“Magnet” Attracts A Bearded, Bespectacled Core

Nov 27th, 2007 // 22 Comments

magnet.pngOnce again, we present Rock-Critically Correct, a feature 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 jump, he switches gears and takes a look at the most recent issue of Magnet:

Here’s a little exercise: For a moment, try to focus only on the image of the fella on the cover of the magazine under consideration this week. Ignore the magazine’s name and cover lines.

The guy has unkempt facial follicles, but is tight up top. He looks like he doesn’t spend much time outside, though this could be a consequence of the lighting favored by the photographer. The cover looks less like one designed to appeal to casual readers, and more like one intended to appeal to bears. Maybe it would be canny for the publicists attending to Jim James and his band My Morning Jacket to do business with 100% Beef, the Bear Culture bible.

This is all to say that the 14-year-old Philadelphia-based publication Magnet almost certainly has a smaller rate base than Spin–which, of the publications normally written about in this space, is clearly the mag it competes with most directly. Since Spin presumably must appeal to readers other than Johnny and Joanie Indie Rocker, it must put relatively photogenic artists on its cover. But Magnet only has go with artists that its concentrated core of readers deems credible. And that core currently includes more dudes with unruly beards than any other subset of the American diaspora–save, of course, bears.

Like Paste, Magnet doesn’t want to give off the scent of a commercial enterprise; its motto, “Real Music Alternatives,” is pitched at readers eager to feel as if the music they listen to and read about is uncontaminated by the dictates of mass culture. But the publication that it resembles most would be Option, which before it ceased publication in 1998 more or less made Spin look like U.S. World News and Report. For example, the Magnet issue under consideration includes “21st-Century Primitive Guitar,” a very Option-y survey of post-John Fahey guitarists.

But a lot has changed in the nine years since Option went under, chiefly the fact that being a fan of indie rock and otherwise “underground” musical idioms is a common lifestyle choice made much easier by The Device You Are Currently Gazing At, which also provides access to destinations that would seem to render Magnet invalid.

The best thing to be said about Magnet is that, like Option, it looks nice: Its design is elegant and uncluttered. Its graphic stock-in-trade is photographs of bearded and/or be-horn-rimmed guys standing around looking moody, and as such they are pleasant to look at, if utilitarian.

But the scribbling? From time to time, Your Boy has mentioned how he hoped that a music publication produced outside of New York City might be refreshing. But for all the brobdignagian self-regard of New York media types, many of those folks got where they are today because they were, y’know, talented. Sadly, YB cannot say the same of the scribes contributing to Magnet‘s Fall 2007 issue.

Exhibit A is one Phil Sheridan, who is evidently a sports writer; he contributes a back page essay entitled “Almost Heinous” wherein, after a lot of dithering regarding how consciously commercial artists like Toby Keith and John Mayer strike him as crass, he casts himself as a noble heir to the “beautiful loser” ethos of the Replacements and the Kinks. “Wow,” he more or less concludes, “I’m so much more geniune and real than those pundits who appear on ESPN. Kinda like Paul Westerberg!” His Replacements fetish reappears in a profile of the now-defunct band the Mendoza Line, who just had too much integrity, in his telling. Or something.

Exhbit B comes in deep into the review section, in a column called Guilty Pleasures. One Corey duBrowa finds it necessary to classify Abba’s Gold, Duran Duran’s Rio, Def Leppard’s Pyromania and TLC’s CrazySexyCool as such, then expounds witlessly as to how each “is so bad they’re good” or some similar claptrap.

YB has no idea whether the PTB at Magnet will read the following, but this is for them and any other like-minded editorial gatekeepers: Stop with the goddamn “Guilty Pleasure” conceit. It’s appropriate to feel guilt regarding something that harms one’s own health or the well-being of others. It is not appropriate to feel guilt over enjoying a song. An individual likes a song or doesn’t, so please, Magnet and any other similarly doctrinaire media outlet, stop reinforcing readers’ insecurities regarding “correct” or “incorrect” in music and discontinue this shopworn editorial device.

Now, YB cites those two pieces simply because their misconceptions stand out. Otherwise, nearly every profile/ interview/record review is, frankly, ponderous. Perhaps Magnet‘s readers enjoy horn-rimmed beardos expounding upon the creative process, and YB is not completely against representing such conversations. But each writer fails to distinguish each act. Each brief profile in the front-of-book “up-and-coming” bands section Magnified hews to the following outline: band exists; colorless anecdote No. 1; band is good; band met each other and bonded over appreciation of older artists; band makes album; colorless anecdote No. 2; band is touring with another band more familiar to readers; sleepy kicker. The relevance of anything outside of the indie-rock bubble isn’t much acknowledged in Magnet. But this may only irritate YB, and not readers who rather enjoy the almost natal coccon that envelops partisans of the genre.

If YB was feeling charitable, he’d suggest that Magnet‘s pool of writers consists of overawed fanzine/blogger types who are thrilled to record their interactions with rock musicians. But if YB was feeling uncharitable, he’d suggest that this describes most music writers these days, and that it doesn’t say much for Magnet‘s edit staff that the whip was not cracked for more lively copy.

It’s very likely, though, that the artists featured within and their minders like the mag’s friendly, cozy coverage very much. They are flattered, and so are those readers discriminating enough to take refuge from the big, bad, over-commercialized world in Magnet‘s pages.

idolator

  1. MisterHippity

    That guy on the cover looks like he has a big magnet in his mouth and his beard is made of iron filings.

  2. Ned Raggett

    Stop with the goddamn “Guilty Pleasure” conceit. It’s appropriate to feel guilt regarding something that harms one’s own health or the well-being of others. It is not appropriate to feel guilt over enjoying a song. An individual likes a song or doesn’t, so please, Magnet and any other similarly doctrinaire media outlet, stop reinforcing readers’ insecurities regarding “correct” or “incorrect” in music and discontinue this shopworn editorial device.

    THANK YOU. And thank you a goddamn thousand times over. I have loathed and spoken against this idiot concept for years upon years.

  3. Lucas Jensen

    @Ned Raggett: I second that.

    I’m real tired of ABBA being a guilty pleasure. They could write airtight pop hits that make today’s crop look like 90 pound weaklings. And TLC’s CrazySexyCool as a guilty pleasure is just bizarre. That record was critically and commercially-beloved, and every white boy rocker I knew owned it and loved it.

  4. Lucas Jensen

    Having said that above, I must part ways with Anono-Critic and say that I find Magnet’s writers to be the least blogger-y, fanzine-y out there, and, in fact, many of these writers are older, established types who write for such “blogger”-y outlets as MOJO and Harp as well. I just read that issue and didn’t really get the same sense of it that AC did.

  5. crookedlawyer

    Hey Phil — I’m pretty sure the Replacements and the Kinks managed to make some money along the way, chief. Moreover, Paul Westerberg has had songs on both a Starbucks sampler and the Friends soundtrack.

    And while John Mayer may have written “Daughters” and “Your Body is a Wonderland” (and is pretty self-aware about the lameness of both, I might add), technically speaking, he’s approximately ten times the musician anyone in either of those bands is.

  6. Anonymous

    Guilty pleasures can be social suicide. Especially if you thoroughly enjoy “I love New York” as much as I do…

  7. Anonymous

    ned ragget is my guilty pleasure.

  8. Ned Raggett

    Oh dear.

  9. Bob Loblaw

    @Ned Raggett: @Lucas Jensen:
    Seems to me as long as there’s a canon, there’ll always be guilty
    pleasures. I think every one of the guilty pleasures cited here are
    willfully false–Rio? Really going out on a ledge there, chief–but
    that doesn’t mean the concept’s bunk.

    Saying “An individual either likes a piece of music or doesn’t” is
    hard to argue with, but it ignores any sense of historical / musical
    context. Do I like Justice? Sure. But I’d feel a lot less conflicted
    (read: guilty) about it if Daft Punk had never existed.

  10. musicquizking

    Best part of Magnet = Andrew Earles

  11. tigerpop

    @Bob Loblaw: This page was brought to you by Daft Punk.

  12. tigerpop

    @musicquizking: Damn right.

    Also, bring on the chorus of boos, but the Replacements are the most overrated band in music history.

  13. Captain Wrong

    @crookedlawyer. And he did the entire OST for Open Season…another piece of CGI family fare.

  14. righteousmaelstrom

    How can Pyromania be a guilty pleasure?!? It’s got one of the best singles of the 80′s on it! (‘Photograph’ if you’re wondering)

  15. TheMojoPin

    @Captain Wrong:

    Which, ironically, ended haing some of the best songs of his solo career.

  16. TheMojoPin

    Ended up having.

    Jesus.

  17. Anonymous

    I respect Magnet, but their extremely narrow aesthetic sense is the reason I recently stopped reading them after 7 years. They’d always had a bad case of the indie myopia, but it had become positively intolerable over the last 2 years or so, around the time when the bands they covered started going top 10 on Billboard, curiously enough. Say what you want about Pitchfork, but Magnet makes them look like a cornucopia of variety.

  18. prolixrush

    Jim James looks super-intense without his corona of curls. I miss ‘em. Speaking of “horn-rimmed beardos” and their scarf-wearing ilk, “Girls Make Me Sick” by Butcher Boy just came up on my iTunes at random. OR WAS IT?!

    (I’m onto your game, version 7.5.)

  19. Bjork Rhymes With Pork

    @tigerpop: Boo!

    Even if the Mats were overrated, they still wouldn’t be as overrated as the fucking Doors.

  20. Lucas Jensen

    @RickSlick: I just don’t see Magnet as being run by a bunch of young hipsters. Do you guys know their writers? Most of them are 30+. I think this edition of Anono-Critic is way off.

  21. RickSlick

    @MisterHippity: I rofled in my pants a little there.

    And yes, Magnet is like being stuck in a room full of college DJs, but it’s just the young kids that’re there because they think a radio show will get them laid/cred, and none of the crazy professors or 45-year-old grad students that actually play some cool shit.

    My show was on from 12 to 2 am. I played mainly Built to Spill, Pavement, Modest Mouse, and the Pixies. I once said that the Pretty Girls Makes Graves debut album was “astonshing.” On air. I’m gonna go stare in the mirror for a while, unblinking.

  22. BakerStreetSaxSolo

    thanks for this:
    “band exists; colorless anecdote No. 1; band is good; band met each other and bonded over appreciation of older artists; band makes album; colorless anecdote No. 2; band is touring with another band more familiar to readers; sleepy kicker.”
    I’m going to use this as a model to avoid.

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