Peering Through The Revolving Door At “Blender”
And 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.