Hello Stranger from Issue #9
Awhile back I wrote something about coming from an itchy footed people, and I guess you could say I’ve been scratching a good bit lately. Here’s where the road has taken me these last two months:
From Los Angeles to Nashville (by plane) for NEA, a smallish music shindig, and to find an apartment.
From Los Angeles to Orlando (by plane) to moderate a conversation (sic) between Jay Farrar and Roger McGuinn, which will appear in RayGun, where, until that weekend, as things worked out, I held down a job.
From Los Angeles to Nashville (by truck, filled with all my earthly belongings).
From Nashville to Austin (by car) for SXSW, a biggish music shindig.
From Austin to Lafayette, Louisiana (by plane), to visit 16 Horsepower in the studio, some of which will probably show up here but most of which is intended for RayGun.
From Austin back to Nashville (by car), to unpack.
From Nashville to St. Louis (by car), on opening day of baseball season (except the Cardinals were losing up in Montreal), to interview the Bottle Rockets.
This is all by way of explaining that the No Depression “office” (and we use that term loosely) in Los Angeles has been relocated, after a 16-month stint there, and that I now find myself in Nashville, having never really been here before.
The question “Why?” comes up a lot when I talk to people, like my parents and the folks over on Music Row who’ve been kind enough to suggest maybe we should have lunch or something. Well, perched atop the speaker to my left is a 1948 Zenith brown bakelite radio that my father bought for $100 after he got out of the service (and if one or two of those details are wrong, Dad, that’s how I remember it nevertheless). It is tuned to WSM-AM, home of the Grand Ole Opry.
That’s part of it, anyway.
Down the street a piece is a big brick building next to a fine Mexican restaurant that’s just filled with records and CDs that I don’t know the first thing about (and, for the time being, can’t afford; so it goes).
That’s another part of it.
No, let’s be honest, that’s a big part of it. Not the record collecting geek part, and lord knows after moving all those boxes up the 14 stairs to my new apartment I don’t really need more vinyl to haul around. Truth is, Los Angeles, with its relentless emphasis on style over substance, left me utterly incurious, and that’s about the worst and slowest kind of death a writer can wish upon himself.
Fact is, what I know about country music fits pretty comfortably beneath my contact lenses — when I wear them. But unlike the sound of things up on Music Row, and on the various New Country stations that 18-foot truck pulled in across the country…
Wait a minute, this has to be asked: What the hell is up with Alan Jackson? “Crazy ’bout a Ford truck,” is this a commercial or a hit single? I mean, the man can’t possibly need the money, can he?
Anyway, I came here to learn something about country’s past, and maybe to figure out how its present got so screwed up. That’s my story. Now if we could finish this issue, I’ve got to be in West Virginia by the weekend…
To the legions of you folks across the Southwest, West Coast and Midwest (with apologies to other areas of the country) who ventured out to see Hazeldine, the Old 97’s, the Picketts and Whiskeytown on the No Depression Tour from March 17 through April 8, we thank you sincerely. The bands encountered healthy-to-sold-out crowds in every city, and, more importantly, developed friendships amongst themselves that were played out onstage: Ryan Adams of Whiskeytown and Jim Sangster of the Picketts joining Hazeldine on guitar for a song or two; Shawn Barton and Tonya Lamm of Hazeldine singing backup vocals with Whiskeytown; and pretty much everybody chipping in with the Picketts at some point on “Should I Stay Or Should I Go”. And, whatever rivalries (real or perceived) might seem to develop in the oncoming months as the major-label debuts of the Old 97’s and Whiskeytown hit the record racks, the moment I’ll remember most is Whiskeytown’s Adams and Rhett Miller of the Old 97’s sharing the stage for a heartfelt encore on the final night of the Seattle show. Times like that make it all worthwhile.
A final, and most significant, acknowledgment is due to the good folks at Mongrel Music in San Francisco for booking the tour and dealing with the vast majority of the headaches along the way. As Walter Salas-Humara would say, “Here’s to you…”