Wednesday, February 20, 2008

More on No Depression, By Roy Kasten

Posted By on Wed, Feb 20, 2008 at 10:48 AM

No Depression is dead. Long live No Depression.

In May, the magazine, after 13 years and 75 issues, will shut down. Maybe the Web site, nodepression.net, will flourish and become the Pitchfork for music buffs who can’t pronounce Xiu Xiu. I wouldn’t bet on it.

I started writing for ND in September 1996, Issue No. 5 to be exact, the one with Jeff Tweedy on the cover, years before he was rock star. Peter Blackstock tracked me down as he needed someone to review Out of the Gate (Again), a collection of alt-country-ish bands from St. Louis. I said sure, made my deadline, and more assignments followed. I became a Contributing Editor a year or so later. I often disagreed with ND’s editorial policy, its reluctance to expand or alter borders (in a classic cranky fit, co-editor Grant Alden once said he’d surrender “country” from the magazine’s masthead when someone pried it from his cold, dead hands; the word was gone two years later; Grant’s still with us), its anachronistic aesthetic, its spotty quality control in the review section.

But the flaws were inseparable from the beauty. What other national music magazine (not strictly devoted to bluegrass) would put Ralph fucking Stanley on its cover, long before the good Dr. became an icon for the dark cultists? Or Porter Wagoner? Or Solomon Burke? Or Isaac Freeman or Little Miss Cornshucks?

Don’t know who the latter are? Well, that’s your loss and my point.

No Depression was stubbornly out of touch with everything, and especially whatever the industry of cool and cash--the one that devours the young and spits them back out in kaleidoscopic regurgitations--says we should care about. Alden and Blackstock followed their instincts and covered the music they cared about, not the music that would sell advertising or widen their demographic. Oh, all right, so they put the Shins on a cover. Sue them. They’re broke.

And they went broke giving me 3000 words, yes 3000 words, to write about honest-to-god country singers like Gene Watson and Freddy Fender or geniuses like Greg Brown or crossover talents like Alison Krauss, or insanely great but uncool bands like the Afro-Cuban All Stars. Those artists deserved a magazine that would tell their stories. And ND told them well.

Alden and Blackstock’s business model was always lean, their budgets always tight, but they always took the Contributing Editors out to lunch twice a year in Nashville and in Austin, and they paid their writers better than any number of much more profitable publications I might name but won’t. They gave a home to some of the best, most knowledgeable critics in the country (Barry Mazor, David Cantwell and Bill Friskics-Warren to name three), and, whatever anyone might say of their niche, they gave those writers the freedom and space to cover quite a range of American music—blues, bluegrass, country, rock, soul, r&b, folk and even jazz--a range that beats any music magazine you might care to name.

So adios, No Depression. The magazine racks won’t be the same without you.

-- Roy Kasten

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