No Depression, In Heaven
I can remember the conversation pretty well.
My friend and I were on our way back from a wildlife and game expo in central New York. She was there to take photos; I was there merely for the life experience and to take stock of the exhibitors and devotees that attend a wildlife and game expo. After an hour or so of looking at the best taxidermy the central New York region could offer and doing our best not to laugh during the hunting dog seminar when the moderator said, "And then I had to put my black bitch down," we headed back to campus.
It was toward the end of my senior year, so the conversation inevitably went to "So, what are you gonna do with your life?" (She probably put it more tactfully.) I had some thoughts, some vague ideas about writing for a newspaper or, preferably, some kind of music magazine. But, really, when it came right down to it, I had only one magazine in mind.
"I just want to write for No Depression," I said. "That's pretty much it."
I bought my first issue of No Depression (Issue #6, Jason Ringenberg on the cover) at Rhino Records in New Paltz, New York. If my mom took the long way home from our upstate condo because she wanted to avoid thruway traffic, I would try to get her to stop at Rhino, for no other reason than I thought the store was somehow affiliated with Rhino Records, which seemed like a cool label, and they had tapes that I couldn't find on Staten Island. So, one day, I was browsing through their small selection of magazines and I came across No Depression. There were stories about people I thought no one else knew. There was the cover story on Jason and the Scorchers, whose music I probably didn't know that well at the time but liked their name enough to want to know more; a story on Steve Forbert, whom I had heard a little while back at a live taping of "Late Night with Conan O'Brien;" and a review of a Pete Droge and the Sinners show, a band I had tried convincing one of my freshman-year roommates was way better than the band they opened for at Cornell (Live...and that's still true, by the way). That was enough to sell me.
A few trips later, I picked up Issues #9 (illustrated Brian Henneman and Rhett Miller--in the good old glasses days--on the cover) and #10 (Whiskeytown). I eventually found someplace closer to home that carried the magazine and, to the best of my recollection, haven't missed an issue since (looking at the covers on the website, one looks a little unfamiliar, but I just can't believe I might've missed an issue).
My personal favorite issue remains Issue #18 (Golden Smog illustration on the cover). And that's because that's where my byline appeared in No Depression for the first time. As it turned out, it wasn't all that hard to write for No Depression. I basically e-mailed the editors with a list of shows and CDs I could review and asked if they'd be interested. One of the editors, Peter Blackstock, e-mailed me back and said if I wanted to review the Los Super Seven show, I could. And I did. Voila. I was a No Depression writer. It was awesome, even if it only meant something to me and maybe two of my friends. And when I got that first check--the first check I ever got for writing something (unless you count the small amounts of money occasionally given to me as a college newspaper editor, which was more like pity money than anything else)--there was that sense that everything was perfect and absolutely nothing was impossible. Turns out neither of those things was entirely true, but it was nice to have that feeling. And I still have (a photocopy of) that paycheck that I will always treasure.
My No Depression writing career was not as storied as it could have been, mainly because my ambition has never been quite as strong as it could be and I eventually just sort of lost the music writing bug. But they let me review a bunch of shows and CDs, pen a profile of Will Kimbrough (which I still wish I could redo), and write a tribute to Rick Danko that might be my favorite thing I've ever written. And not only did I get paid for writing, but I also got a free subscription (that probably ran longer than it should have, for which I now feel vaguely guilty). It was a good ride.
And now, long after my ride as a No Depression writer ended, the magazine itself has reached the end of the line. Money got tight with the decline in the music industry and, subsequently, the money spent on advertising, so the editors decided to stop printing after Issue #75 (Buddy Miller on the cover, on newsstands now). They will continue online and will publish a bookazine a couple times a year to publish more in-depth pieces. So, they'll still be around. But the No Depression I was determined to write for is now history.
All things come to an end, I guess, but I wish ND could've gone on forever. At least I have that old paycheck, some clips to look back on, dozens of CDs I never would've even known about if not for the magazine, and what I like to think of as the world's largest collection of signed No Depression covers (20, I think, including the four above). So, that's something. Not enough, but something.
Farewell, No Depression. Thanks for the memories. Thanks for showing me that there were people who truly cared about the music I loved. And thanks for letting me be a teeny tiny part of the legacy you leave behind.