Rock-Critically Correct: Once Again, “Rolling Stone” Goes Back To 1967

Jun 29th, 2007 // 5 Comments

summeroflove.jpgAnd now it’s time for another installment of Rock-Critically Correct, in which the most recent issues of Rolling Stone, Blender, Vibe, and Spin are given a once-over by an anonymous writer who’s contributed to several of those titles–or maybe even all of them! After the click-through, he/she examines the most recent issue of Rolling Stone:

Remember last month, when your correspondent said that he’d try to assess the next issue of Rolling Stone without regard to baby boomer exceptionalism? Well, ahem, yeah, about that…

It so happens that the latest issue is the second in the mag’s 40th-anniversary bonanza. When YC looked through it in the store, he noticed that this, the Summer of Love 1967 issue, does not focus entirely upon the goings-on in San Francisco that year–Los Angeles, New York, London, Memphis, Detroit and Woodstock receive their own sections as well.

“Huh,” thought your boy, “maybe I’ll surprise my loyal readers (hello? Knock knock! Anybody home?) by opining that this issue is unexpectedly worthwhile. What’s more, maybe one of the articles will contain an original thought or two.”

No dice.

Rolling Stone finds it necessary to spend four pages telling us, in “Making Sgt. Pepper,” that the Beatles “changed rock and roll forever.” Mikal Gilmore– a faithful RS retainer whose brother was memorialized in the Adverts’ “Looking Through Gary Gilmore’s Eyes”–adds absolutely nothing to anyone’s understanding of the record, although perhaps Larry King and those stupid kids who don’t know shit about anything but Second Life would learn a thing or two.

Gilmore also scribes the San Francisco centerpiece. All together now, class: cool young people and musicians liked the Beatles and Bob Dylan; took LSD; formalized an “unprecedented cultural divide”; annoyed their parents and other figures of authority; grew their hair and wore shapeless, colorful clothes; and inveighed against military adventurism in Southeast Asia. Soon, this utopia in the making attracted a bunch of jerks who spoiled it for everyone else but nonetheless had epochal repercussions throughout world culture ever since, which annoys conservatives to no end. Got it?

In his defense, Gilmore contributes precisely one idea that doesn’t occur in RS‘ standard SF/1967 repertoire: He draws a parallel between the Haight/Ashbury scene and Nauvoo, the doomed Mormon settlement in the 1840s. (Tellingly, Gilmore’s family has Mormon roots.)

So what about those other cool towns? Well, Alan Light tells us that Memphis was segregated in 1967, but black and white musicians worked together to make great records! Light also notes that London’s hip contingent was pretty small, but mean old men persecuted the Rolling Stones! Each piece hits all the approved, repeated-ad-nauseam beats–although Brian Hiatt’s otherwise dutiful piece on Los Angeles reveals something Your Correspondent never thought he would read, namely David Crosby saying something YC agrees with:

“I never Liked the Doors at all. To me, they were the band that never swung, ever.” Yeah! Go get ‘em, you otherwise completely useless slug!

Elsewhere, Jann Wenner’s favorite academic and author of the mag’s “Worst President Ever” jeremiad, Princeton’s Sean Wilentz, pops in to remind everyone in need of reminding that conservatives are cheesed off about the seismic cultural changes that took place in the 1960s. And the front of the book slots news items from RS‘ first issues into current formats: for instance, Otis Redding’s death and the Grateful Dead’s arrest are presented as lead items in the “Rock And Roll” section. The only new content in the FOB is the Hot List, in which Captain Beefheart’s “Electricity” and the Beach Boys’ “Heroes and Villains” are lauded in anachronistic language–in all likelihood, this unsigned item was written by Rob Sheffield, seemingly the only current RS contributor permitted to write in a humorous tone.

As your correspondent has pointed out before, advertisers love these baby boomer blow bangs: at 146 pages, this issue crushes humbler editions devoted to Fall Out Boy and Amy Winehouse. After all, Wenner’s peer group is less likely to buy those issues than ones that tell them how brave they were 40 years ago.

YC does wonder, though, whether RS‘ editorial staff isn’t more than a little dispirited at the prospect at producing these retrospectives. Do some of them get bummed out when their boss swans in from Aspen or Greece for a couple of days and decrees that three issues this year will tread over this territory in the precise, sanctioned manner RS has enacted for a generation, and then takes off?

Probably somebody working there feels that way. But working at Rolling Stone is a job, not a calling the way staffers considered it in the 1970s. (Earlier today, your boss probably irritated the fuck out of you with some grandiose puffery, right?)

Those hypothetical edit drones can console themselves with the issue’s one indisputably terrific piece. In “The King of LSD,” Robert Greenfield profiles Owsley Stanley, the Grateful Dead’s key soundman and the St. Paul of acid culture in San Francisco. The story details his travails and beliefs, among them the idea that humans should only consume meat, and his dissident views on climate change, which have resulted in his residence in a shanty-town/compound in the Australian rain forest. It’s the kind of lengthy, deeply reported profile that Rolling Stone made its name on, one that doesn’t rely on rote praise for the counterculture.


  1. mike a

    Saddest thing? We’re in for at least three more years of 40th anniversary issues. “1968: Trouble in The Garden.” “1969: Peace, Love and Music.” “1970: Let It Be.” And so on, until it’s time for the really scary half-century articles.

  2. iantenna

    would i just sound like a stodgy old hippie fart if i said i took offense to the dig at david crosby?

  3. loudersoft

    if their crawl towards obsolescence could be quicker than their move towards being middle-of-the-road, i’d appreciate it.

  4. MConnor

    Who’s gonna buy Rolling Stone once all the boomers (figuratively) buy it?

  5. Diglett

    You can probably do away with that he/she thing now.

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