Back to basics
Embracing the self, agitating mixtures and finding the others.
Spencer here. Writing from North Carolina, where I just arrived for my first recording session of the year.
I haven’t written to you on this list in a long time, and it’s my first time writing to you from Substack. So I’ll get us up to speed: I’m Spencer Tweedy, a drummer and writer who lives in Chicago, and you signed up for my newsletter sometime between last week or an actual decade ago. In the old days it had no name; for the past few years, I’ve titled it “Observations.” Right now, I’m not sure what it’s called — the main thing is I’m opening it up again.
In 2022, my perspective on openness online and creative output changed a lot… In the late aughts, when I was a preteen, I blogged frequently about my life and it mattered a lot to me. I met friends and Wilco fans all over the world, learned how to write and take photos, and just had fun relating to people online that way. Then blogging “died,” and I started growing up, and I felt like keeping my cards a little closer to my chest. But shit is so weird now. Platforms are “dying,” webpages are thriving, and there are delightful tools like this one to just push a letter out. We’re all figuring out what to take from digital life and what to push away. I’ve had a hunger for a long time to put more writing out there in a way that’s somewhat insulated from algorithmic feedback.
The other, broader reason I’m here is that I’m simply not creating enough stuff. I have ideas, I write notes, but I haven’t put out very much in the last many years, neither songs nor essays. And that feels crappy! My hypothesis is that having some sort of channel here where I can talk about works in progress could be part of unclogging myself. Is that more than you bargained for? Witnessing an unclogging? If so, please avert your eyes (by unsubscribing).
In a 2009 Fresh Air interview Rosanne Cash talked about one of her daughters, who was then 27 (*ahem* my age) and asking for advice about releasing music and living a private-vs-public life. Rosanne said, “It kind of broke my heart because that was the exact question I asked at her age. And I said, I don’t know because, you know, songs are not complete until they’re heard. You can’t just do this for your living room. Part of doing it is putting it out there.”
I’m of two minds about that… Based on my dad’s bright and encouraging philosophy about creativity, I think any song (or thing) made is valuable even if it always stays in the living room. Like a home-cooked meal. It still nourishes you. But I can see the spiritual and practical senses in which sharing should attend creating. You make something, partly, in order to participate in our universal, communal life. None of the (potential) beautiful things happen when you put your work in a shoebox, however worthwhile your initial, private experience with it was.
Plus, Rosanne is also talking about fitting into the eCoNoMy in a way that enables the work you want to make. You simply can’t do that without releasing. Rosanne is wise. Spoon listen.
What happens then? You get feedback, you get heard, you get ignored, you (hopefully) get better. I picture the illustrations of particles in a mixture from chemistry class. When you’re not agitating them, they don’t bump into each as frequently, the temperature stays low, and you don’t get to see what happens when things are colliding. Putting things out is a way of raising the temperature, even minutely.
One of the things that can happen: you can find the others. I’m so attracted to the liberating feeling of that idea. It reframes sharing from a self-focused thing to an other-focused thing, even while you’re talking about yourself and, yes, being gratified by attention. I love to read the life updates, hypotheses, and found-art hauls of others; when they’re well-considered, I don’t view them as narcissistic acts. I view them as gifts! So that’s what I want to do… share things, maybe the others will come, maybe it will make someone feel nourished or seen the way my favorite writers make me feel.
If you want to stay along, I’ll be grateful to write to you. If you’d like to unsubscribe, please do — I refuse to burden you!!! (T-shirt idea?) Like my newsletter hero Craig Mod, I’ll resist every temptation to look at unsubscribe data. It’s unproductive and this way you can hop off without worrying if it will make me feel bad :)
What can you expect here? Updates from the road/studio; thoughts about art and music and laypeople philosophy; links to others’ records, visual art, and essays. Maybe eventually some new songs if I know what’s good for me. Frequency TBD… let’s feel it out.
FYI, there are 887 of us here, enough to get a micro hang going.
Feel free to reply, let me know where you’re at, and let me know what, if anything, you’d like to see here. And, oh — help me name this thing. Spoonful, Spoonletter, and Spoonservations are dorky contenders. But we can also keep it vanilla.
With much appreciation!
P.S. Observations is still around on the web, but this will be my only newsletter going forward. As with the old newsletter, I’ll put excerpts from Observations in here when they seem especially worth pulling into the feed.
P.P.S. If you’re not already subscribed to my dad’s newsletter, Starship Casual, get on board. It has also played a big part in my refiguring of how people ought to share what they’re up to. The Starship is FUN.
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