Box Full of Letters from Issue #30
Country in the UK
The Frustrated Musician From Chicago [Box Full Of Letters, ND #29, Sept.-Oct. 2000] has every right to believe that his or her (I suspect ‘his’) path to success and riches is being blocked by one over-promoted individual. There can’t be any field of creative activity anywhere in the world where this story does not spring into the minds of unsuccessful people. “My novel isn’t being published because of Martin Amis”…”Seamus Heaney’s doggerel prevents my poetry from gaining an audience”…”David Mamet suppresses my plays because they show how mediocre his own are.” As such they are harmless and no doubt allow such people to hold their heads a little higher as they go about their lives.
Where this becomes both ignorant and sinister is when this particular frustrated musician criticizes Jon Langford because he “isn’t even from America” and asks, “What the hell does he know about country music?” This is as absurd as saying that an American can’t really speak English because she/he doesn’t come from England. Country music is played and performed all over the world; reasserting some mythical racial or geographical authenticity would wipe out a great deal of what made it develop through its 100-year history. Where would it be without the blues? Irish folk ballads? Indeed, if Dylan, the Byrds and Gram Parsons had never heard the Beatles, would country music sound like it does now? Who are David Rawlings and Ryan Adams talking about at the start of Heartbreaker? Morrissey.
Jon Langford’s been writing, championing, playing and listening to country music for twenty? thirty? years. If you honestly believe that not coming from America blocks his ultimate understanding of it, then you better be more precise. Could anyone in America understand it? Or should they come from Texas or Tennessee? In fact should they not have a rural farm, or live amongst the Appalachians? In fact, perhaps you should bring back slavery to restore blues music to its authentic roots.
— Dan Rebellato
(Ed. note: We received a letter expressing a similar opinion on this subject from Blake Russell of Seattle, Washington.)
When I started reviewing reissues in my “Buried Treasures” column in Country Music magazine in 1978, I often questioned matters regarding packaging that generated enlightening explanations from reissuers. I’m glad to see that No Depression reviewers take a similar approach, and in that spirit, I’d like to address Jim Stringer’s very valid questions regarding the Razor & Tie Merle Travis package [ND #29, Sept.-Oct. 2000].
Stringer correctly cites inconsistencies in session personnel on the Rhino and Razor & Tie Travis anthologies. He adds that “in general,” Capitol Records session logs “are complete and accurate.” I wish they were. Beyond dates and master numbers, Capitol’s early files are fragmentary. While creating this set in the late 1980s, that dearth of data forced us into educated guessing on sidemen, a lousy option, but the only one available then.
Bear Family’s 1994 Travis box set Guitar Rags And A Too Fast Past, which I annotated and co-produced, assembled his complete 1946-1955 Capitol output along with pre-Capitol rarities. It was specifically aimed at the devotee. By mastering nearly everything from the pristine 1940s acetates Capitol used before they switched to tape, the sound was a quantum leap over the Rhino.
During production, researchers gained access to recording session contracts filed at Local 47 of the Musicians’ Union in Los Angeles. These contracts provided definitive documentation for each Travis session. Razor’s set availed itself of all these improvements. As Stringer suspected, the data is accurate.
As for similar repertoires, since Rhino’s was deleted, the Razor collection was conceived in part to succeed it as an introductory collection.
— Rich Kienzle
On the business of being a gay band
I’m a big fan of your magazine and loved the most recent issue #29 [Sept.-Oct. 2000].I’ve never explored the music of Whiskeytown or Ryan Adams until recently when I happened across a copy of Heartbreaker. I see that I was missing out — the man can sing, writes interesting songs, and has a nice way with a melody. Reading David Menconi’s article only deepened my interest; I just bought Faithless Street and look forward to making its acquaintance.
It irritated me profoundly, however, to read Mr. Adams’ quote about the breakup of Whiskeytown, which concludes, “When you have to fly somewhere to have a band meeting, your band is gay and you should break up.” Ouch. A new fan asks that you think about what it means to disparage an entire group of people in this offhand way. Consider it a humble request to check yourself, Mr. Adams; we know you would do the same for us.
— Jeff Stanzler
Ann Arbor, Michigan
A volley from across the office
I’m writing to disagree with the sentiments expressed in the live review of the Magnetic Fields published in your Loretta Lynn issue (ND #28, July-Aug. 2000].
I was very disappointed in the review and have been meaning to write a letter ever since. It wasn’t until I saw the fantastic live show they played at the Opera House in Seattle during the Bumbershoot Music and Arts Festival that I knew I’d regret it if I didn’t.
I bought the second disc in the 69 Love Songs trilogy after a friend played a few songs for me. I loved it so much I gave it away and bought the 3-CD box set. I was skeptical about whether the other two discs could be as good as the first one I’d heard and wondered if I would enjoy them as much. All three are brilliant. I enjoyed each more than the one that preceded it. Just when I thought I was too jaded to have something get under my skin, the Magnetic Fields came into my world.
After reading the live review I figured they must be one of those studio bands who can’t pull it off live. Based on the show I saw, that couldn’t be further from the truth. At Bumbershoot, people often see a few songs of a band, then run off to catch one of the many things that are going on simultaneously. The Magnetic Fields held the crowd spellbound for their entire set and received a rousing standing ovation at the end (a rare Bumbershoot occurrence). It was hands-down one of the best live shows I’ve seen all year.
While I’m an advocate of the “different strokes for different folks” school of music and make a conscious effort not to condemn others whose opinions differ from my own, I’d hate for your readers (especially those who enjoy the witty intelligence of bands like Lambchop and the Handsome Family) to be dissuaded from checking out the Magnetic Fields’ 69 Love Songs based on one man’s opinion written in the pages of No Depression.
— Kyla Fairchild
Love them, they’re still liberals
Geoffrey Himes’ review of the new Mermaid Avenue album was almost too clever by half. Moreover, he regurgitates the same fashionable point about the independence of the “artist” in creating his “art.” Well, of course Bob Dylan, or Woody Guthrie, have the right to “create” whatever type of music he wants and he’s recorded some great ones using an electric guitar.
However, I find the folkie purists who booed Dylan at Royal Albert Hall appealing because they were asserting the point that true folk music is not so easily digested by the capitalist beast and they knew that rock is so easily consumed. Even today, the most played Dylan songs on oldies radio are the electronically souped up “Lay Lady Lay” and “Like A Rolling Stone.” His painfully spare narratives about the sad fates of Hollis Brown and Hattie Carroll are more subversively anti-commercial and thus are not to be heard on commercial radio.
This is the essence of a “folk” music: material organically created for true believers rather than for thoughtless consumers. Similarly, those purists on the margins, whom Himes wishes would become “obsolete,” serve a vital aesthetic, cultural and often political purpose because they not only help to feed the mainstream with new art and ideas, but keep it honest.
— Rick Armstrong
Greenville, North Carolina
Give me Liberty or give me life
What bothers me most about Tom Liberty’s argument against universal health care [Box Full Of Letters, ND #29, Sept.-Oct. 2000], aside from his loaded libertarian rhetoric about “slurping at the government teat” and universal care amounting to “government handouts,” is his presumption that health care is a privilege, not a right, and that regardless of the circumstances or the huge costs associated with this privilege, the individual is essentially and fully responsible for his/her health care.
As a Canadian who has enjoyed the benefits, security and peace of mind that come with universal medicare, I can’t even begin to fathom the financial/family/life stresses that must surely exist under the U.S. model. Mr. Liberty’s implied equation that less government is good government, therefore universal health care is bad, is simple minded, unsubstantiated and ignores the serious complexities of the health care question. I wish it were a simple matter of allowing Adam Smith’s invisible hand to magically come to the rescue of Kim and millions of others in need of medical treatment. In fact, United Nations indexes suggest, year after year, the opposite: Countries, like Canada, that have universal medical care enjoy the highest life expectancy and lowest infant mortality rates in the world.
Indeed, Mr. Liberty, wonderful expressions of benevolence, charity and community can and do happen in the face of human tragedy and adversity. However, not every uninsured or underinsured American that falls seriously ill has a Kimfest, Twangfest or any other such support network to come to their aid. I’d venture to guess that in the context of the 40 million Americans with zero health coverage, and the countless millions more with inadequate coverage, that the wonderful support surrounding Kim Webber represents an exception to the vast rule. And this is the political failure Peter Blackstock so rightfully and accurately illuminates in his Hello Stranger column a couple issues back.
We’re not talking about sex education, protection from secondhand smoke or wheelchair access to Everest (ridiculous analogies — examples of government intrusion — you raise in your letter). We’re taking about an individual’s basic human right to access the best medical treatment his/her nation has to offer.
— Peter Tolman
Victoria, British Columbia
(Ed. note: We received a letter expressing a similar opinion on this subject from M.D. Adams of Phoenix, Arizona.)