In his new memoir, Let’s Go (So We Can Get Again), due out November 13th, Jeff Tweedy writes with humor and honesty about his life in music, from his childhood in Belleville, Illinois, to his early success with Uncle Tupelo to his 20 years (and counting) as Wilco’s lead singer and songwriter. This story is excerpted from the chapter titled “Toby in a Glass Jar,” through which Tweedy discusses the opiates habit that led to his 2004 rehab stint, and the making of Wilco’s A Ghost is Born.
“Jeff Tweedy? Like Jeff Tweedy from Wilco?”
The child in rumpled blue scrubs behind the window on the pharmacy drive-through was observing me. He appeared like he was straight out of pharmaceutical school—an enormous clean-cut child, however matted like a drunk altar boy or somebody who simply awoke from a nap. I smiled again at him and tried to seem like a man together with his shit collectively.
“I’ve seen you play a bunch of times, man,” he informed me, glancing at my prescription once more. “My friends . . . we’re all fans.”
I stated, “Thanks,” and struggled to make eye contact. “I really appreciate that, yeah.”
I by no means know what to say throughout encounters like this. I’ve discovered that saying thanks is all that’s required, however it by no means looks like sufficient.
The man disappeared into the maze of cabinets behind him, and I tapped impatiently on my steering wheel. I used to be right here to get Vicodin, which I had one way or the other talked my psychiatrist into prescribing for nervousness. I’d been taking opiates on and off for years, however most of my prescriptions had been for migraines. This was the primary time I felt like a physician had gotten uninterested in me begging and knew he was doing one thing incorrect, however simply didn’t care.
For years, the usual sample had been to get somebody to write down me a script when my migraines turned insufferable and then cease chilly turkey once I ran out of refills, or once I began to panic about all of the tablets I used to be taking. Now one thing totally different was occurring. I used to be depressed and I had began to solely really feel regular and human once I had loads of medicine available. Earlier than, I had all the time wanted to be in precise ache to rationalize asking a physician for painkillers. An air of legitimacy had all the time propped up my vanity; I wasn’t a drug addict if my use was sanctioned by a health-care skilled. Now these pretenses have been disappearing quick.
The pharmacist child got here again and handed me an enormous bag. It felt heavier than normal.
“I took care of you,” he stated, giving me a wink.
“I’m sorry?” I requested.
He gestured towards the bag. “I tripled your prescription,” he whispered by means of his tooth, motioning together with his eyes to be cool.
I used to be flustered however grateful. “Oh, well, wow, thanks, you can do that?” I blurted, nonetheless not fairly comprehending what he was saying. Was I the fortunate millionth buyer?
“Listen, man, if you ever need anything . . .” He then put his thumb to his ear and mouthed, “Call me” into his pinky.
“No shit? Awesome. Okay,” I stated. My palms have been shaking, and I felt excessive already. “Thank you again. I don’t know what to say.”
I drove away slowly, elated and slightly scared. Up till that second, getting giant portions of medicine had been arduous. And having it’s troublesome had created the delusion that I used to be dwelling safely behind some pure barrier that might, circumstantially and with none willpower expended on my half, shield me from accessing the quantity of medicine it might take to be a “real” drug addict. Now it was going to be straightforward. Even in what felt like a lotto-winning second of euphoria, I knew that making this connection was one of many worst issues that would have occurred to me.
I truthfully don’t keep in mind a time in my life once I didn’t have complications. I feel I used to be six once I discovered they have been referred to as migraines and that it wasn’t one thing that occurred to everyone.
They do run in my household, although. My sister will get them and so did my mom. It’s potential that once I was a bit of child, migraines felt regular to me as a result of my mother had them and it was a approach of feeling near her. I keep in mind her being knocked out for entire days, and I might make tall glasses of Coca-Cola on ice to convey to her in mattress, identical to she did for me once I was sick.
Each faculty yr I’d find yourself lacking many, many days due to migraines. Along with the ache, I’d get sick to my abdomen and find yourself vomiting a lot I’d should sleep by the bathroom. Typically I’d get so dehydrated I’d find yourself within the hospital. One yr I missed forty consecutive days of faculty due to my migraines and vomiting. Once I got here again, I needed to remind the opposite youngsters who I used to be.
Once I was eight or 9, they decided my migraines have been in all probability the results of allergic reactions, in order that they gave me a type of allergy exams the place they scratch your again and introduce allergens to each scratch. It turned out I used to be allergic to every little thing. Actually. I obtained allergy photographs twice every week after faculty for years. We additionally needed to maintain my beloved teddy bear, Toby, sealed in a jar, as a result of I used to be allegedly allergic to deal with mud. Attempt to image one thing sadder on this world than a teddy bear stuffed inside a glass jar. However the photographs and the imprisoned bear by no means helped the migraines.
My principle, and I don’t know if it’s born of any type of scientific analysis, is that migraines, or no less than my migraines, have been related to temper issues.
I grew up in a home filled with caring individuals—my mother and father have been nurturing and needed me to be glad and wholesome. Nevertheless it was a unique time. If a child from my era moped round so much and was frustratingly inconsolable, my mother and father’ era’s typical response can be “What is wrong with you? You have nothing to cry about. I’ll give you something to cry about.” I might attempt to inform them “I just feel sad for no reason” however it was a lot simpler for them to know if I used to be visibly in ache. In different phrases, the migraines have been a means of creating psychic ache seen to the individuals round me. It’s apparent your child is hurting when he can’t cease vomiting and can hardly open his eyes. And since my mom had migraines herself, she might determine—she knew they have been actual.
Who is aware of the place the temper issues ended and the migraines started? They might feed on one another and make all the things worse. Once I’d have a panic assault, my stress ranges would skyrocket for days and even weeks afterward due to the worry of getting one other assault, and that nervousness would contribute to the subsequent headache, and it might start a cycle that was exhausting to cease. Once I’d get a migraine at college, they’d all the time ship me residence as a result of they didn’t know what to do with a child curled up on the ground and crying. They wouldn’t have been as sympathetic, I don’t assume, if I’d defined that I used to be having a panic assault as a result of my mother was going to die sometime and then I’ll be on their lonesome as a result of I don’t assume my dad can care for me! The migraines have been actual, and so have been the panic assaults. However which got here first? And which one wanted to be handled?
Apart from my mom, sister, and me, no one else in my prolonged household (that I do know of) suffered from migraines. However there have been a number of recognized and undiagnosed temper issues and the coping was finished principally within the type of alcohol.
My dad’s father died earlier than I used to be born, and I by no means heard a phrase about him aside from that he died on a barroom flooring. My grandfather on my mom’s aspect drove a cab when she was rising up, and apparently, in these days, “cabdriver” additionally meant “pimp.” Once I was rising up he lived in a run-down condominium above the tavern the place he tended bar. My grandfather had a colossal whiskey nostril, like some cauliflower-beetroot hybrid, and he chain-smoked Camel straights proper as much as the day they killed him. Dropping me off with Grandpa Werkmeister was absolutely the last-ditch answer to childcare. My mother hated him for good purpose, so I hated him as nicely and would beg to not be left with him. I by no means spent any time with him, not one second, when he didn’t odor like booze.
My dad was a lifetime drinker. He’d come residence from work day by day and drink a twelve-pack of beer. That was his commonplace beer consumption. If it was a time without work or a weekend when he wasn’t on name, he might down a case of beer. This wasn’t simply over the course of a tough yr or two, that is how he subsisted for almost all of his life. He obtained sober at 81 years previous, on the recommendation of his docs, and he did it on his personal, with out rehab or any sort of AA help group. He needed to cease, so he stopped. Then he began having panic assaults for the primary time since he was younger.
That’s when it turned clear to me that he and I shared the identical temper issues and that he had been clumsily, but semi-effectively, treating melancholy and nervousness with alcohol since his teenagers. Everybody recognized him as an alcoholic—my mother, his sister, our neighbors, the mailman, everybody. However he one way or the other prevented the standard trajectory of alcoholism. He had no progressively worsening penalties. He was reliably unreliable emotionally, however aside from feuds with my brothers and sometimes embarrassing us at wedding ceremony receptions, his conduct was maddeningly constant and predictable. I’ve a lyric about my dad’s consuming the place I sing, “Head for the cooler and drink your fill.” I feel it type of sums up my household’s resignation and acceptance of my dad’s relationship with alcohol. It wasn’t perfect, however we knew it might have been worse.
I used to be all the time a reluctant drinker. Even once I drank quite a bit, I might by no means fairly recover from being disillusioned in myself that I used to be letting my mother down. I had promised her, and myself, that I might by no means drink even a drop of alcohol, so I spent plenty of time wallowing within the guilt of being too weak to withstand what felt like future, and guilt solely made it simpler to maintain consuming. It was a vicious cycle, and once I was capable of put it to a cease and give up consuming on the comparatively younger age of 23, I used to be satisfied my issues have been solved. Nobody in my household had pushed their automotive off the street on weed, so I smoked weed till ultimately my nervousness dysfunction started to make each bong hit end in an virtually instantaneous heart-pounding panic assault. For some time my medicine of selection have been mundane and comparatively benign — Weight loss plan Coke and cigarettes — which might have been a powerful victory for a man with my DNA if I’d been capable of freeze my drug use at that degree of efficiency. Alas, the Weight-reduction plan Coke and cigarettes weren’t sufficient. Nothing relieved the ache or helped me really feel relaxed and regular, the best way I pictured different individuals feeling, for very lengthy.
Then we went to Canada.
It was 1997, and we have been a part of the Tragically Hip’s One other Roadside Attraction tour with Los Lobos and Sheryl Crow. I didn’t know a lot (or something) about drugs on the time. I’d taken loads of non-narcotic ache medicine in my life, however principally in suppository type on account of my incapability to maintain solids down throughout a migraine. What’s that? You didn’t have to know that? My dangerous. The purpose is, I used to be unfamiliar with drugs, okay? Anyway, in Canada it was apparently a lot simpler to seek out prescription drugs than within the States, so Jay Bennett and a few of the guys from the opposite bands have been beginning to carry stockpiles round that made them sound like maracas once they walked up stairs. I used to be bored and homesick and all of them appeared like they have been having a blast.
“What should I try?” I requested Jay. He astutely advisable Valium as a result of, duh. It’s what they prescribe for nervousness anyway, isn’t it? So technically I wouldn’t even be abusing the drug. However, meh, the feeling was simply . . . okay. I wasn’t as anxious about going onstage anymore, however I didn’t like how drained it made me. The sedating high quality wasn’t notably useful for somebody who already likes to nap 20 % of the day. So I took a Vicodin—only one, as a result of I used to be nonetheless nervous about it—and inside an hour I used to be like, “Oh yes, okay, there it is, now I see, that’s the one. I’ll have more of those, please.”
Not everybody has this response, however opiates energized me. The nice and cozy maternal sense of well-being that each opiate addict loves was there, too, in fact, however for me at the least, it was like waking up from the right night time’s sleep. I used to be alert, motivated, and clearheaded. I felt regular.
I had by no means actually been interested in oblivion as a key element of some dunderheaded rock & roll mythology. You understand, “Sex, drugs, and rock & roll”? I all the time type of seemed down on championing something however the rock & roll half. Anybody can do medicine or have intercourse or do sex-drugs or have drug-sex. To me, rock & roll required extra consciousness and dedication. I didn’t even like the shortage of management that got here with consuming. I attempted to be the man who might drink an excessive amount of and by no means appear drunk. Even slurring my phrases felt like surrendering an excessive amount of. However with Vicodin, there was none of that. I assumed this was what different individuals felt like on a regular basis. So why was I not allowed to really feel that means, too? I might go for a stroll or learn a guide or write a music and I wouldn’t fall right into a heap on the ground in a match of weeping and panic.
Once I ran out, I give up, partly as a result of I didn’t need to develop into addicted, however principally as a result of the drugs ran out. However in a number of months, I’d get down or I’d have a migraine and it might pop again into my head that I knew of one thing that may, undoubtedly, make me really feel regular once more. I used to be by no means notably nice at making connections with individuals who had entry to unlawful substances, however being in my line of labor (particularly within the Nineties) was a superb start line. We’d go to a membership, and I’d casually ask anyone who labored there, “Do you know where we could get some painkillers? I really hurt my back.” And inside a number of hours somebody would cough some up.
It by no means felt like an issue. I assumed they have been good for me. “How could this be bad?” I’d discount with my conscience. “I’m not panicking anymore, I’m able to function like an adult, I’m not debilitated by my thoughts.” And I used to be good at quitting them! No less than till I began taking them once more.
It’s unattainable to fret that you simply’re making the mistaken selections when everyone round you is treating it like completely rational conduct. I didn’t really feel like some weirdo for liking Vicodin, as a result of everyone favored Vicodin. It was like strolling into a cocktail party and asking the host, “Um . . . I don’t know if you’re into this, but, uh . . . Do you have any red wine? Maybe something in a California zinfandel?”
I pulled into the pharmacy drive-through questioning how you can ask what I wanted to ask.
My man was there. The large child with the mussed hair.
“Hi,” I stated, waving at him and then instantly feeling silly about waving at a pharmacy worker.
“Hey, Jeff,” he stated. “What can I do for you?”
“I, uh . . . I can’t get a prescription right now, so I was wondering—” “I’ve got you,” he interrupted me. “I get off at eight. I’ll just swing by, okay?”
He got here to the Loft with an enormous ziplock bag filled with painkillers in each form, measurement, and colour: Percocet, Lortab, Norco, tons of Vicodin.
“You don’t take more than one at a time, do you?” he requested, wanting me within the eye. “You take them as directed, right?”
Then he laughed and tossed me the bag.
“Call me earlier next time. That’s all I could grab in one night.”
“Aren’t you going to get in trouble for this?” I requested.
“Isn’t anybody going to notice that all these pills are missing? Aren’t you worried about getting caught?”
He laughed once more. “First of all, I’m the guy who counts the pills. And that one pharmacy filled about 250,000 prescriptions for Vicodin this year. Nobody is going to miss a few hundred pills.”
“If you say so.”
I gave him tickets to Wilco exhibits, however I by no means knew if he got here. He by no means requested to go backstage. I frightened about him typically. He was clearly hooked on tablets, too.
Once I went to rehab, a few years later, considered one of my roommates was a former pharmacist who claimed he took 80 Vicodin a day. Throughout his first week there, all he did was sleep. I barely noticed his chest rise and fall. When he lastly awakened and launched himself, his pores and skin was yellow. It was a miracle he didn’t die, or at the very least didn’t lose his liver.
The medicine couldn’t sustain. Due to course they couldn’t. There have been by no means sufficient medicine to maintain up with retaining me regular. We have been on tour opening for R.E.M. in Milan, Italy. There have been 70,000 individuals there, simply an unlimited viewers packing an previous dusty soccer stadium, and I couldn’t cease crying and vomiting lengthy sufficient to get myself to the stage. I used to be in horrible form — for seemingly no cause, the underside had simply dropped out. I used to be continually having migraines, which led to panic assaults, which made the migraines worse. Or perhaps I used to be panicking a lot I used to be giving myself migraines, I might by no means make sure. So I simply stayed within the dressing room sitting on a chair within the bathe with chilly water raining down on my head, as a result of it was the one factor I might do this felt comforting.
Our tour supervisor acquired the native paramedics to return backstage and check out me. On the time I assumed they have been confused, however now I feel they acknowledged an addict, however had by some means gotten trigger and impact reversed. “What did he take?” they stored asking. It was actually onerous to elucidate in damaged English that I wasn’t OD’ing. What I needed was for them to offer me narcotics. It was like being seven once more, and feeling ashamed on the arched eyebrows of disbelieving adults, who frowned at me and stated, “Migraines? Come on. Isn’t it all in your head?”
I stored telling myself that I wasn’t being weak. “I’m not some junkie who wants to disappear. I have real migraines. I have real panic attacks. And I’m only being responsible by finding a way to control them so I can keep doing my job. I know all about addiction and that is not what this is.”
In November of 2003, we went to New York to report with Jim O’Rourke. Myself, John Stirratt, Glenn Kotche, Leroy Bach and Mikael Jorgensen have been going to gap ourselves up at Sear Sound in midtown Manhattan and begin work on A Ghost Is Born. It’s additionally the place I used to be fairly positive I used to be going to die.
I imply that in all seriousness. I assumed I used to be going to die. Each music we recorded appeared more likely to be my final. Each word felt ultimate.
I don’t know if anyone else observed. They have been conscious that I used to be sad and battling melancholy, however that they had no concept how critical my drug use had develop into. I wasn’t staying up all night time partying or doing something that may make them say, “Hey, man, you have to cut it out.” I tended to maintain myself away from individuals once I was at my worst. They solely noticed me throughout probably the most practical a part of my day. Like my dad, I used to be all the time capable of keep a piece ethic and not shirk obligations. I wasn’t all the time as spiritually current and mentally alert as I ought to’ve been, however my physique all the time confirmed up.
The worst of it occurred once I was alone in my lodge room having panic assaults, taking too many drugs and then panicking as a result of I’d taken too many tablets. Each night time I’d lie in mattress — or simply as typically, within the tub till the bathwater would get chilly — telling myself, “If I fall asleep right now, there’s a pretty good chance I’m not waking up. People die in this situation all the time.” Typically, if I referred to as house, listening to Susie’s voice might pull me out of the abyss, nevertheless it was extra doubtless she would hear the worry in my voice and get scared, which might make issues approach worse. It was simpler for me to maintain her at midnight and really feel some consolation imagining her cuddled up on our sofa with our boys, unaware that her husband has probably overdosed.
I feel the looming sense of imminent demise got here throughout within the songs. The lyrical parts of A Ghost Is Born have been initially conceived as a type of Noah’s Ark analogy. That’s why it had so many animal songs: “Muzzle of Bees,” “Spiders (Kidsmoke),” “Hummingbird,” the fly in “Company in My Back,” “Panthers” (which by no means made the album). I had this obscure concept that the album was constructed round, the place all the songs have been animals representing the totally different elements of my character value saving. I don’t know, it sounds ridiculous now, however on the time it made good sense. The dread I used to be feeling was profound and undoubtedly biblical in its scope; it felt like an enormous flood was coming, one thing nobody might survive. So I used to be saving something I might, piling all of it onto this ark as a method to salvage no matter I might of myself. I used to be a goner, however I didn’t need to lose every little thing. A Ghost Is Born can be a present to my youngsters, who might flip to it once they have been older and put collectively the items of me just a little bit greater than I’d been capable of put myself collectively for them in actual life. “There will be a new day someday,” I assumed, and I needed this document to be an elemental device for Spencer and Sammy to reconstruct my worldview, to have some deeper connection to the dad they’d misplaced.
Grim stuff, I do know. And greater than a bit of maudlin. Which can’ve been why I dropped the entire thing. Or perhaps I simply acquired uninterested in writing animal songs. Wanting again, I didn’t assume my youngsters would be capable of reconstruct a surrogate father or that they have been going to be parented by an album. I simply needed them to know I cared about them if I wasn’t round anymore.
Setting all of my grandiose album conceptualizing apart, the arduous half was staying practical as a human. If you find yourself an addict, logistics develop into complicated by orders of magnitude. Nothing is straightforward or easy. It’s all quantum mechanics. You’re concurrently there and not there! There was not often greater than a two-hour interval in any day that I might assure the others I’d be current and able to making music in a approach I felt good about. The remainder of the day can be spent making an attempt to time my capsule consumption, hoping to catch some golden hour of lucidity and alertness within the studio.
I actually tried onerous to keep away from recording excessive, so for lots of the time I spent within the studio, I used to be in monumental throbbing migraine ache. Loads of materials on A Ghost Is Born displays that reality. “Less Than You Think” has an outro constructed on glacial digital drones and slowly evolving repetitive mechanical noises organized to imitate the isolating alien landscapes migraines typically induce when the ache wraps itself so tightly round your cranium it begins to warp your notion of sunshine and time. I can’t keep in mind if that was the unique intent throughout monitoring, however that’s what my thoughts was targeted on once we have been doing the ultimate combine.
“Spiders (Kidsmoke)” is one other recording the place I really feel like you’ll be able to hear my situation fairly clearly. Due to its size, getting a fantastic full take felt unlikely with the window on my capacity to stay upright closing quick. So we restructured the music to be as minimal as potential with the fewest variety of chord modifications. This allowed me to only recite the lyrics and punctuate them with guitar skronks and scribbles to get via the track with out having to pay attention previous my headache an excessive amount of. We tried two takes and take one is the one on the report. Take two was incomplete.
Issues didn’t get higher once we returned to Chicago. I’ve obscure reminiscences of being awake however not likely awake and wandering by means of my home, going by means of all of the closets and rummaging by way of the pockets of each coat, as a result of, goddammit, I knew there was some Vicodin in a few of these pockets. After which considering, “What am I doing? I have to stop this!” For weeks and typically months, it will be over. After which it will come again.
I’ve accomplished horrible issues that I’d somewhat overlook. My spouse, Susie, she remembers when her mom was dying from lung most cancers, and she was nonetheless dwelling with us, and the morphine that her docs had prescribed to make her extra snug in the long run began disappearing, and Susie found out that I used to be the one stealing it. I barely keep in mind that, and I want I didn’t keep in mind it in any respect. I would like the reminiscence to vanish endlessly, to be expunged from my everlasting report. However there it’s.
I had a therapist making every thing worse. This man was a quack, and I used to be weak and determined. He was underneath the phantasm that I used to be a star shopper, and that simply made him extra keen to inform me no matter he thought I needed to listen to. Once I advised him I used to be an addict, he disputed it and reassured me that the Vicodin my psychiatrist prescribed me was completely okay. He additionally advisable that I keep away from antidepressants as a result of they have been blocking my artistic power. I didn’t take heed to him concerning the antidepressants (at first), however his recommendation concerning the opiates was too alluring to disregard.
“You’re an artist, let it fuel your art,” he stated. “The pain comes from the conflict between enjoying yourself and capping your joy with mood stabilizers.”
I purchased into it for some time. However then someday he informed me he ought to in all probability be approaching the street with me and Wilco. That set off alarm bells in my head. “Oh, I get it, this guy is evil,” I assumed. “He’s not trying to cure me. He needs me to need his help. I’m his best customer.” I wasn’t considering clearly about a variety of issues, however I knew I needed to get away from this man instantly, simply sever all ties and by no means look again. I unloaded on him, referred to as him “the actual devil,” and then I requested him to drive me residence as a result of I might really feel a panic assault approaching. My entire physique was vibrating. We drove in silence — he should’ve realized I’d had a second of readability and was onto him, as a result of he wasn’t making an attempt to persuade me to remain — and when he pulled as much as my home, I received out and he sped away virtually earlier than I might shut the door behind me, squealing his tires as he took off down the road.
I made a decision to give up chilly turkey. Not simply the painkillers, which I used to be fairly positive have been killing me. Something that got here in capsule type abruptly appeared like poison. I used to be satisfied any medicine I had been taking was making me sick, so I threw out all the things. It didn’t go nicely. I misplaced 30 kilos and stopped with the ability to perform. I couldn’t play music anymore, couldn’t be a father or a husband. In the course of the day I’d keep in mattress, however I couldn’t actually sleep. I used to be panicking on a regular basis, and I’d spend most of my days strolling across the park, as a result of I didn’t need to scare my youngsters. Susie didn’t know what to do, and after what had simply occurred, I used to be too terrified to belief a physician. I assumed perhaps after a number of extra weeks of panicking and not sleeping and pacing all day within the park, I’d begin to come out of it.
5 weeks later—theoretically, I used to be clear by advantage of the truth that I wasn’t on medicine—I suffered a critical psychological collapse. My mind chemistry crashed, and my physique was revolting towards me. I attempted taking the antidepressants once more, however they couldn’t work quick sufficient. I informed Susie, “I know I’m not having a heart attack, but I feel like I’m being chased by a bear.” She took me to the emergency room, and they shot me up with a heavy dose of antianxiety treatment. That labored for precisely a day, and then the panic returned. We went again to the emergency room the subsequent night, and I begged them to confess me into the psych ward.
They prompt I’m going to a twin analysis clinic, which is principally a psychological hospital that additionally treats habit. This was the primary I’d heard that such a spot existed, and it instantly made sense.
“I need that,” I informed the ER nurses. “I need that now. Where is it? Can I go there today? Do they have an open bed? Can you call them and tell them I’m on my way?”
“Are you sure you want to go?” Susie requested.
“Yes,” I stated. “Anything is better than this.”
From LET’S GO (SO WE CAN GET BACK) by Jeff Tweedy, to be revealed on November 13, 2018 by Dutton, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random Home LLC. Copyright © 2018 by Jeffrey Scot Tweedy. Additionally obtainable within the U.Okay. on November 22, 2018 by Faber & Faber.