Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Celebrating the Rebirth of No Depression

For 13 years, the magazine No Depression engaged and enlightened music fans across America. Initially focusing on roots (also known as alternative country or Americana music), but eventually branching out to embrace numerous genres, the founders balanced profiles of better-known artists with amazing discoveries.

The founders, Grant Alden, Peter Blackstock, and Kyra Fairchild, ran their operation out of Seattle, counting on a devoted circulation mixed with advertising from indie music labels that were looking to find their audience.

By 2008, things were different. The chains and mass merchants had decimated the ranks of indie music stores that featured the magazine and its musicians, and the age of downloading helped finish the job (as well as killing off a number of chains). The music labels didn’t have the budgets to focus on a magazine, and readership started finding their information on web sites.

But as Grant says on his recent NPR interview, where on the web is there an audience for a 10,000 word essay on Little Miss Cornshucks?

A change in format has led to the magazine’s rebirth as a bookazine, or what we in the industry would call a literary journal. Think of it as the esthetic of a McSweeney’s, Tin House, or Granta, but with a music focus.

The comparison is not out of the blue. Many Schwartz booksellers have long been fans of No Depression. I am reminded of Nick Hornby’s essays, where he balances writing about his book obsession in Polysyllabic Spree with his musical ones in Songbook. And of course the fate of the music industry may foreshadow what is to happen over the next few years in books.

Several contributors to No Depression straddle both worlds. Eric Brace is a former Washington Post staffer who leads the Nashville-by-way-of-DC-based band Last Train Home while singer-songwriter Peter Cooper covers music for the Nashville Tennesseean.

These multiple talents must be a requirement for participation. Photographer Deone Jahnke (whose work in the new volume includes the arresting front jacket photo) is also a visual artist and writer. Her collection of portraits includes many folks in the alt country world, but you’ve also seen her work at the Lakefront Festival of the Arts for the last few summers.

And just to bring it all home to bookselling, while No Depression-aires Blackstock and Fairchild still operate out of Seattle, fellow editor Alden now lives in Kentucky, where he helps out at the family bookshop, Coffee Tree Books. Why not go to their site and buy something from them?

How does this all connect to the Downer Avenue Schwartz? Well, on Sunday, November 9th at 4 P.M. (after the Packers game), we are hosting a spirited discussion with Deone Jahnke, Eric Brace, and Peter Cooper on music, pictures, and journalism.

Then at 7:30 P.M. the same evening (11/9), you can head to the Fifth Ward (or alternately, the northern edge of Walker’s Point), where Brace and Cooper are performing as part of Deone Jahnke’s “Rock the Loft” music series, held at Jahnke’s photography studio, 228 South First Street. For more information on this event, contact deone@deonejahnke.com.

It’s all a celebration of the rebirth of No Depression, and we’re happy to help spread the word.


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