Tuesday felt like a bad dream. I woke up earlier than usual, glancing at my phone to check my notifications. I logged onto Twitter, and found myself tagged in a thread that suggested one of my friends, and a wonderful human being, had mysteriously passed away.
I cannot describe the feeling that infiltrated me when I read that tweet. It crept in like a solution trickles into a glass of water, filling the crevices with long spindly strands, quicker than I could cope with. I think shock was the most prominent emotion, followed by doubt and fear. While Dev and I were hardly best friends, she had been a part of my daily life for a few years, and we had had many lovely conversations – including an hour-long phone chat in 2014, conducted for a documentary I was making. Dev’s contributions towards it had a significant impact on the content and creative direction, and I can’t imagine how we could have made it without her.
Snap back to Tuesday morning, and I clicked on the obituary link in a state of alarm and confusion. The details didn’t quite match what I thought I knew about her, but they were also a little too close for comfort. My head spinning, I got up and tried to go about my daily business in a daze, but a couple of hours later I found myself unable to quell the questions swirling around my brain, so I turned to Google. I spent the next several hours investigating every single lead and tidbit I and a few fellow journalists could possibly think of, in order to find out more about the Dev we knew and try to match her (or distance her) from the Devarati Ghosh who had died.
It proved to be more of a challenge than we expected. Dev (or Deb, as she was also known) was habitually private about her personal details, to the point where hardly anybody even knew her name until 2015. Prior to that time, she went by 43DudleyVillas (on Pulse Music Forums, and a previous Twitter account), and Windmills, which remained her Twitter handle/display name until the day she died. The age and location information she divulged was also smudged, making her true identity harder to trace.
By the afternoon, it was confirmed: the Dev we all knew and loved had passed away, from a major heart attack. She was 38 years old.
The news rippled throughout the country music community, shock and sadness intermingling as those who had become so accustomed to her constant presence attempted to process the information. A few had been worried about her 19-day absence from Twitter, an unusual occurrence for the prolific tweeter, but no-one had expected the worst. It was all so sudden, and so much to digest. Over the course of a few years, Dev had become part of the wallpaper of online country music commentary and analysis, driving discussion, challenging misconceptions, and changing the course of how we thought about current country music. An integral part of popular site MJ’s Big Blog and a serial Pulse Music Forum poster (albeit under an alias), Dev utilised her various outlets like no other industry pundit had before. She was the author of a huge amount of vital research on the female presence in mainstream country, research that was quoted across the internet by virtually every blog and publication in the field. In 2015, she joined the panel of Change The Conversation, an organisation dedicated to investigating the issues surrounding women in country. On Twitter, she routinely shared the very latest in just-leaked news from Music Row, although she never leaked the information herself (despite the fact she had it at her fingertips). She championed the songwriters of Nashville daily and always shone a light on the heroes behind the scenes. She took country radio and award shows to task and was an unparalleled source for those looking to find the truth behind the claims and the stats. She was never afraid to voice her opinion and she never backed down from a challenge – something her fans and followers celebrated her for.
I, and many others, would regularly go directly to her Twitter profile, just to read through the discussion occurring through her tweets, replies and mentions. Unlike other critics and influencers, Dev’s Twitter became more than just a place for her to share her opinion. It became a pillar of the community, a place for fans of country music to gather and share information, ask questions and seek out alternative perspectives. Dev found a way to stand her ground whilst being incredibly respectful towards others, always listening to the opinions and arguments that came her way. Her expertise vastly outran that of basically everyone else in the genre, even those who had been studying it longer, and she was never stingy nor arrogant with her knowledge. She was always willing to help anyone out regardless of whether she knew them or not, and took a lot of time out of her day to research things for total strangers.
The hour-long phone conversation Dev had with me in 2014 was not an anomaly; she did similar things for a huge number of people, almost all of whom she had never met and none of whom she had any reason to help. She just did things because she could, and she made time for everybody. She was also a kind, supportive friend to many outside of the usual country music discussion, and I will forever treasure her fairness and generosity. At a time when the country music world was incredibly fragmented, she showed how to be a level-headed, accepting, democratic human being, and the entire scene was better for her presence and her contributions.
I can honestly say that I have never met anyone so unbelievably intelligent. Her mind was like an encyclopaedia on so many topics, and her articles were always so well-researched and informative. She was also incredibly witty, and would happily engage in (light-hearted) snark as often as she would serious discussion. She elevated the entire conversation surrounding country music without taking herself too seriously, and as a result garnered the love and respect of a huge spectrum of individuals. Over the course of twelve hours, I watched almost my entire Twitter feed break out into mourning, tributes appearing across the social media platform as well as Pulse and MJ’s Big Blog. Fans, journalists, artists and industry personnel alike all logged on to pay their respects and voice their shock at the sad news, and even those who hardly knew her had something nice to offer. She managed to touch so many lives and for a moment, our incredibly splintered community united to share pure love and admiration for a woman otherwise shrouded in mystery. The reaction was heartwarming, and a reminder of the impact we can all have on the world. Dev inspired people to chase their dreams, challenge their beliefs, and change their direction, and she will be incredibly missed.
It still feels like a dream, four days later. It still feels like she might tweet again, or write another awards show live blog, or weigh in on another record. I think about all the albums she’ll never get to hear, all the artists she’ll never get to discover, all the data she’ll never get to mine. It still feels like she might comment on the Forever Country single, or post a list of cuts for Miranda Lambert’s upcoming record, or tweet about Grammy predictions. It still feels like I might receive a DM from her any minute, or spot something interesting that she’s retweeted. She has been a part of my life for so long, and I don’t want her to leave.
Dev was a blessing to our community, and I am so glad I got the chance to meet her and become her friend. So much of the content of this website was informed by her data and research, and so much of my free time was whiled away in conversation with her. I will forever be indebted to this amazing woman, and I will feel this loss for years to come. It is hard to sum up just how her passing has affected me and everyone I know, but I do know that none of us will ever forget her. Really, all we ever needed to truly know about her was in her posts, and the way she treated people. Everything else was unimportant.
Rest in peace, ostrich friend. I’ll be seeing you.
(Thanks to Kyle Coroneos from Saving Country Music for reporting on this)
Below are a number of tributes submitted to us from fans and friends of Devarati Ghosh. Please use the Spotify playlist to listen to her favourite artist, Vince Gill, while you read them.
Jason Scott: “I never met Dev in real life, but does that matter in 2016? She was one of my go-to Twitter pals whenever I had a question about the country music industry; her thoughtful and commanding insight is unparalleled by even the most astute of scholars. I first encountered her back in early 2012 when I began to pursue a journalism career. I was a complete novice, a nob, you could say (I didn’t study the craft in university). I pretended to know what I was talking about in an attempt to gain strangers’ affections and approached music reporting from the worst angles imaginable. As I began conversing with her and observed her writing and sensibility on MJs Big Blog, I grew to understand what nuance meant in writing, what criticism was supposed to be — inhabiting a level of research, fact-checking and detailed editing I had only begun to explore. She became a mentor, although I never got the chance to tell her that. I don’t like to live in a world of regrets, but that is certainly one of them. If I could take back every wasted moment not telling people how I feel… I never had the opportunity to sit down with her for coffee and bond over our utter distaste of bro-country or our equal love of Vince Gill (thanks to my grandmother, he was one of the first performers who made me fall in love with country music). Dev and my grandmother were a lot alike: kind, empathetic, brash and witty…and now they are both gone. Just gone, gone, gone.
This week has undoubtedly been one of the worst of my life. I never realized how hard this would be. I’ve been racked with guilt for not reaching out more, with tears that I may never be able to dry and a with pain so intense, my heart has crumbled to dust. She has changed my life forever. Whenever I looked to her for advice on a current story or for reflection on a previous piece, she offered nothing but warmth, sincerity and, of course, her often extensive reply. She dared me to be unclouded in my personal assessments, unhindered by my own biases to think clearly and critically and never stopped nudging me down a path I would be destined to travel. There was never a conversation I had with her which wasn’t thought-provoking and reset my view of the world. Fueled by numbers, statistics and cold, hard facts, she wasn’t immune to one of the best senses of humor on the planet.
Even though she kept her private life close to the vest, her ostrich feathers left an indelible mark on this world. Country music journalism will never be the same without her wealth of knowledge, but that only means we who are left must gather up our own will and her legacy to further ourselves and this silly thing called life. I don’t profess to know the reasoning why such a brilliant woman was taken from this world at only 38, but “life’s about changing and nothing ever stays the same,” as Patty Loveless would say. Life will move on, and we will learn to heal from this tragedy. But for now, I hang my head in silence for one incredible individual.”
Country Perspective (Josh): “She was such an amazing, insightful person. May she rest in peace. She will be greatly missed and forever remembered. I will never forget her advice and the inspiration she gave me behind numerous posts.”
Jeremy Chua: “Dev has made me a more critical and analytical person when listening to country music. Over the last few years, I have engaged in several conversations with her (and a handful of heated debates) about where country music is, the charting progress of songs and album sales. She was one of the individuals who played a part in spurring an interest in me to read up insider trades and more critical articles on the state of country, and be more intentional and less passive when listening to songs. She, too, was a big advocate of fair airplay on country radio and the importance in providing an equal opportunity for females and more traditional-leaning songs to get played on the air. Dev, I can safely say, played a role in igniting my passion for music business in Nashville/country music.”
Liz Austin: “She was so nice and always so classy. What struck me right off was her intelligence. Definitely had a mind for data. Also, was always willing to help out in any way. She’d research and dig up data for you.”
Charlie Woods: “I just want to state how compassionate she always was. Smart and analytical. Knew so much.”
Jessica Melnychuk: “She made me want to be a better researcher and a better writer. I wouldn’t understand country music or the industry as I do today without her incredible passion and determination to share her knowledge. I’m forever grateful.”
Shaina Botwin (Broken Bow Records): “Before I got into the industry, Dev was my insider. While I was still in high school and couldn’t physically be in Nashville to get the scoop, I read every word she posted and flooded her with my questions and curiosity. Once I moved to town and got a job, I still valued her opinion at the highest level and used her for insight to help me do my job better. She always had info that I never knew about and I would have things for her in return. My fellow song junkies/critics in the town (like Annie/Laura from the Shotgun Seat) all know that I always raved about her. I bragged about her as “this genius woman who knows every single stat about charts, writers, and everything in between and she doesn’t even work in the industry!” A few of my artists just loved what I had to say about her and followed her on their own. She was so supportive of me and I am truly so grateful for it.”
Carrie Srebro: “This is what I’m going to miss. We shared a lot of the same views on things outside the country music world… having someone like her – scarily intelligent, well spoken, articulate – in my corner really validated a lot of my convictions. And every memory puts a smile on my face. There was just so much good with her.”
Christopher Baggs: “Years ago, before I joined Pulse, I enjoyed following this relatively new thing called Twitter. I discovered a handle by the name of Windmills; I didn’t know who it was but I fell in love with the information and style this person gave Country music news and insight. I started thinking about becoming involved with social media and about 2-3 years later, I joined Pulse. I soon learned her name was Dev and through knowledge of other people here, learned Dev and Windmills was the same person (I had the feeling all along).
Dev welcomed me with open arms to Pulse and later, the staff. She was so kind to me on the board and through PM. When I finally signed up to Twitter, she quickly recognized that I was in fact sabre14. She was probably the person I conversed with the most on Twitter those first few months and she was no longer an online fellow contributor, but a friend; a friend I never met face-to-face but I felt had connected with my love and passion for Country music.
Dev’s legendary posts here were inspirational — they made me want to become a better poster and be a factual, insightful person other posters and tweeters came to…because of Dev’s intelligence and passion. I will never come close to her status and intelligence but I decided to major in Journalism in part, because of her. I quickly found that my passion and slightly insane knowledge of charts, radio and the industry had an outlet.
She helped run Pulse because she loved it. She was personable to so many of us. I woke up this morning with a DM from another Twitter/Pulse member with the news and my heart sank to my stomach. I still don’t want to believe it. I’m hoping a miracle happens and she shows up on social media. I saw a retweet from someone of a tweet Dev made months ago and for a second, I thought it wasn’t true. I cried this morning. I had to skip out on my morning class because I was too upset. I avoided Pulse and Twitter the past couple hours to compose myself. A part of me doesn’t want to continue on here. It doesn’t feel right to post at all today. I just don’t have the heart or will to do it.
May Dev rest in peace. I’m so shaken up a person that young could be gone like that. Her legacy will remain with us forever.”