Hello Stranger from Issue #50
Two years ago Chris Offutt published No Heroes, a book largely about his experiences returning to his hometown of Morehead, Kentucky, as a successful author and college professor.
It was a book I read with particular interest, for Offutt is a fine writer, and my wife’s family happens to live in Morehead, a community I have had occasion to visit often. No Heroes proved a particularly angry read, close kin to the letters you write a spurned lover you hope desperately never to see again. And, though I believe it to be emotionally honest, it is filled with factual errors of a kind which are particularly dangerous if one is known as a confessional writer.
And it is a book I have been revisiting in my mind these last few weeks as Susan and Maggie and I pack to move to Morehead. I’d not done much thinking about being a father (sometimes jumping in is better than ruminating on the cold water), and so was somewhat surprised to discover how important I found grandparents to be — particularly as I barely knew my own.
(I should add here that we might have moved to be nearer my parents, in Seattle, but the cost of living there is prohibitive. And I couldn’t find deer in the backyard there.)
So you will understand that this move has absolutely nothing to do with the business of publishing No Depression. Nor is it any kind of repudiation of Nashville, which has been a warm and kind home these last seven years. I will miss my friends, and the clubs, no doubt about that.
But these middle years are proving a more interesting time than youth might admit, and so we will move — at my suggestion, I hestitate to add — for better schools, family, and community. And once again I will thank my collaborators for allowing me to test the premise that high-speed internet connections mean we really can do our jobs anywhere we please.
All of which I share with you not simply to alert my friends in the music business that, once again, they need to update my address. Generally I imagine these pages to be a kind of dialogue, albeit a largely one-sided one, as you’ve been kind enough not to knock on my front door too frequently. Probably because No Depression was, in part, born in a chat room, Peter and I were pretty well acquainted with many of the people who read our first issue.
But we’ve grown a fair bit since then, from 2,000 copies of #1 to 36,000 copies of our November-December issue. And the world we write about has changed and we’re generally curious folk anyhow.
Some of you may have noticed a reader survey, bound into half the copies of that November-December issue. This is the kind of thing that much larger publishers do regularly; we joined with other members of the Americana Music Association to participate in an earlier survey, conducted through a handful of websites in November-December 2000.
We figured it was time to take another look, to make sure we still knew who you all were reading these pages. This can be a scary thing. What, for example, would we do if our readers manifested a sudden and uncontrollable desire for detailed coverage of, say, Garth and Trisha? (Not to spoil the drama, but you didn’t.)
Surveys were mailed directly to Professor Tom Hutchison, who is attached to the fine music business program at Middle Tennessee State University. He and his students compiled the results, which arrived on our desktops only days ago. I have no useful background in statistics, and am wary of boring you. Still, I thought it both fun and proper to introduce you to…yourselves.
Shake hands firmly, for an astonishing 86% of you are male. This is particularly curious, as I still remember noting how many attractive women were in the crowd on that fateful night Peter and I stood watching the Bad Livers at the Tractor Tavern in Seattle, and sort of agreed to take this leap of faith.
Speak clearly and carefully, for almost 75% of you are college graduates. Don’t argue over who’s buying the next round, for most of you make more money than we do (51% make over $60,000 a year). But not too many rounds; 55% of you are married. And settled, presumably, at a mean 41.6 years old.
Ah, but you are people of taste. Of the 64% who drink beer, you prefer Budweiser and Sierra Nevada in equal measure, followed by Guinness. And then Pabst. And you have the music bug as bad as any of us, buying an average 31 CDs over the last six months (and almost ten books — thank you), travelling to three or four festivals each year.
And, if stranded on that elusive desert island with power, you’d bring along (in order) Bob Dylan, Steve Earle, Johnny Cash, Lucinda Williams, and Wilco.
The rest I shall not trouble with you, past noting that you seem generally well pleased with our little magazine. And so thanks, for reading, and for sharing your thoughts with us.