Hello Stranger from Issue #10
Not quite two years ago now, when I had just moved into the converted garage which had been Peter’s first home in Seattle, and he’d just moved into the front house, and we’d both decided to take each other’s hallucinations seriously and start a magazine, I stumbled upon a 7-inch from this band in North Carolina. I remember walking into his living room waving the thing and saying something like, “You ever heard of this band Whiskeytown? ‘Cause I think you should.” Peter e-mailed his friend in Raleigh, David Menconi, who e-mailed back saying, “Funny you should ask about Whiskeytown,” and concurred they were one of his favorite new local bands. Voila, we had our first Town & Country opening spread.
Last night, as we sat in my still-new Nashville digs (I’m above the garage this time), editing and designing this issue’s Whiskeytown cover story, Peter dug out all the tapes he’s accumulated since that hot August morning and we played Ryan Adams songs long into the night, three records worth and more he’s probably forgotten writing. A little over a year ago, No Depression’s first and much-beloved ad rep, Jenni Sperandeo, left our ranks to become Whiskeytown’s manager; this spring, we loaned the magazine’s name to a national tour the band co-headlined (at the final show of which they lured Peter onstage to sing harmony on an Alejandro Escovedo song).
If that all smacks of a loss of critical distance, well, then, so be it. The music speaks for itself, and if it doesn’t speak to others as strongly as it does to us, at least we’re all still having a conversation about something which deeply matters.
That conversation seems not to happen much here in Nashville. Music City seems to this newcomer a peculiar kind of manufacturing town in which everybody goes home to their lawn when the whistle blows at five o’clock. Three or four nights a week I stumble around one of the city’s many half-empty venues, wondering where all the people are.
Well, those I’ve spoken with on the phone apologize and say they’re tired after a long day’s work, and that’s fair enough. But my friends in the rock quarries of Los Angeles (where I lived in exile for 16 months) and New York still find the time and energy to attend shows. Every raw intern with any sense begins assembling a network of friends at other labels so they can all get into shows for free.
It’s hardly my place to tell other people how to live, but the culture of the place says a lot about the art it produces. And, first off, I don’t think most of Music City views music as art, but as product. That’s the culture of session players and punched-in vocals and cloistered songwriters on top of which is placed a lead singer in a cowboy hat, all served up to the handful of radio programmers who — far as I can tell — really run this place. If you work on an assembly line, the last thing you want to do with your nights is turn a wrench.
But this is a special business, and we — even we parasites on the sidelines — are specially privileged to make some kind of living from it. My sense is that too many people who work behind the scenes in Nashville have lost the joy of the music, have turned a rare opportunity to make a living doing something they love into…into a job. And jobs stop at five o’clock.
Well it’s not just a job, folks, and if the music no longer delights and inspires you enough to get you off the couch a few nights each week, you’re in the wrong business. There are plenty of jobs in the insurance business.