every other thing that was happening in town. This is the only band we have that was ours, that wasn't slick. Back then, you know how [the Replacements' Paul] Westerberg was the coolest guy in the world? It was that kind of cool, a Replacements type thing."
CHAPTER 4: No Depression
On Uncle Tupelo's first album, No Depression, hardcore-punk polka beats share the same grimy dancefloor with waltzes and two-steps. The Carter Family shakes hands with Dinosaur Jr. It would prove to be Ground Zero of a musical movement --- alternative country --- and a striking first step for three young men from a place that, as far as the rest of the music world was concerned, might as well have been nowhere. The follow-up, Still Feel Gone, was a more ambitious affair, and contains Tweedy’s first great song, “Gun,” a turning point in the band’s evolution. “I knew it was no longer President Farrar and Vice President Tweedy anymore. It was co-CEOs from then on,” says the band’s longtime friend and confidante, Brian Henneman.
CHAPTER 5: “The loudest record we had ever made”
The timing was all wrong. Just as punk guitars were becoming acceptable again, thanks to Nirvana’s breakthrough success, Uncle Tupelo made the quietest album of its career. Working and living with R.E.M.’s Peter Buck in Athens, Ga., Uncle Tupelo turned March 16-20, 1992 into their all-acoustic tribute to pre-rock mountain-soul, folk and country. “We didn't care what anyone else thought,” Jay Farrar says. “We knew there was a contrary element to what we were doing, that we weren't part of the pack of bands that was coalescing into this grunge-rock phenomenon. I felt then and now that we were sticking our necks out for something that was important for us to do."