EASY ED’S BROADSIDE: No Depression at 25: A Time to Come, A Time to Go
Photo by Arifur Rahman Tushar via Pixabay
In the winter of 1993 I traveled from Los Angeles to Tahiti and for the trip I jammed a couple dozen CDs into my backpack along with my Sony Discman. It’s hard to recall everything I was listening to back then, but there are two albums that remain stuck in my memories because I played them over and over: The Breeders’ Last Splash and Uncle Tupelo’s Anodyne. While some might think they were worlds apart in tone and texture, I felt the connection. It was no different from the days when I was making mixtapes; dropping in Al Jolson or Dean Martin tunes along with the Fabulous Baggys, Lefty Frizzell, and Gong. Or listening to the Burritos while lighting up that first joint, and moving on to early Gil Scott-Heron on Flying Dutchman for the second one. Music was always just music. Genres were how you promoted it to radio stations and marketed it with little plastic signs at retail. Rock, jazz, country, folk, blues, soul, oldies, vocals, easy listening, classical, whatever.
A few years later I was at a record store somewhere in America waiting to take the manager out to lunch, and I wandered over to the long magazine rack against the back wall. Moving from left to right I scanned the covers as if they were candy bar wrappers at a movie theater concession stand, and when I got to the section where the music rags were displayed, I picked up No Depression. The tagline under the title wasn’t what longtime readers may recall, because it changed from issue to issue. This one said: “We Could Always Call It The Alternative Country Bimonthly.” The paper they used felt different than other magazines, the graphics reminded me of Crawdaddy, and it kicked off with a column by Grant Alden called “Hello, Stranger” and ended with “Screen Door” by Peter Blackstock. One guy lived in Nashville, the other in Seattle. Kyla Fairchild handled advertising and distribution, and their email address was “nodepress” at America Online.
I was a maniacal reader, going from front to back, back to front, reading every word, studying every ad. And there were lots of those. I’d been working in indie distribution for over 25 years at that point and somehow Kyla discovered labels that nobody ever heard of. Outside of the occasional full- or half-page major record label ad, and Miles of Music, a pre-Amazon mail order record company, there were dozens of quarter-page ads from new acts I’d never heard of, and they were DIY to the max. Since No Depression came out only every other month, each issue was on the table next to my bed for two months and I never got tired of reading the same stories over and over again. It helped to open me up to greater exploration and home in on discovering my passion for American roots music.
Skipping over a dozen years, give or take, technology eventually steamrolled the paradigm and record companies no longer needed, nor could afford, print advertising. If you’re reading this column today, it’s because No Depression stopped the presses, shifted to the internet, made adjustments, changed out people, changed out ownership, and eventually became part of a larger nonprofit organization that has a multiple tentacles, like a baby octopus. And although it’s not even close to being what it started out as, it nevertheless will be celebrating 25 years of survival and growth.
My career in the music industry peaked as vice president of sales at a small indie label and it coincided with the end of No Depression as we had known it. Living in California at the time, I began to actively comment and post stories to the new website. Most were not that good and were completely unedited. Peter had left for Austin, Kyla was paying the bills and scrambling for ads in Seattle, and Grant hung around and tried his hand at writing in a different medium, where people give you instant feedback and draw you into conversations. He wrote some amazing articles back then, before going off and doing full-time chicken farming or something like that, and becoming a bookstore owner in Kentucky.
Easy Ed is a pen name I have been using for 50 years. In high school I started my own alternative monthly printed on a mimeograph machine, and in college I was the senior editor and columnist for the school newspaper as well as a musician in a band that played psychedelic country rock at events including the Communist Workers’ May Day celebration. Throw in the stories I wrote about Nixon, Vietnam, and hints on where to get high on campus, and it all earned me a wiretap on my parents’ phone, surveillance by guys in black suits, and somewhere in Washington today there is probably a microfiche file stored inside a dusty box about a Jewish kid from the white suburbs of Philadelphia who was dangerous only to himself.
Kim Ruehl worked with Kyla to re-form No Depression into a community website that anyone could post stories to. And there were comment sections, from which many online communities were organically created, with threads that were often dozens of pages longer than the stories that started them out. For several years, it was a helluva lot of fun if you were a music freak who was seeking out like-minded people. Almost everybody had been original magazine subscribers in the beginning, and it was an early experiment in social media that was not financially sustainable. Kyla sold it, Kim did the day-to-day, some new folks joined management, people left, people came, the site was redesigned once, and redesigned twice.
I’d like to think that over time my writing got a little better or at least more interesting to read, and eventually I became a featured contributor, an occasional social media moderator, and for the past five or six years a weekly columnist who actually gets paid for what I do. I came up with “Easy Ed’s Broadside,” using the name of a small defunct magazine that printed lyrics from writers and folkies such as Dylan, Ochs, Rush, Paxton, Seeger, Guthrie, Reynolds, and so many others. It was named out of respect to the founders, Sis Cunningham and her husband, Gordon Friessen, and their daughters, who helped them put it together. A joint autobiography, Red Dust and Broadsides, is out of print but you can track it down. If you’re interested in the history of American folk music, protest, and change, it is essential reading.
Several years ago, soon after the website dropped the comments feature, I started up a Facebook page for lost and lonely No Depression folks who still wanted to continue connecting and conversing. I played around with the format, and realized I enjoyed aggregating music stories and features from all over the web and curating music videos. I also created my own website as a companion, along with a Flipboard e-magazine, and it’s all just a non-commercial home for musical beings. It’s simply a hobby, yet a rewarding one I will continue.
And so that brings us up to today.
If you’ve been following me over the years, you know I stand to the left of center. Having to live these past three years under a mentally ill autocrat, racist, womanizer, and pathological liar who is set on destroying American democracy and the rule of law is a bitter pill to swallow every day. Now in the midst of social awakening and a deadly pandemic running through our country with no leadership or resources, no empathy or care, I’ve had enough. And so I’m stepping down from my weekly column to put more of my efforts toward a better tomorrow. I’ve got a vote and a voice, and I need to use them.
It’s become hard to watch musicians and their support systems lose their livelihoods, with no way back at this point. I still plan to stay in that game and help where and when I can, but the weekly grind of creating a palatable word salad that offers nourishment is wearing thin and needs to be put aside. Y’all know where to find me — all of my columns here feature my various points of contact — so please feel free to reach out.
I have loved working for No Depression over the years and congratulate the current team on keeping it alive for a quarter century. Stacy Chandler has been a most outstanding keeper of the website, who has challenged me to reach higher, and kindly has proofed and edited my columns each week. And I thank her for her friendship as well. And also Kim Ruehl, who I credit with encouraging me to do what I do, whatever that is. Finally, I am most grateful to Grant Alden, Peter Blackstock, and Kyla Fairchild for their vision and working long and hard days to publish an amazing magazine, which I keep next to my desk. Thank you all for making my life brighter. No Depression has inspired and supported an incredible musical ecosystem that one day will come roaring back. I can’t wait for live music again!
Peace be with you, over and out.
Many of my past columns, articles, and essays can be accessed here at my own site, therealeasyed.com. I also aggregate news and videos on both Flipboard and 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.