We’ll See You in the Folder…
Recently hitting 40 made me realize something tangentially similar to the common realization that I am never going to rock the local club like it’s never been rocked before (I realized that at 30). What crept up on me was this: My brushes with those who actually have rocked the house are most likely over. Brushes such as:
* Interviewing Marshall Crenshaw on my radio show at WVKR in Poughkeepsie, New York, and swapping one-for-one which record we’d play next;
* Meeting Joey and Dee Dee Ramone in the parking lot after a club show and having them sign my favorite album of theirs (the underappreciated Too Tough To Die);
* Coming home from college on a spring afternoon, walking through my parents’ kitchen (I was a commuter), hearing the phone ring, grabbing it and hearing, “This is Michael Stipe…you wrote our band a letter?”
These and a few others are the “boring stories of…Glory Days” that my young daughters will have to endure when they graduate from the music of Dan Zanes and Laurie Berkner (not that I hope they ever truly do) and reach for whatever music their generation velcroes to its consciousness. (“Hey kids, look, La Bamba is on Turner Movie Classics. Did I tell you I interviewed the man who plays Buddy Holly?” “Yes, dad, only a million times!”)
Oh, and there’s one more brush with greatness that has nothing to do with any musician, but rather is related to dozens if not hundreds of music fans who connected through a music bulletin board on the internet — one that I seeded with a simple keyboard command ten years ago, and which still rings with vitality today.
I am speaking of the “No Depression–Alt.Country” discussion board, a community that sprouted from an Uncle Tupelo board I created on America Online on July 13, 1994, when the internet had just left the starting gate and AOL was scooping up the earliest of its early adopters.
With the music section of today’s AOL so polished and targeted to sustaining the current corporate creation and laying the groundwork for the next look-alike, it’s hard to believe there was a time when things were largely in the public’s hands, and creating a board for any artist or genre was at your command. (Today, AOL’s boilerplate instructs: “If you can’t find the board you’re looking for, please write us to request one.”)
As I perused the bulletin boards that existed in the spring of 1994, there were none devoted to Uncle Tupelo, which had just called it quits after a final show in St. Louis on May 1. So I seized the moment by opening a new board and posting the obligatory, “I created this folder to see if any other fans are out there. Post if you’re one of them!” (Or something like that.)
The rest is history, or at least historical to many readers of this magazine. The Uncle Tupelo board (or “folder,” as the regulars tended to call it, on account of AOL’s graphic icons resembling little manila folders) grew to cover subjects of the alternative country genre, and in September ’94, the name was changed to “No Depression–Alt.Country” after a couple dozen regulars lobbied for a title that reflected the broadening borders of the discussion. A year later, No Depression magazine published its first issue; one of its editors and several of its writers frequently posted to the board.
Life in the early days of the No Depression folder was like attending a show by Jason & the Scorchers, the Scud Mountain Boys, the Bottle Rockets, or any roots-rock band that was prominent at the time, and knowing all the other fans in the club even though you’d never truly met them. Screen-names were changed to protect the innocent (mine was KenBag; others included Mamboozo, SWCoupe, Pontneuf, Crvr, JDiva and DJDre). The messages were soothing reading at the end of a work day; it’s reassuring, in a sense, to know that your place in the musical universe is one which others inhabit as well.
The folder was fertile ground for prognostications (alternative country would follow grunge as the next sensation), rare facts eager to be gobbled up (Gary Louris sings Rosanne Cash’s “Seven Year Ache” on a Golden Smog promo CD), and musical charity (“I have an extra ticket to see Blue Rodeo tomorrow. Friend can’t go. Free. If you want it e-mail me”). The camaraderie and insight displayed early on continued through the community’s relocation to YahooGroups in the fall of 2000. The board still maintains a magnetic hold on many alt-country fans.
As I tucked my daughters into bed this evening, I wondered who their musical heroes will be. If they are lucky, like me, they won’t necessarily be musicians at all, but a few well-chosen friends whose musical soul mirrors their own and from whom they’ll find acceptance, inspiration and togetherness. Even if it arrives across the internet.