Contrary to Ordinary: A Melancholy No Depression Anniversary
It’s an unusual and sad anniversary of sorts, and one I’ve either missed reading about or perhaps it has simply slipped by unnoticed. On a spring day in 2008 I picked up the most recent issue of No Depression, a magazine that I had been reading for much of the decade, though they had been on the racks for 13 years. They were the last in a long line of music publications that I would read from cover to cover, starting back in my early teens with 16, Teen Life, and Hit Parader and moving on throughout my adult years to Crawdaddy, Rolling Stone, Zoo World, Sing Out!, Broadside, Down Beat, Goldmine, Relix, BAM, Pulse, Billboard, Cashbox, Record World, Music Connection, Trouser Press, Dirty Linen, and Harp. But for reasons I still have not yet reconciled nor understood, No Depression was the only one I had an emotional attachment to. And so when I picked up issue #74 and turned to page 2, the following words from Grant Alden, Peter Blackstock, and Kyla Fairchild hit me in the gut.
“Dear Friends, Barring the intercession of unknown angels, you hold in your hands the next-to-the-last edition of No Depression we will publish. It is difficult even to type those words, so please know that we have not come lightly to this decision.”
The three owners continued to tick off the circumstances that brought an end to a magazine where “readership has not significantly declined, our newsstand sell-through remains among the best in our portion of the industry and our passion for and pleasure in the music has in no way diminished.” So what killed it off? A decline in advertising revenue from struggling record labels, a music industry in transition from brick and mortar to digital, increased internet traffic, and the cost of paper and production. And of course the overall economy was in free fall. People were losing their jobs, homes, and savings, and so taking that into consideration, the loss of a niche publication that supported the three owners, two additional full-time employees, and several dozen editors, writers, and artists was simply a reflection of the times.
“I have deeply enjoyed your magazine and have kept them all. Will give them to my children and grandchildren when I’m gone. Thank you for all the articles on my family members – A.P., Sara, Maybelle, Helen, June, Anita, Johnny Cash & etc. I am A.P. and Sara’s oldest grandchild; will be 70 years old in August.” — Flo Wolfe
With a cover price of $5.95 and a tagline beneath the magazine’s logo that read “The Final Issue Of … Well, Whatever That Is,” No Depression ceased publication with issue #75. It was 144 pages of doing what they’ve always done best: long-form stories, reviews of concerts, albums, books, and films, ads that heralded new music and reissues, and the “Box Full of Letters” from their readers. But this final issue couldn’t help being a little different than all others, because it was the end of something important to many people.
“Since the notice of foreclosure on hope arrived, I’ve been sitting here in melancholy marinade … without an issue or subscription of No Depression magazine, I feel like Charlie Brown waiting at his mailbox on Valentine’s Day, wondering why, at this point, I even need a mailbox.” — Scott Michael Anderson
As I leaf through the final issue, I’m surprised of the large number of musicians who were written about in 2008 and are still performing and recording today, somehow managing to navigate the shark-filled waters of an abysmal music industry that has chomped on and spit out so many others. What we generally call roots music was first recorded and popularized back in 1927, and its resilience and relatively small but vibrant popularity as a non-mainstream genre is just as surprising as it is comforting.
“I will reluctantly face detox after I have read the last issue. Over the past 10 years my cravings for the next ND would build until I had the new issue in hand. Then, like no other magazine before … I would feast from kiver to kiver … savoring the morsels of information and insights. What kept me captivated was that you always stayed contrary to ordinary.” — Tim Willis
The last cover had a black-and-white photograph of Buddy Miller that was slightly off-center. And these were the words written to the left of him: “Guitarist, songwriter, producer, singer, and a man who loves music: Buddy Miller is our artist of the decade.”
With accompanying photographs by Thomas Petillo, it was Grant Alden who wrote the article on Buddy. His writing style has always been unique and in stark contrast to anything one might consider music journalism. He reads like a beat poet with his own distinct rhythm, in which a single sentence can carry an idea or thought that other writers take paragraphs to convey. Just the title alone is worth every ounce of ink: “A disquisition on the centrality of love and faith in the music of Buddy Miller and the several other reasons he is the artist of the decade. And stuff.”
“What will we do without you? I even read all the damn advertisements, for God’s sake.” — Peter Kraemer
Buddy turns 66 this year, and during the time period since Grant’s article was published, he traveled extensively on the Alison Krauss-Robert Plant Raising Sand tour, followed by his concerts billed as Three Girls and Their Buddy with Emmylou Harris, Patty Griffin, and Shawn Colvin. Early in 2009 he suffered a heart attack and had triple bypass surgery. At that year’s Americana Music Association Honors and Awards, he and his wife Julie were the winners for album, song, and duo/group. Buddy also won Artist of the Year. He’s released three albums, including one with his partner and sidekick Jim Lauderdale, has been either a guest artist, producer, or engineer on way more than a dozen others, and is active with the annual AmericanaFest and the Cayamo cruises.
“Your magazine has been an oasis for me. Other mags have covered some of the same artists, but opening No Depression was like going in to a special old room and closing the door and seeing all your friends there.” — Pat Fitzgerald
Grant, Peter, and Kyla had plans to transition No Depression into a website that not only featured paid writers, but also created space for music bloggers such as myself. The concept was to create a global ND community allowing readers to comment and interact with the writers and remain a trusted music source fostering two-way dialogue. There was also a “bookazine” that published long-form stories, edited by Grant and Peter. Three editions were done before they moved on to other projects and sold their shares of ND to Kyla. She poured her heart, soul, and money into building and running the site until she decided to make a change, and sold it in 2014 to the current owners, the FreshGrass Foundation. As you probably are well aware, with the guiding hands of former editor Kim Ruehl and help from a Kickstarter campaign, No Depression began publishing a quarterly journal the following year. And here we are today … 23 years as an entity, 10 years as a website, and forever in my musical DNA.
“Well, shit. Thanks for what you were able to do.” — Quinn Martin
Many of my past columns, articles, and essays can be accessed at my own site, therealeasyed.com. I also aggregate news and videos on both Flipboardand Facebook as The Real Easy Ed: Americana and Roots Music Daily. My Twitter handle is @therealeasyed and my email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.