A tip of the hat to Kyla, Peter, and Grant
A little more than a year ago, I met Kyla in a bar. It was a bar I’d never been to, on a strange little stretch of road in the Phinney Ridge neighborhood of Seattle. It was a community bar – the kind of place where, if you take a passing glance at the building, you might wonder why they don’t just let it fall down. Inside, though, there were three or four regulars and a bartender. It was, after all, the middle of the afternoon – a time when only die hard locals and journalists go to bars.
Kyla and I were there to talk about the fact that No Depression was getting ready to print its final issue. As the “new roots” columnist for the local music magazine, it was my job to sum up, in 500 words, what ND had meant to this particular community over the course of its 13-year run, how its three founders felt about the print publication’s demise, and what, if anything, was next.
If you’ve ever even tried to explain to anyone what kind of music No Depression covered in those 13 years, you’ve probably used more than 500 words. It wasn’t my finest work, but it got me over email with Grant, over the phone with Peter, and across a table from Kyla. It got me thinking about the same 13 years in my life, which I’d spent following my obsession with roots music around the country. It was a path which landed me in Seattle writing for magazines and websites. I started my journey with this kind of music the same year Grant, Peter, and Kyla started their journey in print. That our paths eventually converged is not a bit of kismet that’s been lost on me.
I remember toward the end of our interview Kyla got talking about a vision she had for the website. I probably still have that transcript around here somewhere, come to think about it. Nonetheless, foremost in my memory of that part of the interview was the level to which she was excited about possibilities. Her dedication to the future of the brand was remarkably clear to me that day. She wasn’t hugely familiar with web media but that didn’t seem to matter. If a publisher was to continue with a legacy as important as that of No Depression, it was clear she believed the time to embrace the unknown was now.
I also remember talking to Peter and Grant for that same article about whether the blogosphere threatened critical scholarship, about whether there was, or could perhaps be, a place for expertise online. At the time, I split my time pretty evenly between print and internet-based publications. But, that year passed and the majority of my work is now online. Those two conversations have remained at the front of my mind as I’ve considered how to proceed as a music reporter. Because I so respected their magazine, I took very seriously their wishes that the value of knowledge and expertise inherent in a print publication not be completely lost or de-valued in the online world, and I still do.
(I’ve since come to decide there’s room enough for music bloggers with casual points of view and those with a certain level of expertise. Perhaps if enough of us who have a grip on music history and scholarship approach our blogging from that direction, it helps steer the truck a little less off toward somewhere we don’t want it to go. After all, it’s a wide open field and the more dedicated hands take the wheel, the more likely we’ll wind up going somewhere we can all be happy about in the end.)
At any rate, here I now find myself, a year later, blogging on a No Depression website. I reckon this isn’t precisely what Kyla imagined that day when our paths first crossed, and I’m pretty sure it’s not what she nor Peter nor Grant imagined when they printed issue one of No Depression back in 1995. Regardless, in its print days, ND was, for me (and, I imagine, for many of you), a reminder that there was a community of musicians and music fans interested in the things about which I cared so deeply. I was sad when it went out of print, but I felt lucky to have had those conversations with its founders. Even though none of them told me pointedly that ND would not be gone for good, I knew from their dedication to the craft and the readers they served that this community wasn’t going to be something so easily let go.
My association with this publication has been fairly brief so far, but in this short time I’ve seen several people pass by, wondering aloud why they don’t just let the place fall down. Then again I know, just like the Snowgoose Saloon – that little neighborhood bar where Kyla and I met last year – it’s the people who come by every day who make the place worth sticking around.
So, to pick up where Grant’s sentimental moment left off, a tip of the hat to him, Kyla, and Peter for building the place – for not only giving this community a place to go, but also something to talk about when they got there. And another tip of the hat to you folks for continuing to show up. As is true of just about everything, what comes next is up to all of us, and it wouldn’t be much of a community without you.