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Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy, Addiction, and 13 Min. of Static

In searching for artists with amazing stories of recovery, we came across one that many folks might not be familiar with: Wilco, a Chicago-based alt rock band became critic favorites for the release of their 2000 LP Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, the making of which was documented in the film “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart”.

Amid the making of Wilco’s seminal album, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, lead singer Jeff Tweedy struggled with creative anxiety, inter-personal band tensions, and an addiction to prescription drugs that pervaded the isolated and detached nature of the band’s music, eventually culminating in the follow-up album, A Ghost is Born‘s, 13 minutes of eerie static. This was meant to represent the ever-present ailment of migraines. You can hear it below.

A migraine sufferer since childhood, this affliction provided the gateway for his abuse of painkillers. However, combined with Tweedy’s struggle with depression and anxiety, his abuse of prescription meds became more prevalent. Growing up in a time when mood disorders, depression, and anxiety weren’t well understood, Tweedy took comfort in the fact that his migraines provided physical symptoms to show pain his parents could quantify. He has since has been open about his suspicion that the migraines were linked to his depression.

In many ways, Tweedy has expressed that his music is a way for him to rise above the pain. Never missing a show because of his migraines, Tweedy is known for having kept a bucket just to the side of the stage to vomit in between songs. He realized the fans probably thought he was strung out on drugs, but this never affected the long-term image of the band and highlights Tweedy’s devotion to his craft.

Tweedy began taking painkillers recreationally, but the problem escalated with his easy access to the medication due to migraines. He eventually realized his problem and decided to stop all of his prescription medication including an antidepressant he’d began taking. Five weeks later, Tweedy suffered from a massive panic attack that left him in the hospital for two days.

Finally, after recommended to a dual diagnosis facility that treats patients for their mental issues and addictions, Tweedy found relief. He had the support of his family and friends, and one month later was clean with a new set of tools to cope with his mood disorders and anxiety. He claims to have been more or less migraine free for the last four years and continues to cope with anxiety and depression without the use of prescription painkillers.

For a more discreet read on Tweedy’s struggle with addiction and migraines, read this interview in the NYTimes from 2008.

Here is the song “Less Than You Think” with the full 13 minutes of noise as it appeared on the studio version of A Ghost is Born: