Box Full of Letters from Issue #58
In defense of offending
After eagerly devouring my latest issue of No Depression cover to cover, I was thoroughly enthralled with the interviews on all the diverse artists you featured in this issue. All the glowing praise and adulation until…the Robbie Fulks interview.
I think that Grant Alden did a major disservice to a man and a songwriter who is far above most of what passes for alt.country or mainstream country, for that matter, these days. Robbie has continually put out albums that push the boundaries of every genre of music, has surrounded himself with some of the best musicians there are, and has a songwriting capability that is utterly amazing.
Popular music — especially rock ‘n’ roll — has always had a reputation for offending, but you take it with a grain of salt. Sure, I was put off by “White Man’s Bourbon” until I realized that the gist of that song does represent the way that white Anglos jackboot their way through this world, whether it is the Bush administration or drunk rednecks. Have you ever had something happen in your life that was so terrible that you lost your faith in a Supreme Being? I have, and all of a sudden “God Is Not Real” makes total sense. “Fuck This Town” is pretty self-explanatory, just dial up a so-called country station these days.
I have hosted four shows with Robbie at my last venue up here in Michigan, and he will be one of the first artists to perform at my new venue, and I can say that at every show he has teased or made fun of a lot of people, including himself; that is why it is called entertainment.
— Steve Berthel
Benton Harbor, Michigan
Or his lesser-known alias…
It doesn’t bother me at all if political views — liberal or conservative — occasionally make their way into the pages of No Depression.
Things that do bother me:
First, we’re treated to Wretched Wilson’s Here For The Party CD making the list of 2004’s best. C’mon guys, fess up — was that a joke?
And now a glowing article about Jerks Gently, who apparently is considered “alternative” because he’s recorded a Buddy Miller song.
Can’t wait for the big Faith Hill/Tim McGraw cover story.
I have no problem with mainstream country acts — I even like a few — but I think there’s plenty of media already adoring them.
— David DeBlois
Robert Earl Keen:
“Settle down cowboy”
In his conversation with John T. Davis (ND #57, May-June 2005), the admirable Robert Earl Keen is quoted thus: “But I wanna tell you — I’m standing toe-to-toe with Elvis Costello or John Prine or Dylan or any of those guys. I’m writing these songs, they kick ass, they completely translate anywhere and…I’m there.”
Crikey! As some of us here in Australia might say. Settle down cowboy, come back in 15-20 years and tell me that and maybe I’ll listen. Or substitute “Nick Lowe or James McMurtry or Lyle” for Costello, Prine and Dylan, and maybe I’ll listen.
In the meantime, the road does go on forever and I’m lovin’ the journey, but for the moment Robert, please return to your seat and wait for your number to be called.
— Michael Hansen
Robert Earl Keen:
“Deserves to be more widely recognized”
I’ve spent my entire life, until recently, in Santa Cruz, and have been — thanks to Santa Cruz music promoter and KPIG host Sleepy John Sandidge — a Robert Earl Keen fan since 1989. I agree that Keen has an incredible band and that they put on a great show. I take issue however with your referral to Robert’s voice as “serviceable.” I did not need to “get used to” his baritone; I fell quite readily under its spell. Have you heard that vibrato thing he can do? Check out “Shades Of Gray” on Picnic for a prime example. Keen’s music deserves to be more widely recognized. A brilliant songwriter, he’s created a body of work that is consistently intelligent, witty, and insightful.
As I read the interview I was struck by this statement from Robert: “I have heard all my life about guys who abandon their bands and step on their mothers…and, as far as I know, I haven’t stepped on anybody.” I myself have a close friend in San Antonio whose brother is a neighbor of Keen. My Texas amigo occasionally shares stories — tales and sightings that illustrate the manner in which Keen lives his life in Bandera and on the road (my friend’s nephew has worked as a roadie for Keen). These Keen reports have been entertaining and endearing and have painted a picture of Robert as kind, generous, and down to earth. No, I don’t believe he’d step on his mother or on yours or on anyone else.
— Catherine McLain Gallione
Freedom of expression
[In response to Wayne Prince’s letter in ND #57, “Why anger half the crowd?”]
Nanci Griffith’s only problem is that she is too well mannered.
Mr. Prince seems to believe that because he buys tour T-shirts and attends shows that he should have some influence over how Griffith chooses to express herself. Has he been listening to what she sings, or does he like her simply because she’s pretty and sings nice?
From his letter, I would guess the latter…
— Ken Payne
“Corporate raid on truth and beauty”
I have been bothered by the recent FBI anti-piracy warnings that one of my favorite labels, Lost Highway, has found necessary to plaster all over the covers and recently, on the discs themselves.
I first noticed the obtrusive warning that “unauthorized copying is punishable under federal law” on the back cover of the latest release from Tift Merritt. I was taken aback but agreeable until I opened the disc to find that same warning duplicated on the middle of the disc itself.
I laughed when I read the disclaimer by Elvis Costello on the back of The Delivery Man. The warning and seal of the FBI seemed a little more discreet and strategically placed, and Costello’s acknowledgement of the invasion of aesthetic seemed to pacify me.
But I was shocked and disappointed when today, after reading the wonderful cover story in your fine publication on Mary Gauthier [ND #56], I bought the album only to find the disc itself defaced by a warning that circled the disc in a way to draw all attention away from the contents itself.
I understand that in today’s digital world, there exists the danger of unauthorized copying cutting into the profits and marketability of artists like Mary Gauthier, and that seriously causes me concern. However, today I also bought John Doe’s latest solo album and found that Yep Roc did not find it fit to plaster his album with the same warnings and cautions.
I wonder if the decision by Lost Highway to warn its consumers of the penalties for piracy extends beyond its fear of the exploitation of its artists, and rests more its fear of corporate politics. It is an intentional move to shock the owners of the disc, and by doing so, undermines the pure artistic impact of buying a disc, viewing the cover art, reading the liner notes, and listening to the record. I know that No Depression is not responsible for this corporate raid on truth and beauty, but I needed a venue to vent, and an empathetic ear.
— Chris Weaver
Kansas City, Missouri