Jeff Tweedy's struggle with music, the music business, his bandmates, his family and himself --- but mostly with music --- is the subject of Greg Kot's brisk and entertaining biography. ... Kot is the best sort of music writer: a modest one, who actually does reporting. He asks questions and quotes his subjects at length; he doesn't go all hyperbolic about the music or the musicians, but he has a solid grasp of Tweedy's musical intelligence and can make the Wilco sound come alive in words. His theme is a familiar one, the constant tension between the virtuosity of musicians like Tweedy and the ephemeral lure of big bucks, arena crowds and hit singles.
Joe Klein, The New York Times Book Review
Kot tells the story well and thoughtfully, if a touch earnestly, with frank interviews from every important figure in Tweedy's career, ranging from his family to [Jay] Farrar to Billy Bragg. Kot even gets the inside dirt from Tweedy's wife: "He is not the most assertive person in the world," she confides. "He can't even order a damn pizza." And that's the books melancholy motif: the passive-aggressive communication failures that split up bands.
Gavin Edwards, Rolling Stone, * * * * four-star review
It's been a very good year for books about rock 'n' roll .... Greg Kot's "Wilco: Learning How to Die" (Broadway Books, $14), however, stands alone as a remarkable work of journalism that also reads like a kaleidoscopic short story by Anton Chekhov. Kot, the Chicago Tribune's music critic, not only chronicles the critically lauded band's ascent but brings a rare humanity to the various players involved.
Regis Behe, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
In Greg Kot's well-researched if by no means uncritical Wilco book ... of particular interest is the material on the band's dropping by Reprise, revealing the label's execs to be not quite the tone-deaf philistines they were previously assumed to be. But Tweedy himself is given ample opportunity to air his views, and to trash others, memorably describing onetime collaborator Billy Bragg as "somewhat full of shit."
Blender's Clark Collis in a 4-star review
"Learning How to Die" is a well-wrought portrait of a band constantly in flux, and of a band leader committed to his music, regardless of the discomfort that shifts in personnel and sound can bring ... With health issues, strained relationships and business difficulties, the book makes one wonder: Is making art --- even great art --- worth this much pain?
Dan Durchholz, St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Kot tackles the big issues: How can a musician make music that's important if the only thing important in the industry is total sales? What happens to a musician when he's put through the meat grinder of corporate oversight and second-guessing?
Paul Friswold, Riverfront Times, St. Louis
Kot goes overtime here to present the complete story of the band, interviewing all the members, past and present, their families, friends, significant others and anyone else whose lives they affected. The book makes an ideal companion piece to the Sam Jones documentary "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart" and should please Wilco enthusiasts and casual fans alike, letting us journey inside their minds.
Brett Lambert, Edmonton Sun
Tribune music critic Greg Kot masterfully chronicles the group's metamorphosis in "Wilco: Learning How to Die." It's an unputdownable account of an unpredictable journey, from bandleader Jeff Tweedy's formative years with Uncle Tupelo in the late '80s and early '90s to the making of Wilco's new CD, "A Ghost is Born."
John Soeder, pop music critic, Cleveland Plain Dealer
Greg Kot's vividly detailed, crisply written ... exhaustively researched volume ... weaves its narrative from scores of illuminating interviews conducted with band members past and present, longtime Tupelo/Wilco manager Tony Margherita, producers, local music journalists and scenesters. ... To his credit, Kot refrains from engaging in the hyperbolic hagiography that usually surrounds the group and instead maintains a balanced, dispassionate tone throughout --- call it critical distance, or good journalism. He provides a clear-eyed perspective that renders these now-deified beings as flesh-and-blood musicians. ... Ultimately, one of the most striking aspects of Kot's book is not just he account of Wilco's scrappy David taking on the Goliath of an all-powerful music giant; the parallel, and at times self-destructive, impulses that have driven and defined the intraband relationships in Uncle Tupelo and Wilco are the real revelation here.
Jonathan Perry, a Massachusetts-based music journalist and critic writing in the Chicago Tribune.
More than entertaining, the book is a credible history because the author had the cooperation of Wilco members past and present. Kot covers the obligatory biographical ground with warmth that stops short of fawning. ... Learning How to Die skillfully weaves anecdotes of Tweedy and Farrar's scuffling days in the influential alt-country band Uncle Tupelo into a tapestry that reflects conflict between creative vision and career aspirations. ... The book provides insider perspective on album sessions dating back to Uncle Tupelo's landmark 1990 debut No Depression, on that band's demise after the departure of Jay Farrar, and the melodrama that has continued to follow the changing lineup of Wilco.
Jim Abbott, Orlando Sentinel
Drawing on long familiarity with the music, as well as interviews with Tweedy and bandmates, Kot effectively conveys how the pressures on a successful band can be just as trying as those a struggling one suffers. An intelligent book about a most intelligent rock band.
Gordon Flagg, Booklist
Kot doesn’t pull any punches here; one minute he’s describing Tweedy as a driven, innovative musical genius, and a few paragraphs later, you’re disgusted by what an insensitive asshole Tweedy could be when it came to relating to other people (especially members of his band.) As a rock critic writing about a band, Kot does a great job of bringing individual songs to life not just getting the facts right (dates, places, people) but taking you inside the music, so even a non-fan like myself can almost hear the songs jump off the printed page. ... If you’re in a band and thinking about signing a major label deal someday, Wilco: Learning How To Die will be worth the price of admission just for the insight that Kot brings into the sort of nonsense that goes on behind the scenes, when businessmen running multi-national corporations wind up making artistic decisions. Even if you’ve already seen the Wilco documentary I Am Trying to Break Your Heart, Greg Kot’s Wilco: Learning How To Die has much to tell you about Jeff Tweedy the man, Wilco the band, and the music industry they both struggle to survive in.
Jim Testa, Jersey Beat
Biographies of living artists are not typically associated with investigative research, but this is an exhaustive masterwork. The author interviews countless sources (many no longer linked to the band, and others whose pain reveals they wish they still were) in getting tough stories and complete perspectives, and doesn’t spare anyone’s feelings in the process. While his admiration of Tweedy is obvious, Kot exposes the singer’s contradictions and demons with unflinching honesty. Recollections of concerts and descriptive accounts of how each Wilco album was recorded and mixed (including its latest, A Ghost is Born) provide fascinating insight. The articulate and poetic descriptions of music and concise, narrative prose are the icing on a rich layered cakea must read for Wilco fans and anyone interested in the corruption and lack of values ruling today’s music industry. If you didn’t care before, you will now.
Bob Gendron, music editor, The Absolute Sound
"Chicago Tribune writer Kot deftly explores the career, music and cult phenomenon of the '90s rootsy alt-country rock band Wilco. ... Kot's book is probing and insightful. In chronicling Wilco, Kot also lays bare the stresses of the musician's life, the vagaries of the business, and the very essence of what makes for good music and a vibrant music scene. Wilco fans will love this book, but Kot's excellent work deserves an even wider audience."
Chicago Tribune music critic Greg Kot writes admirably, balancing revealing interviews and arcane facts with his broader knowledge of music and brisk narrative. But you don’t have to be a Wilco fan or even know who or what Wilco is to enjoy this book, because the story illuminates an ageless tale of the triumph of artistic integrity over the will of the market, to say nothing of the particularly deplorable condition of the music industry, and the unknowable and often painful path that a person takes in becoming an artist of any kind.
"Kot is a true believer here, cleaving this American tale straight down the middle, cause anything less topples into pretty and petty mystique, and he doesn't play that game, nor should he ... kudos to Tweedy for letting him peek."
With vivid detail and sharp critical analysis, Greg Kot captures the inner workings the ambition and confusion, the pressures both internal and external, and ultimately the creative triumph of a great American band.”
Alan Light, Editor-in-Chief, Tracks magazine