Carrie Lindsey: In Memoriam

That’s how it was in those early days…an innocent dream of doing our own magazine, driven by all the passion we’d acquired over the years.

 

There is nothing easy or pleasant about the task of writing a tribute to my old friend and colleague, Carrie Lindsey. As most of our readers probably know by now, Carrie, her husband Mike Shelton, and daughter Emily were killed in a tragic car crash returning from Chicago on I-55 on the afternoon of August 22. In a bizarrely ironic twist, I was coming home from Chicago myself (they were at a Beatle Fest event, I was visiting a friend) that afternoon. I saw the traffic backup and knew that something bad must have happened. I took the first exit and went out of my way to get home, wondering what in the world had caused such a snarl on the highway. The next morning, Rob Levy delivered the bad news to me. Carrie Lindsey, one of the most influential people in my life, had died in that crash. I was in utter disbelief and still am. Emotions and memories have been flooding through me since I heard the news. And it’s just not easy to face this, or to say all the things I want to say. But I’ll try.

In metaphorical terms, Carrie Lindsey took a crude dirt trail and turned it into a paved highway. She was creative, motivated, and energetic, and she made things happen. She was a doer. She sowed seeds, and allowed things to grow that didn’t exist before. Publications. Writers needing a forum. Connections between people in the artistic community, people who would go on to forge friendships and collaborate on projects. The ripples from Carrie’s efforts extend far and wide. Playback St. Louis wouldn’t exist without her. Many bands would have smaller press kits or might have broken up sooner without her. I myself might have been just another frustrated former RFT staffer without her, and it’s arguable that I might not have even remained in St. Louis. As one local musician told me, it’s impossible to even state all the things that would be different now, all the lives that would have gone in different directions, had it not been for Carrie (and certainly Mike, as well). Such was the vast network of connections these two lifelong cultural insiders set up.

Carrie and I were born just days apart in October. I first met her over 20 years ago, when we both appeared at an informal planning meeting for a new publication called Reverb. Her enthusiasm for local coverage of art and music was obvious even then, and it was also contagious. We both were really into new wave music, and we occasionally turned up at the same clubs, recognizing each other enough to stop and chat. When Carrie launched the first version of NoisyPaper in 1982, I was intrigued and excited. I asked her if she’d be interested in a piece about Brian Eno, one of my musical heroes, who was pioneering a brand new genre of music called ambient (and was still considered a punk and new wave icon). I handed Carrie a piece of original artwork that a friend had drawn, and an article that took me many hours to write. She made the final layout look great, and it was one of the first feature articles I had published outside college. I proudly included it in my small but growing portfolio. There weren’t many issues of that early incarnation of NP, but each one was striking.

We lost touch in the late ’80s and early ’90s, but fate brought us together again when I was hired by The Riverfront Times in 1996. I didn’t know anyone else there, and so to see Carrie, a familiar face from the past, was immensely reassuring. We began a working relationship that would have a huge impact on my life. Carrie and I had tiny cubicles next to each other for several years. She was a graphic artist, and it was my job to proofread each and every one of the ads or other projects she designed. I would tease her about some of the funny mistakes she and the other artists made. Carrie would tease back, telling me I was too much of a detail person and that I shouldn’t worry about a little mistake here and there. Sometimes, when the mistakes inadvertently spelled out an obscenity, we would have a good laugh over it. The little “Proofreading Hall of Fame” I began as a joke to honor the most distinguished errors included several memorable pieces from Carrie.

The creative dynamic between us was soon to grow in significance. During our slower times at the RFT, Carrie and I would talk about music, photography, and independent publishing. We had both been involved on different levels with local magazines, and Carrie was itching to have a magazine of her own again. She had already been at the helm of a newsletter for The Pretenders, one of her favorite groups, and of course she’d enjoyed the experimental version of NoisyPaper she’d published before. But she had far more experience now, and was thinking of launching a new version of the magazine, one that would cover more of the music that the RFT was ignoring, and that would also pay attention to the art and photography that was close to her heart. She wanted something that would be visually striking, too. In the summer of 1999, we talked about the publication a great deal, and Carrie felt that fall would be a good time to launch it. Students would be in school, bands would be booking gigs, people would want something fresh to read as they sat in student lounges and outdoor cafes. Although there had been other notable alternative publications in the past, such as Jet Lag, Night Times, and Spotlight, none of those papers were still around. An opportunity was there to be seized. Carrie’s enthusiasm was boundless, and she was confident that the first issue or two could be paid for if we just lined up a few ads. She officially asked me if I wanted to be Managing Editor and really jump into this with her. Sharing her vision of an exciting alternative publication, I didn’t even have to think before saying yes. So we held meetings, recruited a few writers, and made lots of big plans. And in September 1999, the first issue of the brand-new NoisyPaper came out.

Those first few months were heady times for me, a period I’ll always remember fondly. It was mostly just Carrie and me, sitting at her house on Forest Avenue brainstorming, getting excited, making lists, laughing, and thinking up prospective advertisers. We were driven, and we had faith that we were onto something. Carrie was ready to put all her past design experience into our baby. She mentioned that her brother Bob was also on a newspaper and kept saying “publishing is in my blood.” The first issue of NP contained stories on the art of Kit Keith, the phenomenon of The Blair Witch Project, and a column by well-known local scribe Thomas Crone. Carrie put up some of the money to print the paper, and we managed to get a few ads. We were up and running.

There were many highlights of those early days, such as a wonderful get-together at a South County diner with a member of a well-known band who treated Carrie like a den mother—he was so grateful there was a new magazine in St. Louis showing a real interest in local music. In a corner of the diner, he played a couple of acoustic songs, live, just for the two of us, since we were thinking of putting him on the cover. Then there was the first meeting Carrie organized to interest other people in contributing to the magazine. A handful of prospective writers came, as well as a number of musicians from hip new bands such as Julia Sets and Children’s Audio, eager for the opportunity to at last have someone pay attention to their music. Ideas were thrown out, lists were made, and there were good vibes all around. NoisyPaper had great promise, and we were all happy to be part of it.

Carrie and I were interviewed on KDHX about the project. And we invited bands to start submitting CDs for review, quickly realizing the remarkable amount of local talent out there that was not being covered. Each time we picked up the bundles of papers from the printer, it was an exciting event. Carrie would look over the cover and the graphics, hoping that the photos were sharp and clear and that the layouts looked good. That was important to me, also, but my job was more to make sure errors were minimal, and that we had a variety of decent stories and reviews. We both wanted things to keep improving as we went along. That’s how it was in those early days…an innocent dream of doing our own magazine, driven by all the passion we’d acquired over the years.

As the paper began to grow, so did the workload. Getting more ads was a necessity, as the printing bill had to be paid every month. We recruited people to help with the distribution, and new writers would sporadically appear to make contributions. Bryan Hollerbach, Playback’s esteemed Contributing Editor, showed up at a meeting in December 1999 with a great interest in what we were doing, and a wealth of knowledge to share. I felt right away he was the type of person who could add an extra degree of professionalism and credibility to NoisyPaper, and so, with Carrie’s blessing, he joined the staff. So did Leo Weisman, an outstanding photographer, and curmudgeonly writer/force-of-nature Rob Levy. The publication was growing, along with our hopes.

By the end of its first year, NoisyPaper had become a demanding operation. We were trying to add more pages, and branch out into areas we hadn’t covered before, but the bills kept coming in, and the struggle to land advertisers was continuous. Carrie talked about taking out a loan. We even jokingly discussed having a NoisyPaper bake sale. That didn’t happen, but we did manage to organize a benefit concert at Mississippi Nights, at which many of the outstanding local performers who supported the magazine, such as Brandy Johnson, Julia Sets, and The Blastoids, donated their talent to help us out. It probably took care of at least one month’s printing bill.

Publishing an alternative paper in a largely conservative city like St. Louis was no easy task, though. The second year was plagued by growing difficulties, and both Carrie and I began to feel the strain of the operation. Bryan and I would attend late-night proofreading sessions at Carrie’s house each month. Daughter Emily would interrupt Carrie regularly, often offering unsolicited suggestions of her own for what should be in the magazine. Her rambunctious rabbit could constantly be heard scurrying across their wooden floor, causing Bryan and I to look at each other and laugh at the sheer surrealism of it all. Bryan nicknamed the bunny “Bun-zilla.” Everyone got tired and kranky at times. And the paper developed a habit of coming out late or erratically, something that didn’t help our cause.

There was also plenty of heated discussion on Noisemakers, the Internet discussion group Carrie had started as a complement to the publication. We had to develop thicker and thicker skins to deal with commentary from various scenesters about what the paper should or shouldn’t be doing. As with any endeavor, everyone has an opinion about your work, some more constructive than others. But we persevered, and kept covering the music, film, and events that we deemed worthy. The Yahoo! group began to attract an amazing number of movers and shakers in the music community: musicians, record store employees, writers, club owners, and fans all came aboard to discuss the ups and downs of the St. Louis cultural scene. So did the occasional troll—the Internet term for someone who enjoys stirring up trouble on listservs. Noisemakers eventually bogged down in scurrilous debates and pointless one-upmanship, a state of affairs Carrie probably couldn’t have predicted and which didn’t sit well with her. So eventually there was a parting of the ways, with Carrie’s group remaining primarily an informational one for bands and event planners, and a splinter group called Nonoise taking with it the folks who enjoyed rancorous debates and as little moderation as possible. 

Meanwhile, the monetary situation worsened for NoisyPaper, and Carrie and I found ourselves butting heads over some things. Two years after the paper had started, the owner and publisher of NP decided she just couldn’t do it anymore, and despite offers from elsewhere to continue the name, she wanted to stop. In the stressful period that followed, hurtful things were said by a number of people. There came a point where Carrie and I had a clear choice: were we going to stubbornly stick to our own points of view, and risk losing our long-time friendship? Or could we, somehow, find our way out of the quagmire and remember where we had come from, and all we’d been through? 

In one of those powerful exchanges that I’ll never forget, Carrie and I elected to do the latter. I apologized for something I said, and told her how grateful I was to her for creating the publication, giving me the opportunity to do it with her, and putting so much effort into an essentially thankless operation. Carrie apologized for some things, too, and we let out all that tension and all the emotions that circumstances had caused us to suppress. It was like a huge sigh of relief. Friendship was more important than being right or wrong. And friendship was certainly more important than the ego strokes or lack thereof from outsiders constantly critiquing your efforts. Carrie and I had spent an enormous amount of time together; she even joked, regularly, that we were like a married couple in many ways. She and Mike had been separated for a while, and during that time I was most likely the male who logged the most hours at her house. I got to know Emily, I got to know the condition of Carrie’s refrigerator quite well, and I saw for myself the strain that trying to be a publisher, a full-time employee, and the mother of a feisty little girl took on Carrie. It wasn’t hard to be empathetic towards her plight, and to eventually understand why NoisyPaper was just too much for her.

The paper published its final issue in August 2001, but Carrie and I kept in touch through e-mail and occasional phone calls. We met for lunch downtown when she was working at the May Company and I was temporarily working at an office a few blocks away. We just chatted about our lives, and barely talked about the wacky world of alternative publications or the volatile Yahoo! group. By this time, Mike Shelton, one of the most distinguished musical hobnobbers St. Louis has ever known, had moved back with Carrie, and it was clear she was happy about it. It made things easier with Emily, and Carrie was glad to have her family together again. And though she still took an interest in the music scene, her attention was elsewhere. She just wanted a calmer life. After working a full shift at a downtown firm, who would want to come home and have to deal with deadlines for a publication? For Carrie, time had simply become too precious. 

In one of my last conversations with her, she said “I am so glad not to be doing that stuff anymore. It’s just too exhausting.” I would occasionally e-mail her little updates, or ask her for advice. I saved a few of her e-mails to me, which are unbearably poignant to me now. In one, Carrie wrote, “I’m still knee-deep in the middle of home repair and haven’t had the chance to respond to your last letter. But please hang in there. There are lots of things you can do for yourself by finding peace within yourself. That’s the most important thing. Find peace in yourself. Not always an easy task, but worth the work.”

In my final bits of communication with Carrie, she had taken her own advice and found some peace. Her job was getting better, and most importantly, her family situation was stable. She had more time with Emily, who was entering her teen years, and more time to see friends. I was happy for her. Meanwhile, part of her legacy continued when the ambitious team of Laura Hamlett and Jim Dunn launched Playback St. Louis in early 2002. Carrie had established the framework for such publishing ventures, showing what was possible—and what obstacles needed to be overcome. A book could be written about the lessons she taught many of us. Her legacy is a considerable one. Because of Carrie, scores of people in the artistic community here got to know each other and become friends. Because of Carrie, numerous writers gained professional-looking pieces to add to their portfolios. Because of Carrie, unsung artists throughout the St. Louis music scene and in some cases beyond, gained exposure and acquired clippings to add to their press kits. 

And because of Carrie, among so many important things that were to change in my life, I personally learned lessons about collaboration and compromise that continue to this day. I learned that communication is a crucial thing, something to be respected, maintained, and nurtured. And I learned that no ego-related issue, no creative difference, is worth sacrificing a friendship for. Publications come and go, deadlines pass. But our friends and our loved ones are what endure and make the boldest headlines in our lives. They’re the ones who make up our personal community. 

The concept of community is perhaps Carrie Lindsey’s greatest and most enduring legacy. Carrie was a sociable person. And she envisioned a community that could become a dynamic part of the culture. She envisioned a community of writers, musicians, photographers, artists, club owners, and advertisers who would collaborate on revitalizing and promoting the local scene, hopefully to inspire curiosity and excitement where all too often, there was merely apathy. And she was an inclusive person. The welcome mat was always out at Carrie’s house in Webster, whether for a casual visit or a high-falutin organizational meeting to plan an event or brainstorm for a new issue. Carrie wanted to hear your ideas. She was never indifferent. Things mattered to her very much. And even if she was short on time, she was seldom short on patience. I admired that about her very much.

In the end, Carrie’s need for community became singularly focused on the community closest to her—her family. Mike was her partner again, Emily was a teenager developing her own talents, many of which were strongly influenced by her mother, and Carrie found a level of stability she hadn’t experienced for years. Her interest in art and music endured, but her priorities had shifted, and that was okay. As she told me, finding peace within yourself was the most important thing. And it appeared Carrie had found that very peace. I dearly wish I could call Carrie up and talk to her again. I wish I could laugh with her about some of the trivialities we used to get worked up about, ask her what music she’s listening to now, and find out about Emily’s latest projects. I wish I could just hear the warmth in her voice again, and say thank you, one more time, for all the things she brought about in my life. But the random tragedy on I-55 has now made that impossible. Carrie, old friend, I will never forget you. May you, Mike and Emily rest in peace. And we’ll make sure the beat goes on, okay? Farewell.

If anyone wishes to share their thoughts/remembrances of Carrie, Mike, or Emily, please feel free to e-mail them directly to the author at commander451@yahoo.com. If you would like your words or photos to be a part of Playback’s online tribute, e-mail them to jim@playbackstl.com.

About Laura Hamlett 467 Articles
Laura Hamlett is the Managing Editor of PLAYBACK:stl. In a past life, she was also a music publicist and band manager. Besides music, books, and other forms of popular culture, she's a fan of the psychology behind true crime and violent criminals. Ask her about mass murder...if you dare.

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