I normally reserve these celebrations for later in the year. November 2018 is, after all, when I decided to relaunch this outlet and formed it into what you’re reading today … but the truth is, I have greater reason to celebrate this month. Six years ago today I published my first ever post – a review of Jon Pardi’s The B-Sides EP for This Is Country Music.
Well, OK, that’s not completely accurate. I actually started writing at a messaging board called Pulse Music Board, where I had my own review thread to discuss various topics within country music. It wasn’t mine, but it was something fun for whenever I got bored. My first review there, though, was for Love & Theft’s Whiskey on My Breath album, and truthfully, that’s not nearly as cool as Pardi’s release. So I consider that to be my first real “professional” post.
Well … scratch that; that’d be giving me way too much credit. Truthfully, I didn’t update that thread often, and while it had started in January of 2015, by April it had pretty much gone abandoned. I knew I wasn’t a writer, and I knew it was a lot of work for basically nothing. Only, it wasn’t nothing. My good buddy Markus Meyer reached out to me to see if I wanted to write for his outlet, the aforementioned This is Country Music. I was both elated and flabbergasted, but I was more of the former that night when, while tinkering with my first post for the website, I accidentally published it without Markus’ consent and didn’t know how to undo it. Fun times, but I’m not sure why he kept me around for the year or how he put up with me. On the bright side, Pardi shared that review on Twitter, so I hit the ground running in the best possible way and never really stopped. Maybe I was a writer. Still, if that opportunity hadn’t come along, I likely would have given up on it altogether. Now I write pretty much every day.
Then again, I still may not be an actual writer. Anything I’ve learned about the profession has come from some pretty rough trial and error (cannot emphasize that enough), and while I’ve apologized for how poorly written my past work is in other posts featured here, I’m at the point where I can laugh it off as a fun and needed learning experience and not get so caught up in it anymore. I’m not trying to impress anyone, and I know I write the same way I talk, but I’d like to think the writer I am now is a better kind of different than the one I was six years ago. As for how we got to The Musical Divide, let’s just say, “a little of this and a little of that” and bippity-boppity-boop and say that all roads led here.
What I can’t laugh off is the attitude I used to carry toward music as a writer. I don’t know if it’s just being young or what, but I feel like most writers when they start – for professional or casual reasons – feel like they need to be headstrong, cocky, and reckless in forming their own voice. I was definitely that way, and I kind of wince at that still. I don’t know, it’s like you go through this phase where you feel like you have to like this or bash that, and you have to act contrarian to everyone else just to be cool. You need to “say something” or “speak the truth.” There’s always this weird pressure to talk about this act or that act and constantly search for the next big thing. I just don’t have that same fire I did to constantly keep up with it all. I’d rather just do my own thing and write about what I want to write about and let inspiration carry me. Anything I write is purely reflective of my own personal tastes and nothing more. Music isn’t good or bad, it just is. Like Brandy Clark says, “your life is a record.”
I think other writers will understand that more than anyone else, so I’ll jump off of the soapbox now. Six years later, I think writing about music should be anything but stressful. There’s no reason to get mad at or defensive about music – save that energy for something that matters. I’m relaying that to me as much as I am to you. There are still some things I miss, though. The writer I was in 2015 was naive and excited to dive into the various new artists I hadn’t heard of before, mostly thanks to the boom period in the independent scene that occurred around that time. I was a snobbish dude who ranted about wanting “real country music” back on my radio dial. You know, it happens. I can laugh at that now. I hate acting like I have to be some experienced authority now, even if discussions relating to both artists and music in general and perspective is what I love to relay through my posts – not recommendations. I’m not a music journalist, but it’s been a wildly fun ride over the years. I just miss the slower pace of yesterday, that’s all.
I miss that first time feeling that comes from exploring an artist’s discography. It still happens, it’s just that I forget to appreciate something in my race to stay up to date on everything, and that’s something I want to change but don’t really know how to, which always leaves me questioning how much longer I’ll keep this gig up. I don’t know how people constantly find new music like that. I think we need to slow it down and take it all in a little better these days. I believe streaming has offered ample opportunities for discovery that can’t be beat, but it’s also destroyed us as actual listeners, if that makes sense.
With that said, and as I step off of this soapbox yet again after jumping back on it, I love that a plethora of outlets and other mediums has formed over the years for normal, everyday people to express themselves, and hopefully that continues to grow. I know writing and blogging isn’t the “cool” thing to do in 2021, but as a fan of the written word, this is the medium I’ll always personally prefer. I’m a reader, and there’s a personal liberation that comes from writing that just can’t be beat. I thank anyone who still cares about my ramblings after all this time.
But, hey, you know, “me, me, me.” Let’s talk about you for a second, because I know what keeps me going everyday is the passion expressed by the country music community in general. Whether it’s on Twitter – crappy as that place is – a comment section, or wherever else, there’s always a way to find people sharing and discussing their favorite country music, and that’s awesome. Of course, we can also occasionally default to less-than-ideal arguments on other topics within country music, but for the most part I think we’re more alike than we aren’t. Like Brennen Leigh and Sunny Sweeney once said, “you like country music, don’t you?”
Beyond that, I’ve had a lot to celebrate this year. Not only have some of my favorite artists released new music this month, but three days ago marked my one year anniversary with Country Universe, which doesn’t seem real. As I already mentioned, I’m a sub-par writer who has so just happened to get lucky with my opportunities over the years, and to actually have something to show for that at an outlet like that means a lot to me. I’m happy to work with a great group of individuals over there. I’ll also turn 24 years old soon, meaning this six-year anniversary marks a quarter of my life dedicated to writing, with half of them dedicated to this specific outlet. Heartaches by the numbers, if you will.
Speaking of which, both the Boom-or-Bust Jukebox and Sunday Morning Paper features have been huge successes this year, and I thank anyone who likes or looks forward to them each week. To be honest, running two weekly features gets a little hectic sometimes, and I might have to toy around with them in the near future to make things easier, but they’ve brought a needed structure to this outlet, and for the first time ever, I feel like I have my head on straight trying to run this thing.
We had to go big for six years, though, which is why I’m glad this coincided nicely with my book project – A Modern Country Music History. I hope you all enjoyed the first two parts, because there’s more to come!
– Zackary Kephart