Growing up in public- A brief history of ND
“Whatever that is,” we have said about whatever this is. And, “it’s about the music.” We’ve said that a lot, too.
Sometimes folks have listened, sometimes they’ve just been frustrated by our refusal to explain ourselves.
Following, and at our usual length, please find a recap of those two ideas, a summation of what we were and what kind of music engaged us over No Depression magazine’s first ten years.
From this side of the page, it’s a bit like going through an old high school annual, except that instead of hairstyles and fashions, one flinches at commas and ill-chosen phrases. But there are forgotten friends here among the litter, and reminders of one or two things we wish we hadn’t done in public — like the Emmylou Harris cover, which really was an homage to an old Vogue, and seemed a brilliant idea right up until the moment it came off the press.
Inevitably, because we’ve limited ourselves (with one exception) to text from the first 58 cover stories, this is a summary of the big things, the major choices. Maybe there’s a pattern here, a kind of progress, but mostly it looks like a dog wandering through a newly mowed field, overwhelmed by fresh and stale scents, just happy to be moving and off the leash.
That leaves out the small things, those moments once or twice an issue when we push back from the computer and cackle with glee at some silly little detail (that nobody but us will notice) which we’ve been allowed to do in print because there’s no boss telling us we can’t. Or those rare moments when an artist we both like actually gets a break.
It’s still about the music, ten years later. We sure do appreciate the fact that y’all came along for the ride.
ND #1, Fall 1995
Perhaps all’s well that ends well. Jeff Tweedy and the other Tupelo members have found a new groove as Wilco, mining Tweedy’s more pop-oriented songwriting instincts to a fuller extent, yet still mixing in the traditional instrumentation and influences that made Uncle Tupelo the beacon of a dynamic and substantial country-rock revival. It took some gumption for Tweedy to take the wheel and steer Wilco back onto the highway, but he’s done it.
Jay Farrar, meanwhile, has headed for the back roads with Son Volt. Sometimes it’s wide-open stretches of rural two-lane with the pedal to the floor: “Live Free,” “Route,” “Drown,” “Loose String” and “Catching On” burn rubber with the intensity of a desperate man fleeing the scene of disaster. But there comes a time for quiet reflection. “Windfall,” “Tear Stained Eye,” “Ten Second News,” “Out Of The Picture” and “Too Early” take a turn down rambling dirt roads, where the dust of dobros and fiddles and accordions and steel guitars is carried off by a wind that takes your troubles away, way down into the streets of the smallest towns in America.
— PETER BLACKSTOCK
ND #2, Winter 1996
Blue Mountain recently received a showering of good reviews and some Triple-A radio play after the late July release of Dog Days. Magazines from Billboard to CMJ expressed admiration for the solid roots sound of the album. Co-leader Cary Hudson admits that the mini-boom of roots-rock bands, Gavin’s Americana chart and Triple-A radio could put the band at the forefront of a developing format.
“But there’s another side of me that doesn’t really give a shit if it happens or not,” he says. “If we always kept playing at a small level, I wouldn’t really care. Just as long as I don’t have to work a day job. What more could you ask, really.”
— JON MAPLES
ND #3, Spring 1996
“I think Hank Williams records have a lot more to do with the Sex Pistols than they have to do with Brooks & Dunn,” Steve Earle suggests, using those artists as an example of why genre tags can sometimes have no meaning at all.
“It’s really just about any kind of music that’s real,” he continues. “That was what my argument with Nashville was all along. It’s not about country or rock. It’s about real.”
— PETER BLACKSTOCK
ND #4, Summer 1996
Country’s past is a troublesome, nettlesome thing, full of drunks and broken dreams, fortunes made and stolen, and (in hindsight, at least) it looms replete with a kind of raw honesty that has since been wrung from all manner of cultural discourse….
These are particularly trying, alluring and illusive issues for David Wilds, who grew up backstage at the Grand Ole Opry during the first golden age of country music. Roy Acuff was his godfather, Hank Williams was one of many family friends, and his father was a longtime performer and entrepreneur. Honey Wilds’ name and visage seem curiously absent from the history books, though he and his partners were regulars on the Opry from 1932-1952, and Honey organized and promoted the first Grand Ole Opry tent tours. This may be because Honey was not principally a recording artist (he cut perhaps a dozen sides, none of them hits), and so left little behind for a reminder. It may also have something to do with the tradition to which Honey’s career makes a kind of endpoint, for he was a blackface comedian, perhaps one of the last exponents of the minstrel style.
— GRANT ALDEN
ND #5, September-October 1996
“Without being overly arty about the whole thing, I really did have a lot of ideas about how I wanted people to hear this collection of music,” Jeff Tweedy says. “And along with wanting it to sound like, as a band, that we were playing through our record collection, I also really wanted there to be songs where I totally came out of character, completely straightforward, and said, ‘Look, this is all I know.’ Like in a movie — a comparison would be when somebody looks at the screen and comes out of character and says, ‘Don’t listen to me. I’ve really no idea what I’m talking about. Except that I really care a whole lot about what I’m doing.’ And right now it’s a struggle for me to come to terms with people paying attention to me, on any level.”
— PETER BLACKSTOCK
ND #6, November-December 1996
The Scorchers’ influence on Uncle Tupelo, the Bottle Rockets and countless others is undeniable. It may be commonplace now for roots-rockers to perform cover versions of classic honky-tonk songs, but back when the Scorchers were running Hank Williams, Jimmie Rodgers and Eddy Arnold through their punk blender, it just wasn’t done — it might even get you hurt or run out of town.
“Literally, you could go into certain places and do what we were doin’ with country music — forging it, melding it, slamming it together with punk rock and rock ‘n’ roll — and get beat up. And we almost did several times,” said Jason Ringenberg, recalling the band’s early ’80s heyday.
— BILL FRISKICS-WARREN