Jan 19, 2010


Location Canada. Toronto to be exact. Staying with one of my very best friends. Next week I'll be in Western New York staying with other equally good friends.

Most of my dearests aren't my nearests. And that is down to something called Postcard. Or to use its formal name Postcard From Hell. People who use Postcard are called Postcarders and as I'm going to staying with a few more Postcarders in the next couple of months I thought I'd better explain a little about them.

Postcard is a mailing list for fans of the now defunct Alt-Country band Uncle Tupelo. Now there's a sentence that requires some explanation.

1) Alt-Country is, or was, a genre of music that never really made much impact in the UK. Music nerds will argue (try and stop them) about what Alt-Country is. Does it differ from Country Rock or Americana (the label most often used nowadays to describe Country-tinged music of limited appeal) or even the dumbly named Cow-Punk? You probably don't care but questions like that can drive certain 40 somethings I know to bicker like the Peoples' Front of Judea.

2) The place where many of these socially awkward 40 somethings get to bicker is, of course, the internet. Now back in the day before bands had their own websites with forums where the future stalkers of America could argue with each other, fans were self reliant and created mailing lists. Basically, you subscribe to a mailing list and then any email sent to the list appears in your inbox. Lots of bands or artists have had mailing lists dedicated to them, but today most of these lists are dead or dying. Doubters is the name of the list for a guy called Richard Buckner and I get maybe 30 emails a year from that list. The Tom Waits list which is called Raindogs is a little busier, with maybe 5 or 6 messages a day. But Postcard is something else. I get about 200 emails a day from Postcard... a list that was set up for fans of a band that split up 16 years ago.

Postcard is unusual. We don't talk about the band it's dedicated to that much. Some people on there don't even like the band. And yet every day, about 100 people engage in chat and debate and banter. It probably won't surprise you when I say it's mostly men. It's probably even less surprising when I say it can be pretty juvenile and debates often descend into flame wars, or as we call them on Postcard... Douche-Offs (as in who can behave like the biggest douche-bag). Sometimes people even get so het up that they make threats of physical violence. But don't worry, it never comes to that, mostly the threats come from people who look like star wars kid.

3) In the mid 90s someone I used to know bought a CD at a car boot sale and left it at my house. (For the benefit of American readers, a car boot is a trunk, and a car boot sale is when 100s of people, fill their trunks with junk, and drive to a field and hold a giant yard sale.)

The CD was by a band I'd never heard of called Uncle Tupelo. (And note the presence of an American city in that name.) But when I put the CD in the player and pressed play I liked what I heard. Then after 29 second I loved what I heard.

Country music was still something very few people in the UK would admit to liking. In fact very few people did like it. But I was one and I took comfort in the fact that my two favourite radio DJs, John Peel and Andy Kershaw, also knew that there was such a thing as good country music. I remember Kershaw once said, before playing something by Willie Nelson or George Jones, "Never trust a man who doesn't like Country music". (This was of course before Kershaw lost it and became untrustworthy himself.) But fewer people listened to Peel than they claimed, and fewer still listened to Kershaw. And this was before Johnny Cash released his American recordings and made it hip to like (some) Country so there really was little hope of sharing a love of Patsy Cline or Emmy Lou Harris with my contemporaries. But Uncle Tupelo sounded like they were doing for Country what the Pogues had done for Irish music. They sounded to me like Nirvana covering The Allman Brothers. They sounded totally new, but also, I suspected, like something I wasn't going to find in record shops in Manchester. I had to turn to the internet for information.

I was gutted when I found out that Uncle Tupelo had already split up. But at least I found out they had other records and they played a style of music called Alt-Country. And so did lots of other bands like Whiskeytown and The Scud Mountain Boys and Marah. I was excited about a whole new field of music which had passed me and most of Britian by, but now lay in front of me waiting to be consumed. I was a hungry kid in a sweet shop. And thanks to this mailing list called Postcard I was able to find other kids who had already stuffed themselves with this stuff and were only too happy to tell me more about it.

I know I wouldn't be here in this kitchen in Toronto, Ontario today if it weren't for Uncle Tupelo and Postcard. Especially Postcard. Because it has always been about so much more than Uncle Tupelo or the genre of Alt-Country. Through Postcard I learned about bands like Guided By Voices and The Minutemen - truly great indie pioneers of music. Because of Postcard I attended SXSW when that festival was not really on the radar of the British music media. Because of Postcard I read the book Our Band Could Be Your Life and learned that contrary to what I'd been taught, America was way more punk rock than the UK. Because of Postcard I made friends with people who live thousands of miles away from me. Because of Postcard I'm here and so are you.

1 comment:

  1. Great post Ged. I don't think Chicago is in the cards for this trip, but if plans change, let me know!