Hello Stranger from Issue #7
Originally, this issue’s “Hello Stranger” column was going to be about Jeff Tweedy and the controversy over what No Depression is, and/or whether it should in fact be anything at all. Back around mid-November, when ND #6 was hot off the presses and I was visiting family (both genealogical and musical) in Austin, Texas, an old friend suggested over lunch at Threadgill’s that the subject needed to be addressed — that this impression of fans of Uncle Tupelo, Wilco, Son Volt et al. (and, congruently, the base readership of this magazine) as narrow-minded alterna-country-heads was remarkably far from reality. Ironic, it was, that Tweedy’s comments to various publications seemed to place his fans in precisely the pigeonhole he strove to break out of with Being There.
But the night I returned to Seattle from that trip, jet-lagged from a long day of delayed flights, Wilco played the Showbox and promptly woke me up so thunderously that none of it seemed to matter. Amidst the clang and clamor of a great rock ‘n’ roll show was a glorious epiphany: Singing along at the top of my lungs from the midst of the crowd as Tweedy sang “I know you probably hate me/But that’s okay with me” [from “Outtasite (Outta Mind)”], I cottoned to the thought that it was all right for us to agree to disagree, and that, indeed, that’s the way it probably should be. (Long about year end, word came through the AOL No Depression folder that Tweedy declared his New Year’s resolution, from the stage of Chicago’s venerable Lounge Ax during a Golden Smog show, to be: “I’m not going to talk about No Depression.” We’ll buy that, and will clam up on our end as well.)
So what’s left to talk about — the weather? Damn straight. Forgoing a White Christmas by a handful of hours, the flakes began falling early morning on December 26th, piling up to about a foot by day’s end — only to start all over again in the wee hours of the 28th, ultimately leaving two feet on the front lawn. A remarkable feat of nature even to lifelong Seattleites, but a mind-boggling proposition for a lad who spent years 5 through 26 in Texas. Lord knows I’d never survive in Minneapolis.
By stroke of familial fate, co-editor/art director Grant Alden was the real victim of the mess. Having returned to Seattle (by car) for the holidays, he presently found himself unable to return according to best-laid plans, which gradually devolved to worst-laid plans when the snow finally melted and stranded him halfway inbetween as 1996 turned into 1997 amid a flooded I-5 in the thriving Northern California metropolis known as Weed. Meanwhile, pages of ND #7 awaited completion back in Hell-A, our deadline already a few days past. (In case you’re wondering why this issue wasn’t in your hands a week ago…)
But the worst was yet to come. Thursday morning, scrolling through the posts on the AOL ND board as per daily ritual, a load of bricks dropped upon reaching Kim Webber’s word that Townes had died.
The previous evening (New Year’s Night) had been spent at the Tractor Tavern, the wintertime Hank Williams Wednesdays providing an ideal introduction to 1997. Someone came up to bandleader Ron Bailey between sets to say he was celebrating his 44th birthday — indeed, he was born on January 1, 1953, the very day Hank had gone away. For every death, life reinvents itself. Little did we know that Townes was taking his last breath as we listened to “I Saw The Light.”
The tears came the next morning, shortly after I’d left a halting message on Grant’s answering machine, telling him the “Ten Second News” section would be titled “Too Early” this time around. Townes’ longtime friend Richard Dobson tells his own story on page 6. Meantime, I’m left with these words, from the now-fading final page of a transcript from a 1992 interview:
“I don’t think, as a matter of fact, that I’m going to benefit from anything on this earth. It’s more like that. I mean, if you have love on the earth, that seems to be number one. There’s food, water, air, and love, right? And love is just basically heartbreak.
“Humans can’t live in the present like animals do; they just live in the present. But humans are always thinking about the future or the past. So, it’s a veil of tears, man. And I don’t know anything that’s going to benefit me except more love. I just need an overwhelming amount of love.
“And a nap. Mostly a nap.”
Goodnight, Townes Van Zandt.