Tag Archives: Greil Marcus

Rolling Stone, 43 Years Later

What a long strange trip it’s been.

The once indispensible music magazine – a hip, underground periodical brimming with the coolest in pop culture – has long since lost its relevance. Like a middle-aged man trying to elicit the wink of a teenage eye, Rolling Stone 2010 is just all kinds of wrong. And like its namesake, the no-longer Greatest Rock’n’Roll Band In The World, it just keeps chugging along, scooping up whatever cash people are willing to give it and outliving the annual predictions of its demise.

But back in its Wonder Years, it was a formidable production. Its masthead boasted names like Hunter S. Thompson, Robert Christgau, Lester Bangs, Greil Marcus and Cameron Crowe just to name a few. Its cover was usually a prescient bulls-eye, a perfectly timed cultural statement. The news was newsworthy. The reviews had meat to them. There was a sense of validation for this rag-tag new movement a generation was absorbing. It was a time when young people truly thought they could change the world, and this was the diary that would document it.

But time is a bitch.

In fairness, most magazines don’t survive their first year. Rolling Stone just turned forty-three. To do that, some would say they have not so much reinvented themself as they have sold out. Over the years, controversial articles have been replaced by controversy – manipulation of review ratings, gossip and handshake marketing in place of news. Fashion coverage. Perfume cards. Star worship instead of beating the bushes to get a jump on the next big thing. A distinct lack of rock’n’roll – hell, a distinct lack of understanding of what rock’n’roll is. And those inane, insipid “100 Greatest” lists that will send even the calmest reader off the rooftop.

Jann Wenner, like the magazine, is just a rich guy playing favorites and exercising power. You don’t get into the Rock’n’Roll Hall Of Fame without his approval, although that seems to mean less every year. And the annual awards bestowed upon artists for the “hot this” and the “best that” are mere resume fodder that don’t carry the career-changing clout they once did.

That's not rock'n'roll, Jann.

I say all this with a caveat – were I on staff at Rolling Stone for the past several years I’d probably be neck-deep in the same myopic viewpoint and filled with a delusional sense of self-importance. I might occasionally admit to myself that the best years are in the rear-view but I’d probably believe that I could help turn it around with my opinions and my votes and my influence. There but for the grace of Jann go I.

But instead I’m just a guy who subscribed long after the magazine’s atomic half-life passed ingloriously, hoping that one day the spark would re-ignite and this longtime survivor would become relevant again. Every year or two I’d pony up that check even though I was more often stacking them in a pile unread…a far cry from the day when getting an issue in the mail meant stopping everything and reading it cover to cover. It kept getting cheaper and cheaper, almost a giveaway, and I kept renewing out of loyalty more than need.

And then one day I came to the harsh conclusion that even two years for $9.99 wasn’t worth it, and I cut the cord. Strangely, even after four decades, I didn’t feel a thing.

But beauty is in the eye of the beholder. The paper magazine might be thinner than Nicole Ritchie’s wrists, but the magic of Al Gore’s Internet has given Rolling Stone a new way to survive, and there are no stinky perfume cards. Feel free to wallow in it at the official website.

Nope - still not rock'n'roll.

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He Put The BOMP…

No statue? This will have to do.

No statue? This will have to do.

I’m often asked what makes Bomp different. One answer is that where most labels concentrate on a small roster, I’ve always preferred to give a lot of bands the chance to be heard…I guess I’d most like Bomp to be remembered as a label utterly dedicated to the people who care most about music: the fans and collectors.”

Five years ago we lost one of our greatest soldiers, Greg Shaw. Most pop music writers have read him if not been influenced by him; many saw an opportunity to take the leap from fan to participant because of his magazine and his labels. Shaw began by writing fan letters to magazines and was soon writing reviews for everyone from Rolling Stone to Creem.  Along the way his journey led to managing bands, working at major labels (assembling compilations, of course) and running a record shop, but legions of powerpop fans point to a 1978 issue of Bomp Magazine as the rallying cry that launched a movement.

“Punk had already had its day by 1978, when Bomp Magazine ran a cover story proposing Powerpop: a hybrid style with the power and guts of punk, but drawing on a pop song tradition with wider popular appeal. I had in mind bands like The Who and The Easybeats, (hell, even The Sex Pistols fit my definition!) but much to my chagrin, the term was snapped up by legions of limp, second-rate bands hoping the majors would see them as a safe alternative to punk. I took a lot of heat for starting the whole business…”

Bomp Powerpop cover

But he should also get credit for what did go right. Many great bands rose from the masses of skinny tie wannabes, and some (including Shoes, 20/20, Paul Collins, The Plimsouls, and The Romantics) started at Bomp before landing at major labels. Writers including Lester Bangs, Greil Marcus, Dave Marsh, Mike Saunders and R. Meltzer passed through his masthead. That Bomp didn’t become a haven for great bands like Sire Records is a shame, but Shaw was unwilling to compromise his vision just to play on a bigger stage.

In the ’80s retro-garage was bursting out thanks to bands like The Fuzztones, The Lyres and The Chesterfield Kings; Shaw’s Voxx label attracted a ton of groups. He launched a series of compilations called Pebbles (inspired by Nuggets) featuring some of the rarest original ’60s punk records from his personal collection. He picked up Iggy Pop’s first solo album, Kill City (“when nobody else would touch it”) and issued a series of Stooges outtakes under the title of The Iguana Chronicles. In the ’90s he aligned with Alive Naturalsound Records which brought great bands like Black Keys, Bloody Hollies and Soledad Brothers into the fold, and he continued to discover and nurture new bands that tweaked his antennae until his death from heart failure. He was only 55.

I think the essence of Greg Shaw can be found in this quote:

“I think it comes down to the fact that Bomp is an outgrowth of my love for music. Where many would view it as a marginal business that barely breaks even, I prefer to see it as a hobby that’s profitable enough to allow me to build my life around it.

Contemplating the impact Greg Shaw had upon the industry, it just makes me sadder when I think about politics and greed making charlatans wealthy and famous, while true visionaries are sometimes just cult heroes. But fame is cheap commodity and wealth dissipates. Legacy is the coin that matters, and Shaw’s legacy continues to inspire. 

The BOMP website

Tributes from other writers

The bookSaving The World One Record at a Time

The date of October 19th also claimed guitarist Glen Buxton of the original Alice Cooper Band, who died in 1997; he was only 49.

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