Jeff Tweedy’s 2020 book, How to Write One Song, offered a practical guide to songwriting—a map of creative processes, daily habits and attitudes that have long sustained the Wilco frontman. It’s only fitting that Tweedy, one of contemporary rock’s most prominent figures, now turns his attention to what happens when he encounters the work of other songwriters and performers. In World Within a Song: Music That Changed My Life and Life That Changed My Music, Tweedy shares an eclectic and admittedly idiosyncratic catalog of 50 popular tunes that reflect “how songs absorb and enhance our own experiences and store our memories.”
Although icons like Bob Dylan (“Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright”), Mavis Staples (“I’ll Take You There”) and the Beatles (take your pick) are on the list, Tweedy grants an equally prominent place to a song by a “weird little band” called Souled American, and to one by the late Diane Izzo that doesn’t exist in recorded form. In that sense, World Within a Song isn’t a playlist of greatest hits, or even ones Tweedy considers mandatory listening. As a mildly misfit kid growing up in 1970s Belleville, Illinois, Tweedy knew at an early age he was destined for a music career. He discovered artists like Patti Smith, The Clash and The Replacements, whose songs helped him understand that, while he might have been lonely, he wasn’t ever alone.
Interspersed with Tweedy’s musical picks are bits of memoir he calls “rememories,” mini essays he considers “dreamlike passages recounting specific events in my life.” Some touch on aspects of his musical career, among them a hostile encounter with Timothy B. Schmit, the longtime Eagles vocalist. Most interesting are the deeply personal ones, like his reflections on his close relationship with his late mother.
Tweedy is a smart, witty and empathetic writer. His unabashed joy in introducing readers to the music that delights him is infectious and will unleash a flood of associations and memories for anyone who shares that passion. More than anything, he wants people to realize that music is as much about how we relate to it as it is about the music itself, and “how much we all can bring to a song as listeners.” World Within a Song will expand your musical horizons and radically increase your enjoyment the next time you tune in.