Peering Through The Revolving Door At “Blender”

57537008.jpgAnd now it’s time for a special edition of Rock-Critically Correct! Usually, this space presents analyses of the most recent issues of Rolling Stone, Blender, Vibe, and Spin by an anonymous writer who’s contributed to several of those titles–or maybe even all of them!–but this time, our critic gives us his take on yesterday’s announcement that Joe Levy would be taking the top post at Blender:

Hey kids! Roll on up for Keyboard Krybaby’s Kremlinology Korner!

KK certainly did not see yesterday’s news regarding Rolling Stone executive editor Joe Levy’s egress to Blender coming. But watch as he flails about, trying to make the scenario of a former Rolling Stone bigwig poaching the mag’s main music dude kompelling!

Much is often made of the mercurial managerial tendencies of Jann Wenner, Rolling Stone‘s editor and founder. But for the past decade or so, the magazine’s braintrust w/r/t music coverage has been remarkably stable. Levy replaced Mark Kemp as executive editor in 1996, and since then he has served as RS‘s frontman: whenever major/old media came calling for a quote or two regarding Napster/OiNK, a recently deceased musical figure, Britney Spears’ vagina, etc., etc., Levy was there. He’s familiar to a vast majority of viewers of VH1 talking-head programs as a reliably smug commentator. Then there are the few–the proud!–who knew him as the “Tim Gunn” of MTV’s I’m From Rolling Stone.

Before all that, Levy worked at Details, and he was the music editor for the Village Voice in the early ’90s. The latter position at the time amounted to being Robin to Robert Christgau’s Batman. KK recalls (somewhat dimly) that Levy was capable of some good, non-shill-y scribing, and it’s on the strength of his VV gig that he’s held in high regard by the rock critic intelligentsia–or at least the pre-Pitchfork, pre-bloggy-woggy iteration.

At the same time, Levy often affects a somewhat preening posture, which stands him in good stead when dealing with the bigwigs of the music industry–or what remains of it. Part of this can be explained by the simple fact that he’s been RS‘s chief liaison to the biz for so long, but the other part is that, as far as certain kinds of bizzers go, game recognizes game.

As cushy as Levy’s job may have seemed, 12 years of supervising RS‘s music content might have become old: KK would guess that the stress of closing every two weeks would lose against Blender‘s more leisurely production schedule. (KK has absolutely no idea what sort of $$$ is entailed.) In any case, Levy must have had a good working relationship with Kent Brownridge, who spent 31 years as the Dick Cheney-style general manager for Wenner Media and is now, as the CEO of Alpha Media Group, the overlord of Blender and Maxim.

KK wonders, though, whether two of Levy’s guys–Roberts Sheffield and Christgau–will follow. Both are very likely contract writers for Rolling Stone: if said contracts exist but are concluding, Sheffield would obviously be an easier fit for Blender than Christgau, whose stylings have been defiantly challenging in both Blender and RS respectively.

And now a few words regarding Craig Marks, the fellow whom Levy is replacing. KK has mentioned Marks’ background before: While he’s a much more discreet and more calculating character than Levy, he’s well-known for his friendships with alt-rock elders like Courtney Love and Eddie Vedder, and is similarly respected by bizzers and the rock-crit front rank.

But while Levy has held the fort down at the dominant music magazine for more then a decade, Marks’ achievement at Blender is singular. You may like Blender, or you may not. But in 2001, when the mag launched, the publishing landscape seemed hostile to a new general-interest music magazine, even one proffered by the then-ascendant Dennis Publishing; anyone could see that the meltdown now enveloping both the mainstream music business and the publishing business would proceed apace. But Blender succeeded, and it did so by embracing music culture as it exists in the present, and not something that suffers in comparison to its 1967 equivalent. Being that Blender is Maxim‘s sister publication, it uses humor and the suggestion of boobies to finance that conceit. This, in KK’s estimation, is an honorable pursuit, and one that is wholly due to the canny machinations of the supremely talented Marks.

To put it another way: Perhaps Levy tired of Wenner’s boomer-centric meddling and wanted to run a successful magazine that unambiguously celebrated the present moment. Now he will, and he has Marks to thank for that. It’s almost certain that Marks will be up for Levy’s old job.

[Photo: WireImage]

  • Al Shipley

    “It’s the Krusty Komedy Klassic! Hey, hey! It’s great to be back at the Apollo Theater, and… K-K-K? Ohhh, that’s not good.”

  • PrinceHal

    I’m sorry, but is there anyone else here who finds Xgau to be a insufferably self-satisfied writer and critic?

  • PrinceHal

    Is there anyone else here who finds Xgau to be an insufferably self-satisfied writer and critic with erratic taste?

  • I Don’t Get It

    Andy Pemberton, formerly of Q and who also spent plenty of time as a talking head on VH-1, was the editor when Blender launched back in the early naughts. Marks came on when Pemberton was booted.

  • I Don’t Get It

    Andy Pemberton, formerly of Q and who also spent plenty of time as a talking head on VH-1, was the editor when Blender launched back in the early naughts. Marks came on when Pemberton was booted.

  • J DTZR

    @PrinceHal: Most writers working today seem insufferably smug and self-satisfied, and not just the music hacks (e.g., Chuck Klosterman, Joel Stein, anybody who writes for Esquire).

    I always like Ira Robbins.

  • SlimShadenfruede

    Andy Pemberton AND Craig Marks started Blender. It was originally 90% Q mag material and then they had to become more original.

    If talent means sucking up to record companies and to report whatever makes the Top 40 charts than Craig Marks is mucho talented.

    Also it seems that music journalists are 99% white men.

  • SlimShadenfruede

    @J DTZR: What?
    Klosterman rules!

  • Anonymous

    Kloster-who? Please. Grow up. Put the needle on the record. Anono-Critic? Best media/rock reporting I’ve read in eons. You should helm PASTE. They’re looking.

  • Anonymous

    Anonymity is the Dutch courage of bloggers, so it’s relevant to point out here that SlimShadenfruede’s real name is Gary French.

    Here’s a bio he posted online in 2004 when he was creative director of Drill magazine:

    A veteran of the men’s magazine scene, French’s design background includes stints at a range of men’s magazines including Blender, Stuff, Maxim, Maxim Fashion, and FHM. He has also worked at USA Network and Mirabella. In addition, French’s pop-star illustrations appeared regularly in Blender.

    He now works for, where his bio reads:

    Gary French (The Art Guy) has over 10 years of experience overseeing creative design teams in editorial and advertising.

    Gary’s most recent position was at the New York City headquarters of the U.K. based custom publishing house, John Brown Publishing. At John Brown, Gary developed and was Art Director of their first original title, Drill, a competitor to Maxim.

    Gary began his design career at Hachette Filipacchi, eventually becoming Art Director of Popular Photography. He then moved to Dennis Publishing. At Dennis, Gary oversaw layout and illustration for the marketing and advertising materials of Stuff, Maxim and Blender.

    Gary’s minor role at Blender would not have put him in close contact with Craig Marks, who was the editor of the magazine. And apparently, AtticWitt’s work schedule allows plenty of time for its staffers to pursue ancient grudges.

    Oh, and apologies to any of you who are Dutch.

  • Michaelangelo Matos


  • SlimShadenfruede

    @robtannenbaum: Rob is wrong yet again!

  • Anonymous

    i always thought marks was a bit of a jerk personally. levy can be affable, at least on the surface, and his knowledge of music is vaster than marks’. blender rode the wave of lad mags: marks did some good things, but he’s not supremely talented in any way.

  • HUGE_Hefner

    Klosterman and Joel Stein are both awesome, why do you all say “self-satisfied” like it’s a bad thing?

  • SlimShadenfruede

    Face of a douche: []

  • Michaelangelo Matos

    @SlimShadenfruede: testy, aren’t we?

  • Anonymous

    Go back to designing print ads for condo launches, Gary.

  • SlimShadenfruede

    @Matos: I know who you are! ahhh! it’s all coming together now.

  • SlimShadenfruede

    @robtannenbaum: go back to writing awful plays about being jewish. I’ll see you in your neighborhood very soon.

  • SlimShadenfruede

    There’s no grudge, I know what I heard.

  • Michaelangelo Matos

    hahaha well I WRITE FOR THIS SITE, I’d imagine so.

  • sexbeat

    MARKS has always been the geek snob of the critgua lit litter. Rumor to be hung even more the krumper it is always said it’s his intelligence that kept all the grrls atwitter from courtney to LA Powers..go figure. But even more than what’s his name, the fired NYTimes crit and self-bragging ladies man, Marks could crib with the stars from Em to Cat and make his all male bowling team, nicknamed Eric’s Seattle Bombers, glow in his shadow. RS I don’t think so … He is going to reinvent SPIKE or something equally post-modern multi-media male… supposedly he wants to be the white Cornel West.

  • sexbeat

    oh .. and levy is totally groovey and just may be having an early midlife crisis and wants to dip into the male media world where female flesh still rocks… and jsut where is Mark Kemp anyway .. Jann sure does have a hostory of picking them young, smart and straight doesn’t he?

  • Cheap Shot

    @VanillaXtraDry: Or simply boring.

  • VanillaXtraDry

    @robtannenbaum: THIS IS SIMPLY AMAZING.

  • yetimike

    joe’s a solid dude! i def. learned a lot when i wrote for him (which wasn’t that much but i was young and ummm, in need of editing!) — but even when i’m at the dentist i can’t read ‘rolling stone,’ so i’m personally glad he’ll be at ‘blender.’

    i never personally got along with craig, going back to when he was #2 dude at homestead. but so what? he published a shit-ton of good / funny writing and i hope he gets big bucks for his screenplay or whatever he has planned…

  • VanillaXtraDry

    stop shoting at me!

  • mkemp

    I’m right here, Jim. Hope you’re well. I wish Joe the best. He’s been at it a long time now.