Not My Job: We Quiz Wilco's Jeff Tweedy On 'A Yankee, A Hotel, And A Foxtrot'
PETER SAGAL, HOST:
And now the game where really interesting people answer questions about things that do not interest them. It's called Not My Job. When he was a kid, Jeff Tweedy had a guitar but lied about knowing how to play it. Eventually, he figured he'd better learn before somebody called him out. We assume he also lied about forming two of the most important bands of the last 20 years, Uncle Tupelo and Wilco, 'cause he went ahead and did that, too. Jeff Tweedy, welcome to WAIT WAIT... DON'T TELL ME.
JEFF TWEEDY: Thanks for having me.
SAGAL: So of course, we read that story about you online, so we have no idea if it's true. But is it true that you had this guitar but didn't know how to play, and you lied about it?
TWEEDY: My career is built on a lie.
SAGAL: Oh, really? And the lie is that you could play the guitar.
TWEEDY: That I know how to play the guitar.
TWEEDY: I had a guitar, and I told everyone that I knew how to play it. And I recorded Bruce Springsteen's "Born To Run" off of the radio.
AMY DICKINSON: Wow.
TWEEDY: And I took it to school and told everyone that it was me.
SAGAL: You - like, the song? Not, like, a cover it. The song?
TWEEDY: No. The whole album.
SAGAL: The whole album. The whole album?
TWEEDY: I recorded "Born To Run." And I learned enough of the lyrics that I could sing along with it. And I told a bunch of my friends in, like, the fourth grade that that was me.
SAGAL: Right. Did they believe you?
TWEEDY: I - no, I don't think so.
BOBCAT GOLDTHWAIT: Did they ever catch on? Did they go, this guy is ripping you off, Jeff?
TWEEDY: No. One of them did say, I think I've heard that.
SAGAL: And you're like, yeah, it's getting around.
TWEEDY: And I said, probably. It's pretty popular.
SAGAL: So when did you start writing your own songs?
TWEEDY: Probably around the same time that I started playing the guitar. It was easier for me to make things up than learn how to play someone else's song correctly.
SAGAL: Right. And what were your first songs like?
TWEEDY: You've probably heard some of them. They're, like, about, you know, being born to run and stuff like that.
SAGAL: Oh, wait a minute.
PETER GROSZ: About New Jersey life - life in New Jersey.
DICKINSON: I just picture these fourth-grade girls sort of gathered around you. And you're like, honey, I got to hit the road, you know.
GROSZ: Then they go home. They're like, Mom, what's a tramp? Well, Jeff called me a tramp.
TWEEDY: There weren't any girls...
TWEEDY: ...Talking to me.
SAGAL: Did that - did you ever get to the point where you actually had the classic groupie situation going on?
TWEEDY: No. No. Of course not.
SAGAL: Yeah. No? I mean...
SAGAL: ...Wilco did not have, like...
TWEEDY: What do you mean by...
GROSZ: Have you ever been to a Wilco show?
SAGAL: So you're a Chicago guy. You live here. And you didn't - and you've lived here for how many years?
TWEEDY: Probably about 24, 25 years.
SAGAL: And you never felt the call to head to the coast like so many musicians do?
TWEEDY: No. Actually, Chicago's a great, great place to live if you're a musician, you know?
TWEEDY: 'Cause, like, there's - you can afford places to rehearse. And, you know, it's way easier than New York, for sure. LA, I don't know. I've never - that's just so far away, I've never thought about it.
SAGAL: Really? Is there something about being in Chicago rather than those places that helps you do what you do?
TWEEDY: Yeah. I think you have a lot more - you have a lot more time to suck before anyone important sees you.
SAGAL: That's so important.
SAGAL: Yes. I found out that you lived here in Chicago, but I also found out something that I did not know about you - is that you're a Jewish person, which I did not expect.
TWEEDY: That is correct.
SAGAL: That's - well, mazel tov.
TWEEDY: Thank you.
SAGAL: Yeah. But you didn't grow up Jewish, did you?
TWEEDY: I did not grow up Jewish. I converted when my youngest son...
TWEEDY: ...Was being bar mitzvahed.
GOLDTHWAIT: Did you - were you bar mitzvahed together?
TWEEDY: He was bar mitzvahed, and I had a conversion ceremony.
TWEEDY: And I know what everyone is thinking.
DICKINSON: I know. I didn't want to ask, but...
DICKINSON: ...Did it hurt?
TWEEDY: I had the proper style.
TWEEDY: But apparently, that's not good enough.
SAGAL: Yeah. Really? No. No? Really? Even though you were all set, they had to go back and do it over again? Is that what you're saying?
TWEEDY: They didn't have to do it over again, but they did have to do something. And I was...
TWEEDY: ...Picturing an operating suite.
SAGAL: So they had to do - they had to do a sort of faux procedure on you - a ritual procedure, as it were?
TWEEDY: They took me into a storage closet at a temple.
SAGAL: So they bring you into the closet.
TWEEDY: Yeah. Well, this guy with a black leather bag...
GOLDTHWAIT: Are you sure he was a mohel?
TWEEDY: I'm not sure. We got him from Craigslist.
TWEEDY: Well, he showed up with an official-looking leather bag.
TWEEDY: And he asked me on the way to the closet, do you understand what this entails?
SAGAL: And you said?
TWEEDY: And I said, I think so.
TWEEDY: And so we get in the closet. He says, take your pants down. And I said, yeah, OK. That's what I expected.
TWEEDY: And then he - like, I don't know what the NPR word for a [expletive] is. Like, I guess, phallus.
TWEEDY: Right? Is that what you were saying?
SAGAL: Yes. That would be the NPR word right there.
TWEEDY: So he had my phallus in his hand with a...
TWEEDY: ...With a little bit of gauze, or a lot of gauze, actually. It was a large amount of gauze.
SAGAL: Oh, yeah.
TWEEDY: He had - it was almost a whole roll of gauze.
TWEEDY: And so he reached down in his bag, and he got a sharp object. And he looked up at me, and he said, my sons are big fans.
SAGAL: (Screaming) Oh.
SAGAL: Well, Jeff Tweedy, we are delighted to talk to you about all kinds of things, but we've invited you here today to play a game we're calling...
BILL KURTIS: A Yankee, a hotel and a fox trot.
SAGAL: "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot," of course, is one of Wilco's most beloved albums, so we thought we'd ask you about its three namesakes, a Yankee, a hotel and, of course, a fox trot. Get two of these questions right, you'll win a prize for one of our listeners. Bill, who is Jeff Tweedy playing for?
KURTIS: Topher McCulloch of Chicago, Ill.
SAGAL: All right.
TWEEDY: All right.
SAGAL: First up, a Yankee. Perhaps the most famous Yankee of all time was Joe DiMaggio. But he was not the kindly gentleman you might remember from Mr. Coffee ads. In fact, he once just punched a man right in the stomach. Who was it, and why did he do it? Was it A, teammate Mickey Mantle for breathing on Joe's favorite bat; B, playwright Arthur Miller for stealing the affections of Marilyn Monroe, or C, actor Billy Crystal for failing to introduce him as, quote, "the greatest living player"?
TWEEDY: I would have to say A.
SAGAL: You're going to have to go with A, that he punched Mickey Mantle in the stomach...
TWEEDY: I think he was pretty superstitious.
SAGAL: ...For breathing on his bat?
TWEEDY: I would believe...
SAGAL: No. It was actually Billy Crystal.
DICKINSON: No. And he punched him?
SAGAL: He punched him. It was at one of these events. Billy Crystal's a big Yankees fan. He was serving as emcee at a big event where they were introducing Yankee legends. And Mr. DiMaggio was angry that he was not introduced as the greatest living player, so boom, right in the stomach.
SAGAL: All right. You still have two more chances here, Jeff.
SAGAL: And next up, of course, we move from Yankee to hotel. The Hans Brinker hotel in Amsterdam is unusual in what way? A, it markets itself as the, quote, "worst hotel in the world"...
SAGAL: ...B, all of its staff travel up and down the hallways on silver skates, or C, rooms go to whomever can claim and defend them from other guests in combat?
TWEEDY: I'll go with A.
SAGAL: You're going to go with A. It was, in fact, A, yes.
(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)
SAGAL: It markets itself...
GOLDTHWAIT: The Hans Brinker hotel?
SAGAL: The Hans Brinker hotel. And you can buy mugs in the lobby that say, worst hotel in the world.
SAGAL: All right. You get this one right, Jeff, you win. Last question, of course, the fox trot. The dance was invented in the early 20th century. It's credited to dancers in African-American clubs. But it was first known and publicized by another name. Was it A, the skunk slide; B, the bunny hug, or C, the ocelot overhand?
TWEEDY: Oh, I think it'd be B.
SAGAL: You think it would be the bunny hug? You're right.
(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)
SAGAL: The fox trot was known as the bunny hug.
SAGAL: These two dancers, they popularized it. They did a magazine interview saying, we call it the bunny hug. They got on a steamship headed to Europe, realized their terrible mistake, radioed back to land and said, no, we want to call it the fox trot.
SAGAL: There you go.
SAGAL: Bill, how did Jeff Tweedy do on our quiz?
KURTIS: Two out of three, that's a win. What a man.
SAGAL: Congratulations, Jeff.
SAGAL: Jeff Tweedy is one of the founding members of Wilco. But if you aren't into the rest of the band, you can get tickets to his 2018 solo tour at wilcoworld.net. Jeff Tweedy, thank you so much for joining us on WAIT WAIT... DON'T TELL ME. Jeff Tweedy, Chicago.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I'M THE MAN WHO LOVES YOU")
WILCO: (Singing) All I can see is black and white and white and pink with blades of blue that lay between the words I think.
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