Box Full of Letters from Issue #56
Music and politics:
Beyond the election
The ongoing debate between those in favor and those opposed to the expressed politics of ND and ND’s featured artists is engaging. But what are the real threats prompting such a passionate debate?
I support an environment in which people like the Dixie Chicks feel free to speak and express their opinions. I am grateful for the raw politics in Steve Earle’s lyrics and music. I joined an audience in applause when Alejandro Escovedo declared that Rank And File was the first band to join the IWW (Experience Music Project, Seattle, July 2002). Politics are part of the human experience. Art is an expression of human experience. Art and politics are inseparable.
The evolution of artistic practice is based upon a history of individuals struggling to freely express themselves against the limitations of oppressive environments, individuals and governing powers. Artists are visionaries. When we practice freedom of expression, an audience may feel solidarity, may feel threatened, or individuals in an audience may keep an open mind and experience transcendence through what they heard, saw or read. Art exists, therefore art is. Art that follows an audience isn’t really “art,” but an expression whose artistic potential is deformed/smothered/castrated by censorship — whether self-imposed or imposed by a threatening power. (Contrary to Geoffrey Himes’ “Sittin’ & Thinkin’: Art Follows Audience” in ND #47.)
The threat of artistic oppression and suppression is the catalyst prompting my participation in ND’s editorial debate. Government policies silencing artists and/or silencing dissenters are common in communist and fascist dictatorships; our capitalist environment is not immune to similar threatening policies. The Soviet Union originally adopted “Socialist Realism” as the nationally accepted art form/style. Any artists expressing themselves outside the nationally accepted form were labeled “counter-revolutionary,” and were imprisoned, exiled, both, or sentenced to death.
Many Russian artists fled to France, Germany, and the United States. The artists who stayed in Soviet Russia formed an underground and often used the symbols of “Socialist Realism” to create a complex, “hidden” alternative viewpoint. Those who fled to Germany found “freedom of expression” a threat to Hitler and the Third Reich as well. In a similar fashion, artists in Germany (many affiliated with the Bauhaus) who did not follow the innovations of a Third Reich audience were deported or sent to concentration camps. More recently, we’ve witnessed jazz musician Arturo Sandoval and a Cuban dance troupe seeking asylum in the U.S. Despite our history of oppression during the Red Scare and McCarthyism, freedom of expression is a professed constitutional right in the U.S.
ND brings together an audience of people who share a love of alternative-country music. Some of us lean more toward the alternative in the music; others lean more toward the country. This split is rooted in a history of American folk music, and illustrated in a discussion between Brian Garman, author of A Race Of Singers: Whitman’s Working Class Hero From Guthrie To Springsteen and William Roy, author of Reds, Whites, And Blues, on National Public Radio’s “Odyssey”. In spite of the split, we all find a reprieve from depression on the finely crafted pages of No Depression, and for that I am grateful.
— Renee Sueppel
5th-generation Iowan, living on the family farm
One of best aspects of 2005 was my discovery of No Depression magazine (I also bought about 30 back issues on eBay). The coverage of so many kinds of roots-influenced North American musics — alternative country (whatever that is), bluegrass, folk, blues, western swing, country — has introduced me to a variety artists and groups that I would not have heard about otherwise (e.g. Blanche and Trailer Bride). It was just the magazine that I was looking for.
I knew that I found the magazine for me when I took a list of recordings to the local Tower Records and had to look in multiple sections to find the artists (country, folk, rock, bluegrass, blues). This shopping experience and reading the columns in your magazine has reinforced the notion that these musical genres chiefly act as a marketing/sales device.
I am sorry that you lost subscribers because you have voiced your political opinions in your editorial columns. Granted, your opinions are quite like my own. There has always been a mixture of politics and social advocacy in roots-influenced musics. One central issue that the Bush administration has attacked is the first amendment and the right of citizens (or musicians) to criticize their policies while the nation is at war. Other administrations in the past have done the same thing (Woodrow Wilson and WWI), but this was a bit unexpected in the 21st century.
I just hope that you and your other editors (and the musicians featured in your pages) still feel comfortable to speak your mind about music and politics, no matter what opinions are expressed.
— Ed Copenhagen
Thank you for making No Depression a true artist’s magazine. Thanks for the editorial in ND #53.
As you stated, politics and art have been closely related for quite some time. A true artist who is passionate about his political beliefs does not hesitate to express his thoughts publicly.
An editorial is simply an article voicing an opinion. In my opinion Jeff Whitmire’s space or “large amount of print” in ND #54 [Box Full of Letters] could have been substituted for something a bit more intriguing.
Thanks again for a very interesting bimonthly periodical, and I hope you might accept my encouragement to continue writing whatever happens to inspire you in your editorials.
— Derek Linn
When I first saw the latest ND issue on the newsstand, I was disappointed to see the “Best of ’04 Critics Poll” listed on the cover. Since I purchase your magazine only for the adolescent political commentary, I assumed that the Critics Poll would be wasted space — writers making their case for favorite releases that didn’t make the list, explanations of general trends, and predictions about which artists we’ll still be listening to ten years from now. That kind of garbage.
Thank God (who is apparently hands-on and narrow-minded in the red states, and hands-off and tolerant in the blue states) you chose to take the Critics Poll in another direction entirely. I thoroughly enjoyed the thoughtful political analysis, especially that of Geoffrey Himes. Mr. Himes was able to explain John Kerry, Bob Dylan, The Watchmaker God, alt-country and the blue states vs. George Bush, Toby Keith, God-The-Control-Freak, mainstream country and the red states better than I’ve ever seen it done. All this in spite of Mr. Dylan’s fundamentalist Christian leanings. In the hands of a lesser writer, this would have seemed like stereotyping.
Barry Mazor was out of place, though. He wrote only about the music, with no political hand-wringing. Who wants to read that? Please throw him overboard as soon as possible.
— Allen Patterson
Fort Worth, Texas
Worthy of the attention
I was thrilled to see Mary Gauthier on the cover of your last issue, and loved the lengthy attention you gave her story.
She’s such an intelligent songwriter, and warm, personal performer….Songs like the “Camelot Motel” and “I Drink” are classics, as good as anything John Prine ever penned. But her more subtle tunes — “Our Lady Of The Shooting Star” — get inside me and eat away my feelings for days.
Best of luck to you Mary. And hey No Depression! Maybe it’s a separate letter, but don’t back off the discussion about culture, politics and the responsibility of being both a music lover and a citizen/patriot. Keep the forum open. As Steve Earle said from the stage at the Farm Aid concert: “Some folks say I shouldn’t be talking about what’s on my mind up here, but hey I thought that’s what an artist’s supposed to do.”
— Stuart Torgerson
What’d she say?
After reading, with my head scanners, the latest 1 plus 1 with an extra ‘oh’ clever by whole minus half indecipherable review from Claire O. (Moody Bluegrass: A Nashville Tribute To The Moody Blues, ND #55), I have finally accepted that one reason why my writing is never again likely to appear in No Depression is that my head is not nearly far enough up my arse. Now tell me- — should I consider purchasing this disc?
Otherwise, another smashing issue.
— Donald Teplyske
Red Deer, Alberta
Sorry, wrong Google entry
Hi, I was seeking help for medical depression and got your website. I think it would help not only your site but also the thousands of medical websites if you would possibility change your name to some thing else. I know this is very hard but I really don’t think listening to alt-country, or any other music, would help any medically depressed person.
— Chris Batterton