Hello Stranger from Issue #34
Because I work at home, and my wife will tell you I’m not a tidy fellow, I tend to schedule business meetings at coffee shops. Or maybe it’s a final nod to my old hometown, Seattle. Or perhaps I just relish excuses to abandon this room filled with books and records and art and photographs and compact discs and cassettes that crunch underfoot.
Doesn’t matter. There I was paying homage to the well-preserved cinnamon roll that resembles Mother Teresa, and I was struck by a revelation, courtesy the house stereo: I’ve actually grown tired of the O Brother soundtrack. Not because I’ve played it to death, though there’s that, but because it has so pervasively entered the world around me that the newness of hearing bluegrass at Target has finally worn off.
It was a happy moment, for rarely does society at large embrace the music which frequents my stereo. The last time this happened, the song was “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, and for a moment everything in my world changed. This time, at least, I do not fear the cost, and anticipate no shotgun blast announcing the end of this bluegrass boomlet.
And yet I can easily imagine Kurt Cobain’s voice singing “Man Of Constant Sorrow”, in the same raw, reaching voice that makes his “In The Pines” almost impossible to play, now. Dan Tyminski is widely reported to be a peaceful, wine-sipping fellow, but the longing with which he sings is not so different from the searching sound of Blind Willie Johnson, Hank Williams, or Son Volt’s first album.
As it happens, I find myself playing a lot of bluegrass albums these days, and very little that could be called rock ‘n’ roll. Do not be alarmed, as it will naturally pass. (Anyway, I snuck out on our deadline weekend to see Jon Langford down at the Sutler.) I’ve long offered a half-evolved theory that great rock flourishes only under Republican administrations, and so am bracing for something special to come our way soon.
Do not be afraid to join me, either. Yes, bluegrass is by and large the most conservative form of country music, and country is the most conservative of popular musics. Despite my affection for both, I do not yet — nor ever — imagine myself a conservative. Bluegrass is also a rich, passionate, expressive music. And if one wishes to understand something of the American soul, it is one of the many places one must visit, for it reaches deeply into our past, and stretches awkwardly (as do we all) to our future.
Combine all that with the welcome presence of Patty Loveless on this cover — the first ’90s mainstream country star to become our public face for the two months we’re on newsstands — and I’m guessing maybe a few of our longtime readers are wondering what’s come over us.
And so, one more reminder: It’s about the music. Period. Patty Loveless has made a glorious album. End of story. I don’t care what label she (or anybody else) records for, but I care deeply for good music, and one of the great pleasures of publishing this magazine is discovering great music in unexpected places.
One more thing about the cover. You may have noticed that the newsstand price has finally gone up a dollar, our first increase in almost six years of publishing. Over the years we’ve printed on a half-dozen flavors of newsprint. With last issue, we changed yet again, and while we’re quite happy with the results, it’s a heavier paper. That, plus our increasing page counts (not complaining, just thanking our advertisers), finally drove shipping costs to the point where we had to raise the cover price.
For the moment our subscription price will not change, so this would be an especially good time for you to subscribe (if you haven’t already) and save 40% off the newsstand price.
End of a really bad sales pitch. Back to the music, and thanks for listening with such interest and patience.