Once 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.