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RockNotes: No Depression is Punk'd

1. First the forces of darkness - the bad kind, not the kind we like - came for Punk Planet. Now they've come for No Depression. My two favorite magazines. Dead.

"Barring the intercession of unknown angels," the founders of ND write in the March-April issue, there is just one more to go before the end.

"[The] circumstances are both complicated and painfully simple. The simple answer is that advertising revenue in this issue is 64 percent of what it was for our March-April issue just two years ago. We expect that number to continue to decline.

"The longer answer involves not simply the well-documented and industry-wide reduction in print advertising, but the precipitous fall of the music industry . . . because we're a niche title we are dependent upon advertisers who have a specific reason to reach our audience. That is: record labels. We, like many of our friends and competitors, are dependent upon advertising from the community we serve.

"That community is, as they say, in transition."

Like Punk Planet, No Depression is a publication that has been a joy to read the old-fashioned way - on printed paper. But I can't help but wonder if, like Punk Planet, the absence of any semblance of a real website helped do it in. (It's more full and linky now than I've ever seen it, just to give you a clue.

Both publications seemed stubbornly unwilling to digitally expand their franchise. Perhaps they were wary - like their mainstream counterparts long were - that a strong online presence would put a dent in subscriptions. But that sort of thinking is akin to Bill Wirtz's unwillingness to telecast home Blackhawks games out for fear of cutting into ticket sales. Expanding the audience you serve is never a bad idea, and the Internet offers enough revenue sweeteners, in the least, to offset any lost subscriptions that might result. In fact, it was old school distribution that helped do Punk Planet in.

(No Depression has a cover price of $5.95; at half that they might have attracted twice as many readers, allowing for a boost in ad rates. Or maybe they could have foregone the newsstand entirely.)

Punk Planet was in a trickier position, committed to not allowing major label advertisers and to keeping its ad rates affordable to the indies and little guys. And I certainly do not want to blame the victims. I know full well how hard it is to make these ventures work; obviously I'm intimately familiar with the struggle.

But I find it hard to believe a combination of partnerships, the Internet, and expanded offerings couldn't have saved this dynamic duo. A punk rock job board? Americana's premiere alt-country portal?

No Depression, too, suffered from a lack of focus at times, and a failure to upgrade editorial quality as the magazine labored on.

But those aren't reasons enough to die given the joy each magazine provided. If there aren't enough people in the world to support publications like Punk Planet and No Depression, well, then it's a lousy world indeed.

2. "In the late eighties, Winger, lead by the photogenic Kip Winger, specialized in radio-friendly heavy metal. Their music fell out of fashion with the advent of grunge, and Winger himself was mocked by the metal community after posing for Playgirl. The band broke up in the early nineties, but Winger has since launched a comeback of sorts."

- From a recent New Yorker listing of Winger's appearance at the B.B. King Blues Club & Grill on West 42nd Street.

A) Who knew?
B) The best - and worst - PR that Winger ever got.

3. The New York Times has started a songwriting blog (Paging No Depression!) and one of its authors is "Chicago-based singer, songwriter, violinist, guitarist and whistler" Andrew Bird.

4. It's unfortunate that Amy Winehouse is such a tabloid mess because, as Sasha Frere-Jones explains, she's a helluva talent.

5. This week on Sound Opinions: "Jim and Greg welcome the always outspoken and political singer-songwriter Steve Earle. He's joined by wife Allison Moorer for a conversation and live performance. Then the critics will review the second effort by 'Crazy' duo Gnarls Barkley and the Jack White side project, The Raconteurs."

6. You can also Rock for the Animals this weekend.

7. I can't tell whether this statement by Michael Stipe to Pitchfork is typical REM smugness or reversely arrogant self-deprecation designed to ingratiate itself with its imagined slacker indie fans, but at face value it is wholly true: "In the past 10 years, we had figured out how to completely lose focus in the studio - with no one to blame but ourselves."

Does that mean he was lying whenever he said they were really excited about their new material? Probably. Are they lying about their new material now? Likely. Life's Rich Pageant was the last REM record of real value, though Automatic for the People was a good representation of paths not taken, with the unforgivable exception of "Everybody Hurts." That song sends them straight to Rock and Roll Hell. And not the good Rock and Roll Hell - the one we like. The other one that really, unironically, sucks.

8. On the other hand, Stipe is dead-on as a media critic. "Everyone comes into an interview situation with their own story and their own idea and then they cherry-pick the comments that help create their argument."

*

Comments welcome. As always, you must include a real, full name to be considered for publication.



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Posted on March 27, 2008


MUSIC - At Home Chicago Blues.
TV - Chicago Smash Sets Ratings Record.
POLITICS - The Remote Learning Divide.
SPORTS - A Fall Without College Sports.

BOOKS - How The South Won The Civil War.

PEOPLE PLACES & THINGS - Speak At Your Own Funeral.


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