Introducing Rock-Critically Correct: Idolator’s Music-Magazine Manifesto

Apr 27th, 2007 // 11 Comments

rstone40.jpgEd. note: As we mentioned a few weeks ago, we’re doing away with our semi-regular “Everybody’s A Wenner” feature, in which we would analyze Rolling Stone‘s famed review section; not only was “Everybody” running out of steam, but we wanted to spread the love to the other music magazines on the newsstand. And so we’re happy to introduce Rock-Critically Correct, a recurring write-up that will take the current issues of Rolling Stone, Blender, Spin and Vibe to task. In order to avoid conflicts-of-interest with your Idolators, the column will be written by an anonymous music scribe–one who just happens to contribute to several of those titles. Or maybe all of them! We’re not saying. After the click-through, our first installment cover, which covers the just-released fortieth-anniversary issue of Rolling Stone.

Greetings.

Your correspondent begins the first installment of Rock-Critically Correct by taking a look at the May 3 edition of the big ma-moo of popular music publications, Rolling Stone, which also happens to be the 40th anniversary edition. Jann Wenner, you see, has a thing about anniversaries (as do his advertisers), and no American magazine holds celebrations for itself as often as RS. Last year saw the release of the 1000th issue, which employed boundary-pushing 3D technology in order to evoke the cover of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, a cultural artifact that RS never, ever tires of reminding us is the GREATEST ALBUM EVER.

And so we come to the fortieth anniversary issue. The front of the book contends with such matters as EMI’s decision to do away with copyright protection, while the reviews section awards NIN’s Year Zero four stars, after which the three-star review-a-thon so beloved of Idolator’s curators resumes.

But these are merely bookends to the feature well, which is a valentine to the real greatest generation: The Baby Goddamn Boomers! Step right up for 20 interviews that hit all the expected beats, from how rock music is inseparable from political action, to how drugs–while perilous–can have mind-expanding properties, to “how we never seem to learn any lessons from Vietnam,” to Hunter S. Thompson, to how key RS has been to the proper evaluation of all these things. An editor’s letter promises two subsequent 40th anniversary issues, one devoted to “The summer of love” (apparently because you cannot rehash that topic enough) and another to the “Challenges of the future” (which will likely conclude that any challenges can be met by evoking participants in the summer of love).

And so, for nearly 100 pages, we are privileged to read toothless interviews with what that editor’s letter calls “part of (the magazine’s) extended family,” among them Mick Jagger, Jack Nicholson, Martin Scorsese, Jane Fonda, Michael Moore, and Jackson Browne. These are the oracles of our culture–or more specifically, oracles of the worldview of Wenner’s moneyed liberal pals. Each interview is conducted by an elite squadron of Wenner’s favored baby-boomer Boswells (Anthony DeCurtis, Kurt Loder, and David Wild, take a bow), complemented by a couple of sympathetic paleo-establishment journalists like Tom Brokaw and Douglas Brinkley. Wenner himself even sits down for a chin-wag with Bob Dylan. Permit your correspondent the indulgence of compressing the interview:

WENNER: “The sixties were very, very important, weren’t they?”
DYLAN: “Uh, well, they were okay.”
WENNER: “Please tell everybody that your most recent album, Modern Times, is about how the world is being ruined by George Bush.”
DYLAN: “No. Let’s talk about how modern music isn’t very good.”

Elsewhere, for perhaps the eleventy-jillionth time, Paul McCartney genuflects before the memory of John Lennon. Lennon worship is catnip for Wenner: Here McCartney says that he “always marvel(s) that (he) was the guy who sat down with John Lennon to write all that stuff.” Hasn’t this guy earned the right to not have to jump through Rolling Stone’s hoops by suggesting that he’s merely a bystander to Lennon’s nigh-omnipotent genius?

Then we hear from Jimmy Carter (he too likes Dylan! And the Allman Brothers!) and George McGovern, two men that are more or less shunned by the mainstream Democratic Establishment with which Wenner is tethered. One wonders if this amounts to a mea culpa for Wenner’s support of Ronald Reagan in 1980, not to mention RS‘s notorious early-’80s Republican-courting Perception/Reality ad campaign. Or maybe he’s just trying to make up for RS’s mid-period political indifference, which only was shaken off when a triangulating baby boomer with his eyes on the prize emerged in 1991.

Each interview hews very closely to this template, with most subjects taking the bait and concluding that A) the spirit of the sixties must be revived before all is lost; B) Rolling Stone was and is essential for any complete understanding of music, culture and politics; and C) President Bush is the worst president ever (the latter phrase is one that crops up in nearly every issue of RS in some way or another).

Although Wenner’s interest has seemed to wax and wane, it’s clear that RS will always be immensely personal to him. The magazine afforded his entry to a rarified social stratum, and despite covers devoted to the likes of Panic! at the Disco and Lindsay Lohan, his DNA is imprinted upon it.

But what does the 25-year-old Dave Matthews Band fan–the one who got a RS subscription from his aunt, and knocked one out to last issue’s cover image of Rose McGowan and Rosario Dawson–make of all this? Is he shamed, thinking, “So this is why my peer group so insufficient compared to that of Mr. Wenner’s! They got it right, and me and my top ten MySpace friends are so, so shallow.” It’s easier to imagine a party-goer at some function on the Upper West Side–perhaps a Clinton fundraiser, or a cocktail party at Graydon Carter’s place– congratulating Wenner for the dutiful, loving tongue-bath administered by his magazine to his peer group. If, that is, they’re not too preoccupied with Vanity Fair or The New Yorker.

And the whole process will repeat itself, not only in two more 40th anniversary issues, but most likely several times before 2017.

  1. Bob Loblaw

    I love brevity as much as the next spaz, but that Dylan-Wenner convo could have gone on for another 100 lines and still be funny.

  2. Chris Molanphy

    What’d you think of the “40 Songs That Mattered” centerfold? It’s written by an old friend/former editor of mine, Douglas Wolk, and it’s really punchy. It even acknowledges the worth of songs that came out after 1975. It’s the only thing I could stand to read in the whole doorstop when it arrived in my mailbox.

  3. Christian John

    I think Jane Fonda (who IS fierce) is the only woman represented in the interviews. No one a shade darker than a leathery Jackson Browne is represented either.

    Forgive me for being PC but certainly RS could have cast their net a bit wider here for its 40th…

  4. tuffgirl

    @dennisobell: Not bad, but a factual error in the Teen Spirit listing. It said there’d be no Lollapalooza without that song, but in fact the original Lollapalooza took place the summer before Nevermind’s release. I would argue it was the surprise money-making success of Lolla that laid the groundwork for the mainstream exposure Nirvana got at the end of ’91.

  5. drjayphd

    @dennisobell: It’s probably safe to assume that said acknowledgement was the most newsworthy part of the issue. Although I don’t know that I’d give the White Stripes the credit that they got on “Fell In Love With A Girl”.

  6. FionaScrapple

    The Stone has sucked hard since at least 1982. Here’s proof.

    http://www.rollingstone.com/artists/blacksabbath/albums/al

  7. Niles

    > C) President Bush is the worst president ever (the latter phrase >is one that crops up in nearly every issue of RS in some way or >another).

    Oh, jeebus! You’re complaining about _this_? That’s like complaining about how everyone hates sardines…. just because the majority of people believe it, doesn’t mean it isn’t true. Rolling Stone is a fallen enterprise, sure, but complaining about its politics makes it sound like you want them to undergo a 180, and it sure isn’t the worst (or second-worst or even third-worst) part of the magazine.

    This seems like the political manifestation of that tired old shtick where if your top album of the year is something that the average college student has heard of, it’s predictable, and if it’s more obscure than that, you’re navelgazing.

    Wow, I hope this is your last column.

  8. Thatgirl

    Doug Wolk is always worth reading. It’s just that there is no music magazine worthy of his writing.

  9. Jfrankparnell

    Wow. I’m surprised anyone kept reading RS after they turned 15.

  10. tybyla

    Re: Rolling Stone’s 40th Anniversary. Yes, it does read like your old Aunt Susie commenting about how everything was better in the old days, but do you think Gen X writers can do better? What would you like to read, Noel from Oasis on how his band was/is better than anyone elses? How about someone from Creed, Matchbox 20, Candlebox, Bush,(the band)Third Eye Blind, Spin Doctors, Blues Traveler,orHootie and the Blowfish on how cool the 90′s were? The best thing about the 90′s is how I learned to love rap, hip-hop and Britpop. At the risk of sounding old, when I was 12, I listened to Bowie,Queen, Iggy, and Patti Smith-now 12 year olds listen to Fergie, Fall Out Boy,and the Disney machine(High School Musical et al.) At least Rolling Stone can claim to know 2 great presidents(CARTER/CLINTON) which is more than Spin can ever state.

  11. mymommydearest

    Well, of course I think the column’s ink-stained wretch is erudite, informed and always correct in his/her judgments, because I am his/her/its biological mother.

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