There’s a memorable Spin feature on Wilco surrounding the release of 2004’s masterfully sprawling A Ghost Is Born, later reprinted in Chuck Klosterman’s anthology Chuck Klosterman IV. In the story, Klosterman has to go back and re-interview Jeff Tweedy because the Wilco frontman suffered a series of panic attacks and checked into a treatment center for painkiller addiction and mental illness in the days following their first interview, during which the subject of painkiller addiction never came up.
Tweedy has a new memoir called Let’s Go (So We Can Get Back) out next week, which includes a chapter that sheds further light on that era of his life. Rolling Stone has printed that chapter, titled “Toby In A Glass Jar,” today in advance. The chapter goes into great detail about Tweedy’s history of abusing pain pills to cope with his chronic migraines and self-diagnosed mood disorders. It includes a wild anecdote about a young pharmacist who supplied Tweedy with three times his prescribed dosage of Vicodin because he was a big Wilco fan.
Here’s an excerpt of the excerpt:
The pharmacist kid came back and handed me a big bag. It felt heavier than usual.
“I took care of you,” he said, giving me a wink.
“I’m sorry?” I asked.
He gestured toward the bag. “I tripled your prescription,” he whispered through his teeth, motioning with his eyes to be cool.
I was flustered but grateful. “Oh, well, wow, thanks, you can do that?” I blurted, still not quite comprehending what he was saying. Was I the lucky millionth customer?
“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 said. My hands were shaking, and I felt high already. “Thank you again. I don’t know what to say.”
I drove away slowly, elated and a little scared. Up until that moment, getting large quantities of drugs had been hard. And having it be difficult had created the delusion that I was living safely behind some natural barrier that would, circumstantially and without any willpower expended on my part, protect me from having access to the amount of drugs it would take to be a “real” drug addict. Now it was going to be easy. Even in what felt like a lotto-winning moment of euphoria, I knew that making this connection was one of the worst things that could have happened to me.
The kid later responds to Tweedy’s request for more by swinging by the Wilco Loft with “a big ziplock bag full of painkillers in every shape, size, and color.” Tweedy rewards him with free Wilco tickets. The whole story is quite jarring, knowing what we know now about the opioid epidemic — a fact not lost on Tweedy. He also details the recording of A Ghost Is Born around that time: “I thought I was going to die. Every song we recorded seemed likely to be my last. Every note felt final.” And here’s a really fascinating insight into the lyrics and song titles on the album:
The lyrical elements of A Ghost Is Born were originally conceived as a sort 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 never made the album). I had this vague idea that the album was built around, where all of the songs were animals representing the different aspects of my personality worth saving. I don’t know, it sounds ridiculous now, but at the time it made perfect sense.
There’s much more about all this in the chapter, so go read it here.