Reflections on No Depression Magazine
In recent years, I have been lucky enough to meet and befriend Wes Houston, a veteran of the music business. He was signed to Folkways in the 1960’s and has since become a local legend of sorts. He has played gigs with the Wes Houston Band for most of his life, and has been a source of advice and inspiration for me and my band. He turned us on to artists like Billy Joe Shaver, Waylon Jennings and Gary Stewart. In addition to the countless records he has lent me, he lent me some stacks of No Depression magazine he had saved for all these years.
Up until that point, I had only heard of No Depression. I checked out the website once or twice out of curiosity. To hold the magazine in your hands is something totally different. The first issue I read was September-October ’96 with Jeff Tweedy on the cover. It was very exciting to read about Wilco and Son Volt and gain new perspective into the bands I love. I loved the concert reviews that all seemed to say “you should have been there…” It was even more exciting to see advertisements for all the bands. Whiskeytown, Scud Mountain Boys, the Courtesy Move, the Hangdogs… all there, just trying to sell some records. The Whiskeytown interview was one of my favorite articles, providing insight into a band I didn’t really know much about other than the music. I read all of the magazines in the stack, and eagerly returned them to Wes to get another batch.
The next stack was from the early 2000’s, and by that time the tone and content of the magazine had changed considerably. Wilco could hardly be considered alt-country (whatever that is,) and Jay Farrar was exploring new territory with his solo career. Without its founding fathers, the movement seemed to lose some steam, and the magazine turned to more traditional country roots for inspiration. There was a lot of negative feedback for an article trashing Gram Parsons, and the occasional advertisement for bands like Lucero and Drive By Truckers seemed to foreshadow what lay ahead for them. There were a few somber reflections on 9-11, and a general uncertainty that seemed to fit that whole decade.
I found one article from July-August 2000 very interesting. In the ‘Hello Stranger’ section, co-editor Peter Blackstock wrote about his friend Kim Webber and how they bonded over the music they loved. When she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, there was a big outpour of support to help her out. That stuck with me. Then I read this:
“The political, inevitably, becomes personal. The single greatest failing of our country is that, in a time when U.S. economic prosperity has reached unprecedented heights, we still fail to ensure that all of our citizens receive the medical care they deserve as human beings.”
Things seemed to click.
Time goes on. Some bands break up, others blow up. But, most importantly, things get better.