Rest in peace, Chris Neal


Chris Neal, patron saint of country blogging?

Probably not a title he would have taken seriously, but one that nevertheless gets at the great influence he had upon those of us who met him within the online sphere.

With his discerning intellect and keen wit, Mr. Neal immediately infused every community he entered with a spirit of fun and an air of legitimacy. He was an early and frequent commenter on a whole range of country sites, from The 9513 to Country Universe to Farce the Music and beyond. Speaking from personal experience, it was enormously encouraging in those early days of blogging to find a guy like Chris on your side. His presence made putting your voice out into the universe seem a lot less futile.

I had only a handful of email conversations with Chris, but every one of them involved him trying to do something nice for me.

In his first message, he let me know that he had written up my young site in the pages of Country Weekly. It didn’t matter that I was a lowly blogger who had been publishing (pseudonymously, on Blogspot) for just a few months; he liked what I was up to and wanted to put the word out. A few days later, he wrote again to ask for a mailing address so that he could send me several copies of the issue.

I wasn’t the only recipient of Chris’ red carpet treatment. Like a man on a mission, he worked his way down the list, using his considerable platform as Music Editor of Country Weekly to give most of the other significant country blogs of the day their first national print media exposure. Chris seemed determined to open the eyes of the magazine’s readership to the wider world of music coverage happening online.

In another message, Chris suggested that several of us bloggers should see about getting involved with the Nashville Scene‘s Country Music Critics Poll – at that time, pretty much exclusively the domain of professional music journalists. Chris thought our opinions mattered just as much as those of the traditional journos. The representation of bloggers in the Scene poll has grown steadily over the past three years, and Chris had everything to do with bringing our two worlds of music criticism together.

Chris offered a glimpse of the logic behind his championing of small-time, independent voices in a July 2008 comment on Alison Bonaguro’s ill-conceived defense of professional critics at the old CMT Blog:

As a professional music journalist I can assure you that some of my favorite critics these days are bloggers (and it’s been that way for years). I use their criticism the same way I hope that people use mine — to help sort through the overwhelming amount of music out there and figure out what I might like.

The difference between someone who’s being paid to do a job and someone who’s doing the same job because he or she loves music so much he or she will write about it for free (or practically free) is also a vast one.

Months later, he had the audacity to thank me for a favorable mention of one of his country haiku. No thanks were necessary, but the gesture – from someone to whom I was already so clearly indebted – impressed me. If Chris had any ego at all, he kept it well-hidden.

When it became clear that he wouldn’t continue to publish country haiku at his site of that name, he graciously agreed to let me revive the series here. At the time, I promised him that my haiku would never be as good as his – a promise I’ve kept, though not for lack of trying. His was never an easy wit to match.

To those privileged enough to have known him in real life, Chris Neal was certainly much more than the limited firsthand account of an online friend can convey. But for those who believe that large personality traits are revealed in small things – like how we treat those who can’t do much for us – his participation in and championing of the world of independent online music criticism speaks volumes.

Thank you, Chris. Your encouragement and positive example meant more than you knew.


  1. says

    While it’s long been obvious that Alison Bonaguro and I are not cut from the same cloth, to say the least, her “Why Music Critics Matter” article just blew my mind. To me, lumping the work of unpaid blog writers into the same category as the ten-cent iTunes and Amazon customer reviews is absolutely ridiculous. How Bonaguro perceived such customer reviews as a threat to professional music critics is also beyond me. Likewise, her characterization of the amateur critic as simply having “too much time on his hands” was glaringly ill-informed, as highlighted by Leeann’s comment.

    It certainly was gracious of Chris to speak up in behalf of bloggers, and to do so as eloquently as he did. It’s also encouraging to see bloggers gaining an increasing representation in the annual Nashville Scene Critic’s Poll, which is something we definitely owe to Chris.

  2. says

    Fabulous tribute. I had no idea Chris was behind getting bloggers included in the Nashville Scene Critics poll, but I’m not surprised at all, since that’s the way he was. I, of course, continue to be sad about this loss.

  3. says

    CN and I were roommates in college for several semesters and we were great friends for over 20 years. His influence on me in music, politics, culture, intellect, and humor is unmeasurable. He was my brother from another mother and I miss him deeply. I can’t listen to the radio or read the news without being reminded, in some way, of him.

  4. Brenda Cain says

    I am his mother and I am so lost without him.But I am so.proud and glad. To read every comment. thank you.

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