Box Full of Letters from Issue #29
No Bragging rights
Nice three-paragraph review of the new Billy Bragg/Wilco album in issue #28 [July-Aug. 2000]. Unfortunately, in my copy it was preceded by a page and a half of what I assume was Geoffrey Himes’ rough draft for something he was submitting to a writer’s workshop somewhere. To be honest, though, I only read the first half of it. After that I felt too embarrassed for him to continue. It was sort of like watching a drunk sing karaoke, and my mother raised me to believe that if people wanted to make fools of themselves that was their business, but that it was nonetheless impolite to gawk at them whilst they did it.
I must admit I’m a newcomer to ND, having only been on board for five issues, but I’ve found your publication to be a goldmine of information on artists I have long admired, as well as many whom are new to me. I read each issue pretty much cover to cover, and even when I don’t agree with an author (I’m thinking Scott Manzler on the Byrds here), the quality of the writing is generally first-rate. Which makes Himes’ forays onto your pages all the more puzzling. His too-clever-by-half self-deprecating bylines (“Geoffrey Himes is in a recovery program for long-winded journalists”; “Geoffrey Himes is a recovering poet in Baltimore”) and his tendency to reflect on the indiscretions of his youth, such as X and Camper Van Beethoven (yeah — I listened to a lot of shit when I was a kid too), annoy me more than they should, I know.
I realize any magazine that covers Loretta Lynn, John Doe, and the Afro-Cuban All Stars all in the same issue runs the risk of alienating somebody somewhere. But in the course of being the go-to guys on alt-country (whatever that is), don’t forget to keep those editorial pencils sharpened, and fear not to wield them judiciously.
— Robert Watt
Geoffrey Himes again:
Defending Dale and BR
Just a quick line about something that’s been bothering me for about a month. In the “Phases And Stages” section of issue #27 [May-June 2000], Geoffrey Himes referred to Dale Watson as an alt-country “costume act,” and I have to say that I don’t like that definition of Dale at all.
Everybody’s got an opinion, and here’s mine: While Dale and other bands, such as BR5-49, may be paying a lot of tribute to their formative influences, I don’t believe it’s fair to disparage them simply because they’re not holed up in a cheap hotel singing about Thunderbird wine and GPC cigarettes. I haven’t seen Dale Watson play live yet, but I have seen BR5-49, and, quite frankly, they tore the place up when they played Buck Owens’ Crystal Palace in Bakersfield recently.
Some of BR’s music is novelty, I agree, but that sense of fun doesn’t denigrate their fine musicianship and the good time they provide; in fact, it enhances it. One quick example: I don’t see how one would call a song like BR’s “Even If It’s Wrong”, or Dale Watson’s “Caught”, “costume” songs. I’d call them good, rocking country, in the tradition, if not the content, of the western swing bands, who believed that if “they’re not dancing for three songs in a row, you’re doing something wrong.”
Thank you for your fine magazine.
— Steven Durham
Lake Hughes, California
Geoffrey Himes, once more:
Hey, get off his case already
Mark Perron’s letter in ND #28 [July-Aug. 2000] was irritating. The idea that the ND editors would suppress negative comments in a review because they might adversely affect an artist’s sales is…un-American. And then he does the same thing he accuses the reviewer of doing by calling Wilco’s Summerteeth a “perfectly ghastly album.”
Understand this, Mark: Comments like these serve a purpose. They put the rest of the writer’s content into a context. They let a reader know where the writer is “coming from,” and make it easier to evaluate their opinions. Thus you’re free do disregard Geoffrey Himes’ entire piece because you don’t like his comment on Dale Watson, just as I’m free to disregard your letter because I disagree with your unsupported Wilco slam.
— David Meinzer
Buffalo, New York
Okay, get on her case
I am writing to express how disappointed I was with the review by Claire O. of the new Dirt Ball record [ND #27, May-June 2000]. I can understand trying to add a little spice to the standard record review, but her review reads like it was written in a college creative writing class and re-used on this review. It doesn’t relate well to the subject matter and ends up dismissing the work of the artist, not verbally, but because no one will read the whole review.
Then, the author has the gall to take on lyricism, calling it: “Flip-flop copout rhyme.” One listen to the country classic duet “That’s All It Took” would reveal that Josh Camp is not the first to use “sinker, line & hook” in country lyrics. It only makes the case stronger that Claire O. doesn’t know the subject matter which she is charged with reviewing.
Other than that, I loved the issue.
–James R. Holdren II
Claire O. again:
No fair piling on (but she probably likes it)
I have been reading music trade mags since Rolling Stone was just a folded newspaper, and this is the first time I have been compelled to write a letter to the editor. I like your mag; it is one of two that I faithfully purchase. The radio stations in N.C. suck so I need a vehicle for finding new music, an alternative to mainstream formulaic crap if you will.
Here’s the rub: Why has Greg Brown’s face not graced the cover of your mag, and who is this Claire O. henry miller (not) lite weight gain no pain in the ass wordsmith with the I.Q. of a fencepost? Get rid of her ass, she not only sounds like a cutesy sophomore what thinks she’s a poetess, she is a hindrance to the career of anyone she chooses to “critique”. Her writing “style” is more about her own ego than the work of the people she supposedly writes about — this is simply not fair to the artists.
I will make a deal with you, if you hire “real deal” critics to write about “real deal” music I will keep buying your mag.
— Mike Northuis
Greensboro, North Carolina
Hey, somebody likes something
Okay, so I’ve had four rum and tonics and a six pack of Tecate (a fine cerveza hecha en Mexico). It’s Sunday night comin’ down and I’m entitled, so piss off.
I want to thank you and Grant for creating and nurturing the best-written and most relevant publication in existence (Spin, Rolling Stone? Ha! I fart in their general direction!). I have been an avid reader since issue #1 and you continue to be the bible for all of us reincarnated rebels who need to know where to find our daily dose of the twang thang.
You don’t know it, but my brother and I have used ND like a booking guide to alt-country’s (whatever that is) best and brightest for The Bishop’s Collar, Philly’s new home for roots aficionados and microbrew connoisseurs. To date, we’ve booked “up and comers” like Last Train Home, Frog Holler, the Rolling Hayseeds, Teddy Morgan & the Pistolas and Tandy, along with such shining lights as Slaid Cleaves, the Silos, Scott Kempner and Jimmy LaFave. We’re yapping about dates with Lil’ Mo, Kenny Roby, Neal Casal, Peter Bruntnell, Josh Rouse, Hadacol, Richard Buckner, Alejandro Escovedo and every other carrier of the alt-country torch.
And we owe it all (well, almost all) to ND. Thank you, boys. The music scene would be lost without you. And so would I.
— Frank Keel
Your review of Steve Earle’s CD Transcendental Blues [ND #27, May-June 2000] was not as favorable as I had expected. I don’t believe credit was given where it was deserved.
I truly believe if you haven’t already heard, you will hear that Transcendental Blues is blowing off shelves. Steve Earle is the King Daddy of all Americana music. You will also see this CD in your magazine hit No. 1 on the retail charts, in the No Depression Top 40.
Transcendental Blues is just another way of Steve Earle’s way of sampling his own ways of exploiting magnificence. Steve Earle allows the listener to soak in and to appreciate the finer arts found in this excellent piece of work. Transcendental Blues works for me, and the appreciation is accepted with great response as always.
I would like to mention one last word, your No Depression magazine is absolutely fabulous, I read it from cover to cover.
— Steve Lynch
I applaud the efforts of Peter Blackstock and others in their attempt to raise money for Kim Webber [“Hello Stranger”, ND #28, July-Aug. 2000]. However, Mr. Blackstock is in grave error when he suggests that the “single greatest failing” of our country is its failure to provide universal health care coverage. In actuality, our greatest failing is our increasing tendency as individuals to look to the government to provide everything for us (as opposed to providing for ourselves). It is not the proper role of government to protect us from second-hand smoke, assure that the handicapped have access to Everest, make my child competent in the art of placing a condom on a banana, or to provide health care coverage to everyone who lives here.
In fact, something wonderful happens when the government stays out of the way, and the efforts surrounding Kim Webber provide a great example. As sad as her situation is, it is giving a lot of folks the impetus to come together in a common cause. Mr. Blackstock, the folks involved in Twangfest, and others are all rallying to help. Chances are that this would not be happening if a government handout were available. When people come together in this way, they are empowered. When people get their needs met by slurping at the government teat, they are made dependent.
By the way, thanks for publishing such a great magazine.
— Tom Liberty
The scourge of Chicago
I am writing this letter to your magazine because maybe I can get some more readers to respond to this. Let me give you some insight behind me before I start. I live in Chicago and am a musician and a recording engineer. I play the guitar, pedal steel, lap steel, dobro, banjo and piano. I have been enjoying country music for many years. I have also enjoyed punk for many years. I am done with my punk rock days and I focus on the tremendous musical talent of country music. However, in the city where I live, Chicago, there is a pretty big problem. THIS PROBLEM IS JON LANGFORD.
Let me explain: Bloodshot Records makes its home here in Chicago. They have many great bands on their label. I respect most of the bands that are on their label. However, it seems as though lately every record that comes out on Bloodshot has to involve Jon Langford somehow. Either he produced it, played guitar on it, sang harmonies (poorly I might add), or farted on the record. It bothers me that everyone putting out records now has to have some involvement with Jon Langford.
ALL MUSICIANS PLEASE NOTE: THERE ARE OTHER MUSICIANS OUT THERE THAT ARE BETTER! Hell Jon Langford isn’t even from America. What the hell does he know about country music! Country music is supposed to be American.
Basically my big gripe is that Jon Langford has overstayed his welcome in Chicago. I hope other people feel this same way as I do. To me it seems as though he has to touch everything that is coming out in Chicago, or else it can’t be good. Well piss off Jon Langford. Give some other credited musicians a chance to get into the limelight.
I do not want to come off as implying that I am a better musician or songwriter because to each his own, but there are some very talented bands and songwriters in Chicago that are being overlooked. I also don’t mean to take a stab at Nan or Rob of Bloodshot Records at all. I love what they are doing with the music scene in Chicago. However, maybe look past the obvious and you might find some great talent out there.
— Frustrated Musician in Chicago
Editor’s note: It is generally our policy to refrain from running letters submitted anonymously. However, we’re making an exception in this case because this letter has already received a public airing. A copy of this letter was shown to Jeff Tweedy on July 27 after a Wilco concert in Seattle; later that night, at a Jon Langford show at the Tractor Tavern, Tweedy “introduced” Langford by reading this letter onstage. Also, somewhere along the line, the letter had been mysteriously signed by Alejandro Escovedo.
Langford’s only response, in regard to the Rockeresque remarks about his nationality, was: “Hey, I do have an American son.”