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All in the Family: A Portrait of Drummer @spencertweedy

To see more of Spencer’s life on the road, follow @spencertweedy on Instagram. For more stories from around the music community, follow @music on Instagram.

“Recognize it?”

The year is 2001 and a young, doe-eyed Spencer Tweedy is holding a lollipop in his hand and quizzing his father, Jeff Tweedy, the lead singer of indie rock legends Wilco, on the drumbeat he just played on his lap.

“What is it?” asks Jeff.

“Guess! It’s one of your songs.”

“It’s one of my songs?! ‘I Am Trying to Break Your Heart?’”

“No.”

“‘Kamera?’”

“No!”

“‘Dreamer in My Dreams?’”

“No!”

The back and forth continues until Jeff gives up and asks for help.

“It’s something with a drummer,” says Spencer.

“‘Heavy Metal Drummer?’”

“Yes!”

Spencer puts the lollipop back in his mouth and starts to drum on his legs again. Jeff smiles and joins in.

The footage, seen in the band’s 2002 documentary, “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart,” has since gone down in the annals of Wilco history both as an enduring snapshot of father-son bonding, as well as an artifact for a familial musical relationship, now 19 years in the making.

More than a decade after that tour bus moment, Spencer found himself on stage in San Francisco at the Fillmore Theater with his dad, this time behind a real set of drums. The two were at the tail end of their world tour with their group, fittingly titled Tweedy.

Earlier in the day, the teenage drummer was sitting upstairs in a room at the venue, reflecting on his musical history. Spencer has technically been playing drums since he was two –– at least as much as any two-year-old can play the instrument at that age. He took to it quickly. By seven, he had started his own band, the Blisters. But Spencer never assumed he’d be working on a formal project with his father. Then, at 17, the elder Tweedy asked his son to contribute to an album he was producing for the soul singer Mavis Staples. Even today, Spencer admits he was both “shocked and really, really excited” at the opportunity.

“To me, that was always too far fetched of an idea, because my dad has Wilco,” he says, about getting to officially record with his father. “If I had ever imagined that when I was younger, I would think it would be really cool but it would probably never happen. And then it all sort of fell into place.”

Soon after, they recorded an album, Sukierae, named after Spencer’s mom, who was going through chemotherapy at the time. The results are a long, winding path of introspective lyrics and melodies. The two were on the road playing the finished tracks for the last several months, across the US and Europe. Save for the occasional trip with Wilco, the excursion was Spencer’s first official tour as a drummer.

“I think to a lot of aspiring musicians, the idea of touring is the thing that you want to do,” he says. “And I feel really lucky to do that at 19. But I think when you imagine that in your head, it’s a really romantic idea. It’s like, that’s making it as a rock and roll musician. In reality it’s a lot more normal. I think that I knew that, and to experience that is not disappointing at all. If anything, it’s just heartening. It’s still real life. It’s not unimaginably wild and crazy,” he says, later adding, “We are still waking up and eating cereal.”

The Spencer today doesn’t seem that far removed from the one readers got to know when he was younger, when he was writing smart, inquisitive essays for his blog and other publications. The sharpest piece, from 2011, is titled “About a Boy,” in which he discusses depression, anxiety and puberty with remarkable, matter-of-fact clarity:

“I had it all backwards. I don’t feel weird because my body’s changing and girls are confusing and school is hard and drugs are scary. I feel weird because my thoughts are different — my feelings are different. I feel weird because I feel weird.”

Spencer doesn’t write as much these days –– he says it’s gotten harder as he’s gotten older, feeling like he has nothing new or interesting to say. However, as he’s discovered while on the road with Tweedy, those early pieces had an impact on others. Meeting people who have been moved by the work he did as a young teen is an experience he calls both “weird” and “heartwarming.”

“I like writing. Aside from music, that’s one of the main things I like to do. I just need to figure out some way to do it that works.”

What works for now is touring and playing with his dad. During the Fillmore show, the experience came full circle for Spencer: Jeff, feeling wistful, remarked that the last time Spencer was at the venue he was a kid, chasing spotlights on the floor with his younger brother.

“That makes me really sad, but I am glad to be chasing spotlights on stage with you tonight,” he said to his son, before they both broke into a rendition of “Heavy Metal Drummer.”

––Instagram @music

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We want you to play a concert in our office! Adele, John Legend, Wilco and T-Pain have played in our Tiny Desk Concert series. You could be next!

Here’s the deal: record one original song (no covers) the way you’d perform a Tiny Desk Contest – at a desk, perhaps in an office, and maybe in front of an audience. Post it to YouTube and fill out this form by January 19, 2015 to be considered to win: http://tinydeskcontest.npr.org

Official rules here: http://tinydeskcontest.npr.org/rules

Good luck!

P.S. Follow our Tiny Desk Concert Contest Tumblr to see contest entries and updates from our team.

Tattoos

Word Count: 992.

Pairing: Nico di Angelo/Will Solace (Solangelo)

Tattoos.

The first time Nico saw Will Solace’s tattoos was when they were eighteen.

To say that he had been surprised was an understatement. He hadn’t seen his boyfriend in all summer, Nico had stayed in Camp Half Blood to help with the new campers while Will had gone to New Rome, to get ready everything for the start of the college.

The boys were going to live together in the Roman city. Will spent half of his time sneaking into the Hades Cabin so they had refused to keep living like that and had agreed to live together. But it was closer to roommates that living together as a grown up couple. They weren’t ready for that kind of relationship.

Nico arrived to California one week before the start of classes and the two of them had gone to run around the city in the early morning. When they got back to the apartment, the two of them had taken off their sticky shirts, but the black marks on Will’s back were too obvious to be missed.

Tattoos.

What is that?’ Nico asked him, his eyes wide with surprise.

Will turned and started to look around for any threat. ‘What is the problem?’ He said, his blue eyes were still going around the small living room, he seemed to be looking for a weapon, something non existent in New Rome.

‘You got a tattoo?’ Di Angelo was still in shock.

‘Oh, that.’ Will put his hand in the back of his neck. ‘Yeah, I did, some weeks ago.’ He looked sheepishly. ‘I wanted to tell you in person but I got distracted when you arrived.’ Nico knew obviously why they had gotten distracted last night. ‘And I forgot. Sorry.’

Nico shook his head and walked over to him. ‘Turn around.’ He asked. Will obliged and his strong back was turned to his boyfriend. It had a layer of sweat in it but Nico didn’t mind it when his fingers touched softly his boyfriend’s back. Will trembled slightly at the touch.

The tattoo consisted of two ravens. But they weren’t the kind of scary ravens that one saw in the movies. No, it wasn’t like that. Each of the ravens were standing on a branch without leafs, as if they were looking to the right side of Will’s back, their wings weren’t completely extended and Nico realized why the ravens didn’t look scary. Their eyes were kind, almost real life kind.

Di Angelo was transfixed with the art of it but he finally found his voice. ‘Wha…’ He stopped and cleared his throat, he sounded scratchy. ‘What are their meanings?’ He let his fingers fell when Will turned again.

The blonde put his hand on Nico’s right side. ‘The same as yours.’ Will whispered. The son of Hades didn’t need to look down to see his own tattoos. He knew them better than the palm of his hand.

There were two angels over his ribs, a little obvious but he wouldn’t have it any other way. They were two women, one taller than the other one. The smaller was wrapped in a hug by the other angel and the two of them had their wings folded. Their faces could have been the faces of any woman, but one of them had a bow on a hand and a circle on its head, the other one had a necklace of pearls and its hair was pulled up. Nico knew perfectly whose women were.

Maria and Bianca di Angelo.

Nico nodded. ‘And the raven is one of Apollo’s sacred animal.’ He noticed. A sad expression crossed Will’s face for a moment. It had been years since he’d heard news about his father, di Angelo suspected that he had finally giving up on knowing what had become of the god of the sun. ‘Why now?’ He asked.

Will shrugged, he was extremely quiet. ‘The day I went to the college to give the papers they needed, I realized that…’ He cleared his throat before he spoke again. ‘Lee and Michael are never going to do that, you know,  they will never go to college, they will never fall in love like us…’ He paused and his eyes dropped. ‘And it kind of hit me.  I was reminded of how much I miss them everyday. I… I wanted to do something to honor them.’ His voice was barely more than a whisper.

Nico put his hand under his chin and made Will look at him. ‘Hey, it was a beautiful thing to do.’

Solace nodded. ‘And I know I didn’t need a tattoo to be reminded of them, but the more I thought about it, the more I liked the idea… So I went and just did it. It hurt like hell, but I think it was a good kind of pain and I felt really good after it and I wanted to tell you right away but I didn’t want to ruin the surprise so I waited…’

Nico interrupted him. ‘Will, you’re rambling.’ He said with a lopsided smile.

He blushed and returned the grin. ‘Sorry.’ He answered. Will looked at him through his eyelashes.

Di Angelo shook his head. ‘You’re kind of cute when you do it.’

‘If I can’t call you cute, then you can’t call me cute.’ Will said, remembering the many times Nico had told him not to call him cute.

‘Of course you can’t.’ Nico was happy they had gotten over the sad mood between them. He lived to see the brightness of Will Solace.

‘Even if I say doctor’s orders?’ Will’s smile became mischievously. His two hands went to Nico’s hips and pulled him closer. The hands of the dark haired boy buried them in his blond hair.

‘It’s a double no if you say doctor’s orders.’

‘You’re not fun at all, di Angelo, not fun at all.’ Their noses were almost touching.

Nico shut him up by kissing him. 

So I got bored and wrote this and I apologize in advance...

Tears already streaming down his face, Will leans over the Italian’s almost translucent body.
“Nico, what did I tell you about shadow traveling,” his voice cracks, “your fading, and there’s nothing I can do.”
Nico’s breathes are shallow, he can barely manage to speak.
“I’m not fading….” He says, barely audible, “I’m going ghost”.
Will can’t find it in himself to laugh at the poor Danny Phantom reference. He’s a crying mess, sitting helplessly by his boyfriend’s side while he watches him disappear. And just before Nico fades away completely, Will thinks he hears the brunette’s voice whisper a quiet, “Worth it”.