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 Over the years, controversial articles have been replaced by controversy – manipulation of review ratings, gossip and handshake marketing in place of news.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.
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.