Killer View of Kerouac

Back when I slugged away in the Record Searchlight newsroom, the argument surfaced again and again between my neighboring colleagues Rob Rogers and Dave Benda. They’d battle the case of who’s better: Jay Farrar or Jeff Tweedy.


Jay Farrar


Jeff Tweedy

And many of you are going, who?

Back then I was saying, "Please, for the love of God, turn the page on this one."

But Rogers and Benda just plowed on with it. Rob is deeply in the Wilco (Tweedy) camp, while Benda leans toward Son Volt (Farrar). The two knuckleheads (great guys, actually) succeeded in one thing: they turned me into fans of both men and their musical projects.

What does any of this have to do with Jack Kerouac? Well, I’m getting to that. I guess I’m banking on the name "Kerouac" being a tad more sexy than Tweedy or Farrar in a headline. But the tie is coming.

First, the world’s fastest synopsis on Tweedy-Farrar. They were both founding members of the deeply influential alt-country band Uncle Tupelo. Both were/are explosive songwriting talents, and naturally there wasn’t enough space for both of them in a single band.

A lot of music fans (like Rogers and Benda) picked a camp and have compelling reasons for liking Wilco/Tweedy or Son Volt/Farrar better.

My feeling is we have to pay attention to both of these Illinois artists. They’re making some of the most compelling American music out there today.

I never know what to call things. Their genre has been most commonly been tabbed alt-country. These guys make music that also rocks hard or merges into more of a folk vibe.

Wilco has released a series of critically acclaimed albums which have slowly seeped into my consciousness. My experience has likely been like a lot of listeners — something seemed a little dissonant and odd about Wilco at first. Maybe I didn’t like Tweedy’s voice or something.

But after more lessons, Wilco hit me like a rogue wave. I couldn’t predict where the music was going and the lyrics were captivating entryways into the playful and brilliant mind of Tweedy. The band’s latest release, "Wilco: the Album ," is a stellar, confident record that I’m returning to again and again.

On the Farrar side, I more immediately connected with his band Son Volt and his solo projects including the album "Sebastobol." I started playing the wonderful Son Volt tune "Windfall" on guitar.

Now, the Kerouac connection.

In October, Farrar joined songwriter Benjamin Gibbard (Death Cab for Cutie) and released the album, "One Fast Move and I’m Gone: Kerouac’s Big Sur." Farrar and Gibbard have set Kerouac’s words to music. I haven’t read Kerouac’s "Big Sur," a semi-autobiographical account of coming to grips with depression and addiction from a hideout on Big Sur. I’ve read that this work deals with the hangover (on many levels) that set in following Kerouac’s famous book, "On the Road."


Benjamin Gibbard and Jay Farrar

Anyway, this is all a long-winded way of getting to the point that this Farrar-Gibbard album is really fabulous. It gives me goosebumps and I can’t seem to get it off my playlist. These guys dealt aces by putting Kerouac’s captivating words to music. Gibbard’s voice sounds amazing and Farrar’s sonic instincts are dynamite.

This is a lush recording with plenty of open space for Kerouac’s words to shine through as Farrar and Gibbard trade off on lead vocals.

For a great piece of Farrar, click here . Here’s Farrar’s website . Here’s Wilco . Here’s Gibbard .

Here’s a vid of Gibbard and Farrar playing acoustic in a New York Public Radio performance:

is a journalist who focuses on arts, entertainment, music and the outdoors. He is a songwriter and leader of the Jim Dyar Band. He lives in Redding and can be reached at
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11 Responses

  1. Avatar Philbert says:

    Jim, first, let me agree with you on one thing… Rogers and Benda are, indeed, knuckleheads. But, like you, I never saw any reason to choose between Tweedy and Farrar as if I were the kid caught up in a messy divorce. Same thing happened with The Beatles split, you were either a Lennon or McCartney guy, though they both made some pretty interesting music.

    That said, "One Fast Move and I'm Gone" may be my favorite record of the last five years. Sure, I'm a Kerouac nut, but there aren't many albums I can play two times in a row without skipping a single track… this is, most certainly, one of them. Thanks for the write-up!

  2. Avatar Rob Rogers says:

    That's a great a little write-up, Dyar. And you're right — both these guys are worth paying attention to.

    And the track you posted above is fabulous. I love those harmonies. I need to check out this album.

    I wouldn't be a Tweedy faithful, though, if I didn't point out that Farrar's a little late to the party. Wilco did this 10 years ago when they got together with Billy Bragg and set a bunch of Woody Guthrie lyrics to music. C'mon, Dyar, no even a little shout out? A little credit?

    Seriously, though, my appreciation of Farrar and his immense talent has grown significantly over the years. And while I appreciate him as a great artist and brilliant musician, Tweedy simply appeals to me. Where Farrar takes the relatively straight path from point A to point B, Tweedy kinda wanders around and plays a bit before he gets to where he's going. I guess I like that approach a little better.

    • Avatar Jim Dyar says:

      Rob, first off, I hope you're not freezing your butt off in Montana. We miss you out here in NorCal.
      Second, thanks for turning me on to Wilco — your passion for the group helped convert me. You're right on the Bragg collaboration, I think a lot of people have heard the fine tune "California Stars" from that project. Bragg's "Way Over Yonder in the Minor Key" is sublime off that project as well.
      Part of the problem with Tweedy and Farrar is that they're creating so much great music. It takes time for me digest albums and it seems like I can't really keep up.
      But, Phil, I'm glad to hear that "One Fast Move…" has rocked your world as much as it has. Gibbard's compelling voice makes me want to check out Death Cab for Cutie. And I'm calling out Benda — we need your first-ever comment here on anewscafe!
      Uncle E, I'm with Rob that "Sky Blue Sky" isn't a misstep — love the tune "Shake It Off."
      Readers: This is a group of grown men really geeking out on music right now. What a fun way to spend the day.

    • Forgive my ignorance on this subject but I have no idea what you guys are talking about.

      But – I was so excited to see your comment, Rob. Hi! I hope you and your sweet family are loving Montana.

      Don't be a stranger. Feel free to comment any time. It's a real treat to hear from you, Uncle E and other friends from our former work lives. We hope you'll all visit often. See you online. 🙂

  3. Avatar Uncle E says:

    Rogers you beat me to the punch with Mermaid Ave. I have to say that while I am a big fan of Ferrar I am an even bigger fan of Tweedy. Except for the misstep Sky Blue Sky (ok Rob, let me have it!), Wilco's albums remain on heavy rotation. Jim/Phil, if you like this new collaboration you may want to dig out that Gob Iron album I burned for you. One of Ferrars finest, most haunting moments in my opinion. I think both of you?

  4. Avatar Rick says:

    I'm a big Wilco fan. My favorite tune by them is Handshake Drugs but I dig their more mellow folk groove as well. I will have to check out Farrar. Thanks for the tip. Jim, you should check out Kathleen Edwards if you're not already a fan.

  5. Avatar Michael Allison says:

    Jay Farrar has written some of the best songs in America. He kind of lost it, like they all seem to do. Cant expect that kind of creativity to pour out year after year with no end. But I saw him live doing all his old stuff, up through Sebastapol, and was reminded how many really great, and truly original sounding songs he made. Glad to see him finding new inspiration. He is one of the greatest American songwriters of all time. On par with Neil Young, Lucinda Williams and Gillian Welch — even Dylan.

    I could never get into Jeff Tweedy, or Wilco. Or Weezer. Or Modest Mouse, for that matter.

    This record looks interesting. Farrar's Trace, Wide Swing Tremelo, Straightfaced, and Sebastapol are perfect collections, with no weak tracks. How many artists have written that many great songs, and sung them so well?

  6. Avatar Carla Jackson says:

    Jim, thank you for this… downloading "One Fast Move" as I type.

  7. Avatar lenny says:

    Man, good write-up Jim. Nice to see these artists get some recognition. Way back when I was in college, geeking out at my record store digs, I plopped in this mysterious band, Uncle Tupelo and their first album "No Depression." We were closing up shop and my buddy and I were blown away by the sounds coming from the speakers. This was the real deal. Of course, I went on to purchase every Tupelo album and some Son Volt and Wilco. When Farrar is on, the man makes me weep and Julie sigh. A funny side note: I failed to mention how great Uncle Tupelo was to my best friend and college roommate. Anyhow, one night I came home late and found him fuming on the couch. I asked what was wrong and he was genuinely pissed that I had failed to tell him about Uncle Tupelo. He had just finished listening to March 16-20 and had proclaimed his fave record of alltime. Mind you, we were serious music nerds at the time. He was so angry he refused to speak to me for a week!
    Love the collaboration between Gibbard and Farrar.
    You should check out two other fabulous bands from the same vintage of Uncle Tupelo but different genres; Red House Painters and American Music Club both from SF.

    • Avatar ted petersen says:

      I would agree, too, that March 16-20 is UT's best album, no question, and there was a time I was pretty into it myself. That album was an aberration in modern music, and it was far deeper than their others, in many ways. I vaguely recall a quote I read in a Rolling Stone review where Tweedy said (it must have been tweedy because Jay doesn't really talk much) that "… March was the one that really broke us … People really wanted to believe that we were coal miners …" This must have been in '96 and as I recall it was a the first press that came out for Son Volts first gig. A gig that Tweedy attended, if memory serves.

      But anyways, that album, "March" is almost entirely cover songs. Very few originals.

      BTW: I enjoyed reading your story/write up. thx.

  8. Avatar jon mould says:

    Well….. There is a lot of talent out there across the USA, and a lot of it never makes it into the public eye. First, let me straighten out one thing.. Uncle Tupelo were very influential, BUT that does not mean they were particularly good. I've seen them several times, and I speak from my own life experience. They were OK. Most of their songs were actually not that good in my view — they were forgettable, and to be honest you don't need to investigate very long to find that most people out there do not even know the name Uncle Tupelo, point of fact. I won't even get into Tweedy's role in the band, but let's just say he was not a great songwriter at this point in time. Nothing really up for discussion, he just wasn't, he was still wet behind the ears and cutting his teeth. Jay is an aquired taste, and by the end of UT, he did have a cult following. Now I cannot say for sure why these guys were handed the brass ring, but they were. I cannot say why J Mascis, or Husker Du never won a Grammy .. And it puzzles me. It makes me sad sometimes, and if I were to ever win one (you bet I'm a musician), the very first thing I'd say is that were it not for JMascis, Bob, and Thurston (and a few others, I would not be here doing this.

    Getting back to UT and the Jay/Jeff debate…. Jeff Tweedy does not do it for me. Period. His vibe is depressing and his lyrics do not ignite with intelligence as some (and I'd underline that if I could, SOME) of Farrar's lyrics do. I don'tl care how slick his band is. He could be playing with the Pat Metheney Group and it still would be lackluster .. Conversly, Farrar has forgotten how to rock a room live.. I walked out of a recent show in Boston. Did you hear me? I WALKED OUT… That's pretty sad all things considered.

    So, I guess it's a TIE.