This essay originally appeared in Issue #1 of Paste Magazine in the summer of 2002, republished in celebration of Paste’s 20th Anniversary.
I have my older sister to thank for my inability to listen to the radio for any length of time. In 1987 I found a mixed tape on her dresser with bands like the Plimsouls, RE.M., the Smiths and Guadalcanal Diary. That was the beginning of my awareness that music didn’t begin and end with the program director at the local rock station.
The last 15 years have been marked by a series of similar musical discoveries that have stopped me in my tracks, often saying exactly what I didn’t know I was feeling or giving me a completely unexpected perspective on some aspect of life … Bruce Cockburn, The Cowboy Junkies, Lucinda Williams, Gillian Welch, and many of the artists within these pages—Bill Mallonee, Pedro the Lion, T Bone Burnett and lovable Victoria Williams.
Each offers up their own interpretation of this twisted, brutal, wondrous thing we call the human existence. That’s what great art should do, whether a painting, a play or three-minute pop song. Life may have its trivial moments, but when all we put in our heads is the adolescent sexual innuendo, trite puns, sappy and shallow love songs, sappy and shallow religious songs, monotonous angst and violent posturing that dominate the modern FM dial, the perspectives we gain are about as healthy as a Big Mac.
So we humbly offer this magazine, searching for signs of life in what looks at first glance to be a musical wasteland. But underneath the surface, the soil is alive with creativity, honest emotion, and original thought. The artists we cover have something to say and a gift to say it well. We value songcraft over style and depth over trendiness, and while we see the adult alternative and Americana formats as the most fertile ground, there are amazing artists in the worlds of indie rock, alt-country and electronica, and those that defy easy classification.
That’s why we’re as excited about the chance to talk to Dave Bazan, Brian Wilson and Speech as we are Chuck Prophet, David Wilcox and Patty Griffin. Music has the power to transform us and to transform our culture. We’d rather not let market research, corporate executives and company payola decide what makes a great song. If the current batch of radio hits is the best they can do, either they’re not paying attention or most people don’t care about substance. The eternal optimist, I simply can’t accept the latter explanation. And the success of the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack despite an absolute lack of radio support has me convinced that millions of people crave the authenticity lacking in mass-marketed music.
Our goal is to present these artists in a way that their art merits, and we’ve searched for writers who offer their own perspectives as they encounter both music and musician. We will delve into other areas of the culture, featuring playwrights, visual artists, filmmakers, authors and others whose art awakens something deeper within us. This is just the beginning of Paste Magazine, and we’re glad you’re here for it.
Read, listen and send us your feedback. There is life out there. And we hope to help you find it.
Read the Issue #1 cover story on Victoria Williams & Mark Olson. And listen to Paste Sampler #1 on Spotify.