HELLO STRANGER: A Walk Through No Depression’s Winter 2021 ‘Good News’ Journal + Playlist
The cover image for the Winter 2021 “Good News” issue of No Depression’s quarterly journal was created by artist Marlena Myles and incorporates elements from her Dakota and Lakota culture.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Managing Editor Hilary Saunders’ letter, below, opens our current quarterly journal, reflecting on the issue’s theme, “Good News.” We invite you to celebrate getting through another tough year by diving into the Winter 2021 issue’s 100+ pages of stories on kindness, positivity, and success in roots music. Buy the issue in print or digitally here. Better yet, start a subscription with this issue and help support No Depression’s music journalism all year long.
Back in May 2020, Karen Ho, a sustainability writer at Business Insider, set up @doomscroll_bot. The feed regularly posts reminders to Twitter “telling you to drink water, sit up straight, and stop doomscrolling,” especially during the quietest hours of the night.
The quirky term, coined for the repetitive behavior of endless digital consumption, dates back to 2018, but like most things on the internet, it has murky origins. Still, sources ranging from Merriam-Webster to Yale Medicine have recently validated at least the name of this addictive action — the relentless reading and refreshing of feeds, detailing the stressful, disheartening, and traumatizing news of these times.
As many people’s physical worlds shrank rapidly due to the COVID-19 pandemic, most of us became even more attached to, and dependent on, our doomscrolling devices. And in direct response, the need to detach, disconnect, and detox has become absolutely vital.
With this issue of No Depression, we didn’t want to avoid the harsh realities of our times. Just because we cover music doesn’t mean we can ignore climate change or public health; music can’t be made if recording studios are flooded from hurricanes, record labels are destroyed in tornadoes, or tours are canceled due to unhealthy conditions.
But it’s simply too much to keep reading about the doom without reprieve and context. So we decided to focus on the good news this time — the stories of our musical community surviving, helping each other, overcoming adversity, making space, and creating amid despair.
The “Good News” issue opens with a history of how public health emergencies have influenced music, starting from the Black Plague to the present. Writer Liz Tracy condensed such heavy history into something educational and even inspiring, highlighting how some of our favorite roots musicians have changed how they create, share, tour, and finance their art.
While the pandemic certainly influenced this issue, we also knew that a theme of “Good News” is always timely, and offers abundant inspiration. It’s never easy being a professional musician, or working in this field, but there are always stories about the ways people help each other through such a challenging lifestyle and career path.
So, the “Good News” issue shows how music can be at the root of fundraisers, grants, cultural preservation, and bodily and spiritual healing. There are pieces on roots musicians like Billy Bragg and Dan + Claudia Zanes who have all used their platforms in politically powerful ways. And there are stories that illustrate how “Good News” travels. Argentinian-based writer Luis Minvielle shares the story of a Uruguayan folk collective making a soundtrack to the longest road in their country. Canadian writer Matt Williams profiles up-and-coming roots-rock musician Boy Golden about the “church” he formed in Winnipeg that radiates optimism and fosters collaboration in his community. Throughout the issue, the “Good News” pours out, from an archival record label with German roots all the way to New Orleans’ post-Katrina revivalists and revelers.
While working on this issue, I found myself thinking a lot about Sam Cooke’s final studio album from 1964, Ain’t That Good News. Most know it as the one with the iconic protest song, “A Change Is Gonna Come,” but the title track has always struck me as a perfect opener. Although Cooke based the song off a spiritual (he, of course, began his career as member of the gospel vocal group The Soul Stirrers), he transforms it into a secular, swinging song for a lover. “My baby’s coming home tomorrow,” he coos. As the staccato horns pipe up, Cooke sounds almost incredulous, hollering, “Ain’t that good news? Man, ain’t that news?”
So now that the Winter issue of No Depression is in your hands, chuck your doomscrolling device across the room. Take a deep whiff of ink on paper and maybe even brew a pot of tea. Settle into something cozy and drop the needle (or in internet parlance, “smash that like button”) on this track as a prelude and a reminder. As you read, I hope you can hear Cooke’s refrain at the end of each these of these positive stories — ain’t that good news, indeed.
Here is a playlist of songs from bands featured in Winter 2021 “Good News” issue: