Box Full of Letters from Issue #37
Ragged Old Glory:
Different ways to love your country
My very first issue of No Depression came in the mail today, and while I can’t wait to tear into it, I felt compelled to stop for a moment and write in response to your editorial on patriotism and reclaiming the flag [ND #36, Nov.-Dec. 2001].
I too have had severely mixed emotions about the incessant flag-waving and “us against them” mentality that seems so pervasive in the aftermath of the September 11th disaster. On a side note, it’s genuinely strange to be a black person and included in the “us” part of that statement. Go figure.
I am a liberal and without a doubt I love my country. Seeing images of Old Glory flying high in the midst of the wreckage of the Twin Towers puts a lump in my throat even as I write this.
At the same time, seeing the same symbol flying from the windows of trucks, stuck on windows, showcased on the chests of celebrities and common folk alike at nearly every public event kinda gives me the creeps.
For too long the American flag has been the sole property of people I can’t stand — racists, bigots, right-wingers, hypocrites, certain conservative politicians, or basically anyone who’s ever muttered the phrase, “If you hate this country so much then leave!”
Patriotism and Old Glory should represent tolerance, freedom of expression and religion, not blind support — the principals this country was founded on (even though they weren’t always followed).
I find it interesting that my feelings about the flag mirror my feelings about country music in many ways. When I saw Charlie Daniels on TV plugging his new diatribe single against “ragheads” called “This Ain’t No Rag, It’s A Flag”, I felt sick to my stomach.
Some of my friends still laugh or look alarmed when they look at my CD collections and see Hank Williams, Loretta Lynn, Dolly and Whiskeytown mixed in with Sade and Lauryn Hill. “Isn’t that redneck music?” they ask. What usually will follow is a 20-minute explanation of my musical tastes and the shared origin of blues, country, gospel and rock. If they are still paying attention by the end of my lecture, I’ll offer to play something for them.
I read an article recently that said, “There are two kinds of patriots, The ‘God Bless America’ kind and the ‘This Land Is Your Land’ kind.” I’ll cast my lot with Woody Guthrie. I’m also beginning to believe there are two kinds of country music fans. As much as I loved “The Devil Went Down To Georgia”, I don’t expect to see Charlie in my camp.
— Brigitte B.
A view from across the pond
I just read your editorial in the Nov.-Dec. No Depression [#36]. I was really glad that you “strayed from your province as a critic” to write such a perceptive and timely editorial. I was in Nashville in early November and was depressed by the gusto and lack of critical thinking with which self- described “former liberals” were embracing the flag. One university professor told me he’d never owned a flag, but went out and bought one on September 12th, and then insisted on proudly showing me the flag he bought for the lecture room in his department.
The lack of critical engagement with the U.S. activities, the feeling that the terrorist activities justified absolutely any response, was frightening. It seems entirely appropriate to me that a magazine of “Americana,” which engages all the time with the meanings of the term “American,” should be a forum for some dissent, and some much-needed caution. As you are probably aware, nations outside the U.S. are deeply concerned that for all its talk of the new globalism and the “global” war on terrorism, the U.S. is heading straight for unilateral attempts to make the world as it would have it — rather, perhaps, than what it has helped to make it. It’s good and important to remember that not everyone in America embraces war as the solution.
— Helen Laville
Department of American and Canadian Studies
University of Birmingham, United Kingdom
Songs In The Key Of Life:
Finding music’s power and place
Damn, you guys are good!
I was vaguely aware that my music collection (increasingly influenced by No Depression these days) is helping me deal with post-September 11 “stuff.” But it would never have occurred to me to say it as well as you did in your “Hello Stranger” column [ND #36, Nov.-Dec. 2001]. “Music, and the words we write about it, emerges from the culture around us — not from a vacuum…” Indeed. (Perhaps I should add that I also share your doubts about our current violent response being a moral or helpful response to terrorism.)
Then Silas House, in the “Screen Door” column: “We don’t give music enough credit for the way it can shape and mold us. For the way it can help us….What an awesome power, right there in our record collections.”
— Davis D. Joyce
Music, music everywhere:
And not a note to hear
I’ve just received my second edition of No Depression and I must admit I’m a little depressed. As someone with a limited CD budget, most of my “alt country” purchases veer toward the mainstream; my $100 Borders gift certificate from my parents for my birthday (no clothes, Mom!) bought CDs by Nickel Creek, Gillian Welch, Lucinda Williams, Tom Russell, Robert Earl Keen and the old Golden Smog. Not a regional indie label among them!
Reading just one issue of ND makes me realize that there are dozens, nay, hundreds of roots-rock, authentic-voice, jangly-guitar, down-home masterpieces I’ll never hear! What’s a hard-working, early-40-something, Gram-Parsons-country-rock-ex-Rolling-Stone-subscriber family man to do? How about this: Increase the subscription price $5 per issue and include a CD with a cut from each of the artists profiled in your rambling-yet-heartfelt features (even though most of them also advertise, but that’s OK, you’re a niche pub and your credibility is intact).
Come on, why not? CDs only cost $.78 a piece and most of these singers would kill for this kind of exposure. It’s just so damn hard to read good stories about music I may never hear.
Then again, as the writer Tom Wolfe said: “Writing about music is like dancing about architecture.”
Enough cynicism in the post-cynic era of 9-11. You’re doing a great job. Keep it up. I can’t wait for your next issue (although I will have 7 New Yorkers to keep me company).
— Jeff Fister
St. Louis, Missouri