The Talented Tweedy Family By Peter C. Baker https://www.newyorker.com/culture/culture-desk/the-talented-tweedy-family In the evening of March 19th, Susie Tweedy picked up her phone, opened Instagram, and started streaming live from her family’s Chicago home. Normally, her account is devoted to showcasing her vast collection of retro tchotchkes. On that night, though, she featured a new subject: her family, sheltered in place. There they were, visible to anyone who happened to be tuning in: her husband, Jeff, best known as the singer and primary songwriter of the band Wilco, and their two sons, Spencer and Sammy. I didn’t catch that night’s stream, and can’t find an archived version online, but Internet lore holds that Jeff took questions from the bathtub. Susie was coughing, and viewers were reassured that she did not have covid-19. The broadcast wasn’t preplanned or advertised, so no one knew to tune in. But, the next night, the Tweedys did it again, and then they did it again, and, soon, it was a regular thing: “The Tweedy Show,” seven nights a week. Recently, it’s gone down to four nights, with sporadic breaks as needed. Sixty-plus episodes in, it’s my favorite cultural production of the pandemic, hands down. A representative “Tweedy Show” goes like this: Jeff plays a handful of his own songs, plus a few covers, usually sitting on the living-room couch (no more bathtub shots), often wearing normal clothes up top and pajama bottoms down below. Spencer, who is twenty-four and has collaborated extensively with his father in recent years, sits on the other end of the couch, sometimes using his hands to drum on his knees, sometimes playing a minimalist drum kit set up in the middle of the room. Sammy, who is twenty and still in college, wanders in and sings a few songs, reading lyrics off the phone; like his dad, he’s a technically imperfect singer with the rare gift of making whatever he’s singing sound like what he’s feeling at that very moment. Now and then, father and sons all sing together. Susie stays behind the camera, keeping track of questions, comments, and requests from viewers, whom the family jokingly call “clients.” (Now that word of the show has trickled out, between one and two thousand people tune in per night.) Occasionally, Spencer’s girlfriend, the Chicago musician Casey Walker, who is part of the family’s quarantine pod, shows up and sings, too. Casey’s dog, Basil, seems to be a lot of viewers’ favorite recurring character. The performances are loose and warm, the stories unpolished and meandering, the mockery gentle and loving. In a welcome departure from a great deal of other made-at-home pandemic content, the Tweedys’ living room actually looks like a place where people live, not a furniture showroom. The show gives us the feeling, absent from most of our lives now, of lounging around with friends after dinner—but throws a wildly above-average amount of musical talent and experience into the mix. For anyone who has followed Jeff Tweedy over the years, “The Tweedy Show” will have an extra emotional undercurrent. In the spring of 2004, Tweedy publicly announced that he was entering a rehab program designed to treat panic attacks and a painkiller addiction. I remember rewatching old Wilco performances during this period, searching uncomfortably for signs of Tweedy’s struggles not just in the songs but in the man himself: his eyes, his mouth, the way he stood. A new Wilco album, “A Ghost Is Born,” had been recorded before Tweedy entered treatment; that summer, when it was released, lyrics about migraines, drug deals, and breakdowns jumped as if they’d been underlined. In two recent solo albums, “Warm” and “Warmer,” and an accompanying memoir, “Let’s Go (So We Can Get Back),” Tweedy has revisited this part of his life with a new level of detail and candor. In one heartbreaking passage, he recalls being sure that he would die soon and wanting to leave his last album as a memory ark for his children: “I was a goner, but I didn’t have to lose everything. ‘A Ghost Is Born’ would be a gift to my kids, who could turn to it when they were older and put together the pieces of me a little bit more than I’d been able to put myself together for them in real life. ‘There will be a new day someday,’ I thought, and I wanted this record to be an elemental tool for Spencer and Sammy to reconstruct my worldview, to have some deeper connection to the dad they’d lost.” One of the great pleasures of “Warm” and “Warmer” was looking at the liner notes and realizing that the albums feature Spencer’s drumming and Sammy’s backing vocals; they’re literally supporting their dad as he delivers songs about the time in his life when he thought he would die. A similar feeling permeates “The Tweedy Show”: there are songs about loss and pain and mortality—but they’re being performed by a family looking awfully grateful to have one another to hunker down with. It’s not uncommon to hear Susie tearing up behind the camera, and I can’t blame her. On the first Monday of the month, after the nation erupted in protests over racist police brutality, the show began on a sombre note. Jeff recalled starting the show back in March as a way to help people get their bearings amid the disorientation of the pandemic. On this night, though, he wasn’t sure. He didn’t want the show’s ongoing existence to function as a brief for escapism, or a cry for going “back to the status quo.” His conflicted feelings were visible on his face. “I just remind myself that joy is allowed,” Spencer said. “Even in solemn moments, and also even in moments that demand concrete action and dedication.” Many of us are more housebound than usual, improvising new modes of coexistence with family members and other companions. In the streets, protesters are improvising new modes of solidarity, demanding that society at large to do the same. (Last week, Tweedy announced that, going forward, five per cent of his songwriting revenue would be donated to racial-justice organizations, and expressed a hope that similar initiatives might become commonplace across the music industry, perhaps as a standard option on rights-management contracts.) Good songs provide a vision of life’s chaos resolved—if only for a few minutes—in meaningful unity. Out in the world, it may not be time for resolution yet. But, meanwhile, “The Tweedy Show” manages to function as good news of the deepest sort: a sign that things can be O.K., even when things aren’t O.K. Peter C. Baker is a writer based in Chicago.