Box Full of Letters from Issue #9
Cry in your beer:
But renew your subscription
I hated to let my subscription expire. I always look forward to receiving your magazine. But I’ve been so broke my life would’ve made a good country song. My girlfriend was pregnant and I thought I was going to be a dad (she lied, but that’s a totally different song). I didn’t get my school grant and I hadn’t saved any money for tuition or books. Then my truck broke down. There goes a couple hundred bucks. Then I had no money for Christmas, so I borrowed and got further in debt. I was in a hole so deep I didn’t think I’d ever get out.
But everything’s okay now. Here comes Uncle Sam to the rescue with my income tax refund. So sign me up for another year!
Lost And Found:
A tale of rediscovery
After existing as a musical tortoise for a number of years, suffering through the birth of industrial, choking on grunge and lamenting about the disappearance of bands I truly cared about, one day there it was, moving through me like a windless day here in Nebraska. Son Volt was my wake-up call, which is sad in a sense because I think back to all those years I could have been listening to Uncle Tupelo. I knew I had found pure magic and my way home when I caught them play in Omaha. This is perhaps a really stupid analogy, but as I stood there ordering a beer with my foot moving of its own accord, I was carried back to the first time I saw Valley Girl and the Plimsouls left me leaning forward on my sofa, jaw dropped.
So I went through the logical progression of all the back Uncle Tupelo albums and Wilco’s release, then reached my dead end. That is, until BR5-49 (who I was familiar with, and impressed by) came to town and was accompanied by an article in our local paper listing your web page as an excellent resource. I quickly sought you out, and that afternoon, after picking through your reviews, I found myself dropping a quick 50 bucks at a local record store. (I was amazed they carried virtually all the artists you mentioned; where the hell have I been?) Since then it has been like a kid in a candy store. After not buying more than, say, five CDs a year for the past couple years, I have gone a little shop happy, but it is very well worth it.
— Rick Blessen
The cat’s meow
I like all kinds of music. But my new cat will only listen to Floyd Tillman. I’ve tried Cat Stevens, Kitty Wells, and even Tiger Woods’ cover of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight”. But it’s just Floyd Tillman all the time. Any suggestions?
–A music lover, but a cat lover, too
Kansas City, MO
Ed. note: How about Alejandro Escovedo’s rendition of “I Wanna Be Your Dog”?
Beyond the Burritos:
New tricks for old guys
I’m one of the old guys — I liked Gram Parsons and the Flying Burrito Brothers the first time around. I recently passed a listening station that featured all of these new bands following the Burritos tradition. I stopped and heard cuts from Son Volt, Wilco and Uncle Tupelo. I liked what I heard, bought a couple of the CDs and have since seen both of those bands in concert. Both were good, but I preferred the country cuts to the alternative ones.
As these and other bands delve into the alternative country past, I am puzzled by two things: 1) I don’t know why Chris Hillman doesn’t re-form the Flying Burrito Brothers; most of the extended members are still alive and playing somewhere. Discussions of that band almost always ignore Chris. 2) Sneaky Pete was the most innovative country-rock pedal steel guitarist, and his style is a natural for most of the alternative country bands that I have heard. It would be great to hear his playing with the kind of fresh music now being played.
I look forward to more issues of your magazine.
Better than sex?
I have not been this excited about a magazine since I discovered Playboy during puberty.
–Jon R. Stover
I was very excited to see the review — and such a well-written, one at that — of the forthcoming Jayhawks album. I like the old sound so much, especially on Tomorrow The Green Grass, that I was more than a little apprehensive. I was relieved to read in your piece that Karen Grotberg is featured so prominently, since I felt that it was her keyboarding as well as her background vocals that were decisive for Tomorrow… and helped make it one of my very favorite albums. And, yes, the issue of the band’s name is definitely worth discussing.
At my advanced age (55), I am reluctant to use this wording, but, all the same, I love your magazine and hope that you will keep up the very good work.
Who was on first?
I’m not about to suggest you guys start fact-checking writer’s bio blurbs, but I feel obliged to point out that Jim Caliguri’s statement that he’s “been writing about alternative country (whatever that is) longer than anyone on the planet” is pure horse puckey, to borrow a phrase from Col. Sherman T. Potter. Although I’d never make such a silly and pretentious claim myself (having been turned on to country alternatives by such esteemed writers as Chet Flippo, Bud Scoppa, John Morthland, Patrick Carr, Joe Nick Patoski and others), I will cite my own 1982 review of the Reckless Country Soul EP by Jason & the Scorchers in CMJ — well before Caliguri started writing there — as firm evidence that Caliguri, while no Jimmy come lately, has made a preposterously inflated assertion that insults all of us who have supported rebel country over the years with our writing.
How you can help
I enclose money to renew my subscription. The extra dollar is to start off The Claire O. Fund. When you’ve added to it by way of an office whip-round, go out and buy the poor creature some sedatives and then place her in a dimly lit room with a damp towel for her fevered brow. Then leave her alone (solitude is of the essence with this condition), preferably for several months.
Hey, what’s all this about rock ‘n’ roll? Weren’t you taught at school that there was no real rock after 1959?
County Down, N. Ireland
In 1981 I attended the Kerrville Folk Festival with Teren Stevens, the official photographer. She was always talking about Townes Van Zandt, whom I finally met for the first time running a poker game in his RV. He allowed as how he had heard of me and won about $20 of my money.
I finally got to hear him sing some time later. He asked me to play with him and Mickey White, his guitarist, on a couple of workshops.
Playing with Townes was really great pleasure because he was unafflicted by the ageism afflicting most musicians meeting me for the first time. (Let’s find something the banjo — me — can play with.) Townes simply played his stuff and let me play along or not which is how I like it because I can play most kinds of music on my instrument.
With Townes I really had to stretch. His stuff is slower than most banjo players get into and the rhythm is always subtle and deceptively simple. One doesn’t want to force a hard beat onto his music. On the other hand one doesn’t want to make little aimless plinks behind him which is what most bluegrass-limited players would do. No! By watching Mickey’s left hand intensely and listening to Townes even harder all was revealed and Townes told me later that he really loved the way I played behind him, that no other banjo player had pleased him so much and generally made me feel great about it all.
He also asked me to play with him on his next few gigs so I knew he wasn’t bullshitting me. Generally speaking, I get a lot of BS from musicians because I am so much older than most of them that they either ignore me completely or feel that they have to be nice to me. Townes put his money where his mouth was.
I traveled with Townes and Mickey for a few weeks. Even though the money was very low and we depended mostly on their friends along the way for our comforts, Townes was always a gracious host and never made me feel I was part of an entourage.
Unfortunately I had to leave them. I was uncomfortable because of the great amounts of alcohol being consumed both on and off the road. This did not cause friction between us and when they left me at my friends on Vashon Island in Puget Sound I watched them go with great sadness.
Now that Townes is gone there is an even greater sadness that I never got to know him after he stopped drinking.
— Billy Faier
Lake Hills, NY
Townes Van Zandt:
A Song For
Yes all his friends, they did agree
He was too fragile for this world
One of those men with broken hearts
Alone and lost
You’d never see it in his eyes
You could hear it in his voice
When he whispered soft and low
The morning papers said he died
On the first day of the year
That mournful day when Ole Hank
Did pass away
He had a way with words and songs
That could make an old man cry
He sang the blues and you just knew
He paid the cost
He must have had a soul as big
As the West Texas Plains
And he never said goodbye