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A Memoir

by Jay Farrar

Pub Date: March 12th, 2013
ISBN: 978-1593765125
Publisher: Soft Skull Press

A slim, sketchy, not-quite memoir that defies categorization but plainly comes from a personal place within its musician author.

As the taciturn leader of alternative-country cult favorites Uncle Tupelo and, more recently, Son Volt, Farrar would seem to be the last rock artist who would bare his soul in the pages of a book. And so he hasn’t. For an artist resistant to interviews, he generally omits here any mention of the matters that might interest his fans most: the rise and disbanding of Uncle Tupelo, his relationship with Jeff Tweedy (who was Farrar’s junior partner in that band, but has subsequently achieved greater critical renown and popularity as the leader of Wilco) and the two different versions of Son Volt, a band he formed, disbanded and reformed with a new group of musicians. In fact, Farrar hardly bothers to mention any musician with whom he has worked, though he pays generous tribute to other, older ones: Taj Mahal, The Band, Doug Alex Chilton, a very troubled Townes Van Zandt. Most of these pieces, too short to be chapters, are a page, a paragraph or even a sentence or two long. Farrar expresses his disdain for the show-business elements of making music: “Musicians are basically cut from the same cloth as carnies. Whoever puts on the biggest freak show wins the prize.” He also writes of his father, who saw Hank Williams in live performance: “In my father’s world, an unwavering belief and reverence for the power of music occupied the space society usually reserves for religion.” Amid vignettes and anecdotes about coming-of-age in hillbilly Missouri, the author offers a “Dialectic Timeline of Country Music and Communism,” charting contrasting developments by year, letting readers make of these what they will.

Not particularly well-written or elegant, but it provides some illumination of the creative mind of a very private artist.