"I learned that little things can feel important when you give them space of their own. And that noticing begets more noticing. When you pay attention to a few things, other things reveal themselves to you."
Spencer Tweedy is a cool guy. He's a talented young drummer, the son of Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy, and a wonderful writer. I know this last part because I've been following his daily list blog Observations for a few months, and find it absolutely delightful and endearing. What started off as a blog on July 17, 2018, has since become a chapbook, with over 400 nuggets of wisdom as experienced by Spencer.
We're living in a time when bullet journaling and making lists are being touted as productivity tools, as means of self accountability and documentation of the lives we live. In Spencer's case, the blog is more authentic and special: he talks about the discarded gloves he finds, the music he listens to, people he meets, politics and art...
In conversation with the observational Spencer Tweedy about life, writing, music, and gloves:
What prompted you to start sharing your observations with the world?
I used to blog a lot when I was a teenager, and had really been missing it in the years since then. So I thought that this format of using bullet points to write little observations about my day was a good reason to start again. There’s just something fun about being able to write something that summarises your day and share it with other people.
How does the actual note-taking work? Do you have a diary you carry around to jot down observations as you see them?
When I’m out in normal life, I usually take notes on my phone in the app called Bear, or when I’m in a place where it’s not appropriate to take my phone out, I’ll write in a Field Notes paper notebook. I try to take notes as quickly as possible after the idea strikes me because if I wait I’ll usually forget it. I also feel like the immediate feelings that come from witnessing the thing are the best indicator of what’s worth writing down. If I try to remember stuff later, I don’t trust that only the really worthwhile things come through because I’m actively plumbing for stuff, as opposed to intuitively feeling it.
That said, I always go back and rephrase and clean up posts before I publish them.
The blog is an exercise in memory and remembering. Would you agree?
Yes, the posts on Observations help me remember that past day more so than any other style of writing has. Maybe even more so than photos do. There’s something about the sequence of items in a post and remembering the experience of editing the post that makes the memories especially visceral.
Are you secretly obsessed with gloves? (There are SO many observations about latex gloves, it’s hilarious!)
I’m not obsessed with gloves, but I started seeing tons of them on the ground, and part of the fun of writing Observations for me is getting to collect a lot of disparate observations over time and connect them, so the gloves became my main repeat visitor!
What’s an interesting observation from your life today? Earlier this week, I replaced some crappy, bent house keys on my keychain with keys made with real steel, and today I was thinking about how nice it feels to use some sturdy keys again!
Do you ever take the creative liberty to play around with the observations? For example, did you actually see confetti in a puddle or is there an element of fiction there?
I try to make the Observations as extremely and rigorously truthful as they can be. I did actually see the confetti in a puddle! I have a weird sort of accountant’s mind about keeping the posts non-fictional.
You made a chapbook for year one. Any plans for the remaining observations?
In 2019, I released a chapbook of all my favorite observations from the first full year of the blog! I collaborated with an awesome designer in Chicago, Lauren Gallagher, who made risograph illustrations for each week of the year. I’m planning to do another chapbook for year two.
What are your most memorable observations from the blog, if you had to pick? Here are my favorites: * Nothing makes fatigue surface like talking to a stranger. * The deep, deep relief of shaving an itchy rat-beard off my face. * Wondering: will I ever stop wiping my hands on my pants? * How if Hunter S. Thompson were alive, he might be taking mescaline and doing deep-dive pieces on TikTok and Vine culture.
I was just thinking about this one the other day: “The Escalade with a painting of itself on its trunk gate.”
One of my big inspirations for the blog is E.B. White, because he anthropomorphised animals so sweetly and hilariously. I try to borrow from that sometimes and I like those!
Wonderful! On a personal note, has writing felt as natural and important as drumming and music is to you? Also, has the act of observing the external world made you more sensitive as a person?
Writing feels like the second-most important creative thing to me after music. I know that writing definitely helps me think through ideas that are nebulous when they’re just in my head. But I’m not sure if it’s necessarily helped me be more sensitive; it feels like it’s maybe the other way around, that trying to hone sensitivity and be an attentive person has helped my writing. But I’m sure it goes both ways.
Photo by Sammy Tweedy
I did some light stalking, and saw that your brother Sammy seems to prefer documenting his life through photographs, whereas you choose to do it through words. Do you enjoy photography as a means of observation like Sammy does?
I haven’t been focusing on photography very much for the past eight or so years. I don’t feel like I can get things I want to get across with photography as well as with writing or music. I like music especially because it has a time component, so you can sort of create a whole experience over time, whereas a photograph is static. But I still really love visual aesthetics and visual media. Sammy has a really awesome, developed visual voice that I think comes through so clearly in his photos. It must be nice to have parents like Jeff and Sue! :) What do your folks think about the blog?
Yes, Sammy and I are so extremely lucky to have the parents we have. My parents love the blog! Sometimes I hear my mom laughing at posts from across a room and it makes me feel really good. My dad is super encouraging about it too.
What’s it like being the son of one of America’s greatest songwriters?
It makes me feel super proud. :-)
Father and son Jeff and Spencer Tweedy playing an NPR Tiny Desk Concert
I haven’t read or heard much about your band Tweedy with your Dad since the 2014 album Sukierae. Are you both working on new music together?
We don’t really use the “Tweedy” band name anymore because it was confusing to use that and for my dad to tour as “Jeff Tweedy (solo)” at different times. But we still record together all the time and WARM and WARMER were both made in pretty much the same way as Sukierae.
You grew up surrounded by creativity, art and music. Do you have hobbies to take your mind off things, or is your creator mode always on? When I’m trying to take my mind off of projects or working on things, I try to spend time around people or go outside or something like that. I think I have some unhealthy ideas about productivity and work and so I feel guilty when I’m not working on something. But I try to remember that reading, listening to stuff, watching TV or movies, playing video games with my brother, or just doing nothing at all are really important for re-filling your mind for creative stuff. And they’re important on their own too.
What records are you currently listening to? I’ve been listening to Neon Skyline by Andy Shauf, Peace On You by Mack Porter, The Fantastic Expedition of Dillard & Clark by Dillard & Clark, and Kins by Griot Galaxy.
Last one. What’s your recipe for happiness? Oh boy. I think just trying to process all your feelings, figure out what anxieties are reasonable to address, and then figuring out how to shift your perspective on the other stuff so that it doesn’t hurt too much. Just trying to find a sense okay-ness about all the stuff on your mind.
Thanks a lot for doing this, Spencer! :)