A little over three years ago, my e-friend Josh Jackson sent me an e-mail message, which is how e-friends communicate. He wrote, "Hey, we want to start a magazine, and we want you to write for us."
Sure thing, I thought. It was flattering, but I didn't think much more about it. I knew Josh and his good friend Nick Purdy from an Internet discussion list, a couple of guys who discussed music as a springboard that often led to more intense, personal discussions about their families, their careers, their faith, their struggles -- in short, their lives. I liked Josh and Nick, knew they were big music fans, and figured that I would write an article or two for their photocopied fanzine that they would share with a few family members and friends. Josh had to nag me a bit to get that first article written because I procrastinated, but I finally turned something in to him, an article on Bill Mallonee's first solo album. And that was that.
A few months later the first issue of Paste Magazine showed up in my mailbox. With something of a shock I realized that this was the "photocopied fanzine" I had envisioned. Only it wasn't. It was a slick, professional-looking magazine, printed on nice paper, with color photos and an eye-catching layout, and a bunch of genuinely well-written articles on music, film, books, and popular culture. Inside was a CD that contained twenty-one songs from musicians/bands I knew and loved, and from musicians/bands I'd never heard of, and who turned out to be pretty good.
I'm still not sure that I've totally recovered from that initial shock. Maybe Josh and Nick haven't either. I know they worked 100-hour weeks before the deadline for that first issue, sleeping on couches in the office, because they had a vision for something a lot better than a photocopied fanzine, and a vision for engaging the culture as Christians. They didn't put out a "Christian" magazine. That was never their intention. But they put out a magazine that was true to its tagline: "Signs of Life in Music, Film, and Culture." By focusing on what was excellent, creative, thought-provoking, beautiful, challenging -- wherever it might be found -- they tried to raise the level of general cultural discourse.
There's some evidence that they're succeeding. These days, a little over three years after the launch of the magazine, they're printing over 225,000 copies per issue. Paste is in almost every Borders and Barnes and Noble Bookstore in the U.S., on airport newstands, in music stores. Josh and Nick are on CNN every week, hosting their own Paste Picks show, talking about the new music that most excites them. The New York Post and The Chicago Tribune have written flattering stories, and the Tribune named Paste as one of the world's 50 best magazines (#21, seven spots ahead of British music magazine Mojo, the magazine Paste has most tried to emulate). And last Sunday (8/14) the Atlanta Journal Constitution featured Paste and my friends as the cover story in its Arts section.
I'd be lying if I said I didn't have a personal stake in this. Since that first issue I've written more than 100 articles for Paste, They've attracted some big-name writers in the meantime -- the former editor of Rolling Stone Magazine, feature writers from Musician, Spin, The Village Voice, music critics from many of the major U.S. metropolitan newspapers. For whatever reasons, they keep asking me to write. I'd be a fool to say No. This is a gift of God, and I recognize it as such -- a big, fat present gift-wrapped with my name on it. It's provided an outlet to do what I love, to see my words in print on a glossy page, to meet and interview some musicians who have inspired me for years, and to be flooded with more free music than I have time to listen to. And it's opened other doors as well, like the opportunity to foist myself off as some sort of expert on musical criticism at college conferences. I am so grateful.But I'm also just a fan. As a music fan who long ago felt abandoned by mainstream publications like Rolling Stone, with their focus on politics and Britney Spears' latest navel piercing, I longed to find a music publication that treated me intelligently, that assumed there was life and substance out there beyond the Top 40 and Total Requests Live on MTV. To that end, Paste fulfills two vital roles. It re-assures me that I am not alone in loving longtime favorites like Lucinda Williams, Bruce Cockburn, Buddy and Julie Miller, Over the Rhine, and Patty Griffin. And it exposes me to new music and new artists I otherwise might miss.
I am almost fifty years old. And I regularly encounter people my age, of my generation, who are stuck in their Woodstock timewarps, who lament the sorry state of popular music, and who long for the good ol' days of Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd. But for some reason I started paying attention to and buying new music when I was nine years old, and I've never figured out that I'm supposed to stop. Music is a source of life for me. It always has been. It thrills my soul. Paste is for people like me, and who look forward to discovering new (and healthy!) thrills on a regular basis. I am so proud of my friends. I am so thankful to be a part of their endeavor. Please do me the favor of reading the article above, and getting to know them a little better.