“Spin” Casts A Glance Across The Pond


And 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 examines the most recent issue of Spin:

Whither, asks Your Correspondent this week, anglophilia among the American alt-rock electorate? Spin will know the answer–or at least have a workable metric–when the numbers are in for its February issue.

For the cover image is of one Pete Doherty, captured presumably mid-tweaky twitch, his scaly fingers crackishly scratching an itch below his chin.

In the United Kingdom, hunger for anecdotes regarding this unfortunate creature is insatiable. Not only does British society have a much longer history of fascination with famous fuckups than the US (YC thinks VH1 wouldn’t have had nearly as much success with Celebrity Rehab and Celebrity Fit Club a decade or two ago), Doherty is an ineffably English character. Take a look at that mug: that’s a kind of face you don’t often see on white Americans. His music is almost entirely premised on 30 years of English rock and roll (the Jam, Buzzcocks, the Clash, Manic Street Preachers) that didn’t translate Stateside–beyond anglophiles, that is. He’s a major figure in the UK (in his editor’s letter, Doug Brod calls him a “folk hero” there) and thus can be counted on to sell music magazines.

But here? The New York Post‘s interest in Doherty is purely due to the fact that he probably snorted coke out of Kate Moss’s cooch a time or two. Otherwise, your mom doesn’t know who he is–although she might be aware of Amy Winehouse, since her songs are premised on the kind of music played by the band at your cousin’s wedding.

So YC doubts that this issue will do very well on the newsstand. Brod says in his letter that he and his staff wearied of reading about Doherty’s exploits, liked Babyshambles’ new album Shotter’s Nation and that the issue’s cover story, “Man Out of Time,” was expanded into a longer form once it was determined that Doherty’s health was improving (YC wouldn’t rule out the possibility that a preferred cover feature fell through).

So much for that! Nick Duerden, a prolific British writer for the likes of Q and Blender, first encounters a lucid, seemingly drug-free Doherty. Mid-interview, Doherty’s informed by his manager that a photograph of him injecting heroin three days prior would be hitting the papers the next morning. And so it goes: Duerden recounts the vicissitudes of dealing with a junkie with all the portent English rock writers expend towards their pet dysfunctional geniuses. (Incidentally, Duerden’s Q colleague Dorian Lynskey pens a Hot Chip story in this issue: YC wonders if Blender, for whom both wrote, became less sympathetic to favored British scribes last fall in anticipation of budget cuts?)

Twenty-five pages later comes a piece regarding Lenny Kravitz, a man who–while sharing with Doherty the knowledge of what it’s like to be balls-deep in a supermodel, how to play the guitar and write songs, and exactly nothing else–is likely beneath the contempt of most of the magazine’s past and present readers. (This would also hold for surfin’ troubadour Jack Johnson, who is interviewed in this issue as well.) Thus some substantial horse-trading between Spin and Virgin Records might have taken place, since it’s very likely that Spin‘s immediate competitors and other mass-market publications declined the privilege of chronicling an interaction with the famously vapid Kravitz at feature length.

YC also thinks it likely Spin‘s edit staff believes Kravitz to be kinda dim, so they let Jonathan Ames–memoirist, boxer and author of last year’s Marilyn Manson cover story–loose for “Lenny Kravitz is A Virgin.” Therein, Ames goes to a club with Kravitz, casting himself as a tweedy Brooklyn iteration of Entourage‘s “Turtle,” hoping for some pussy shrapnel. The trouble is that Ames isn’t very funny. He swings at the easiest “I am uglier, shorter and poorer than the interviewee” conceits, and doesn’t turn an amusing phrase once. It doesn’t say much for the post-McSweeney‘s literati that this guy is considered a laff riot. Anyway, Kravitz tells him that he’s been celibate for three years, doesn’t worry about money and is inspired by ‘the masters,” etc., etc.

Elsewhere, Deputy Editor Steve Kandell has a sit down with Bob Mould, who, as the contrast between two archival photos and those taken for the mag recently attest, has fully shed the doughy baby fat of his closeted ’80s and has now emerged as, frankly, a very fit bear. A shame, then, that the interview is marred with two howlingly ill-informed queries: “Hüsker Dü are considered the first punk band to have signed to a major label,” which Kandell states before asking about Joan Rivers interviewing the band, and “[the band] may have had the most contentious breakup of any band in recent history.” The usage of the words “considered” and “may” in those two passages does not mask a poor grasp of history, nor does it excuse any editor who allowed those questions to be published as such.

Taking up the rear in the reviews is “Do What Thou Wilt,” Music Editor Charles Aaron’s review of last month’s Led Zeppelin show in London. Aaron expended much acreage in the 1990s Spin writing almost exclusively–not to mention ponderously and crit-littishly–about hip-hop and dance music, to the point where YC was under the impression that he would regard enthusiasm for any and all “classic rock” artists with an upturned nose. So it’s a bit shocking to see him turn into Rolling Stone‘s perpetually purplish David Fricke here. To wit : “Ramble On” concludes with a “jackknife jolt”; “‘Black Dog’ was a thick riff barrage”; “Nobody’s Fault But Mine” is “Page’s mine shaft of haunted metallic grind.”

Clearly, Aaron thinks that the show was fucking awesome, and concludes, as he often does these days, with a keen observation: “At a time when we all want everything our way now, the iPod has become the commodity fetish the way the album was in the ’70s. But what mysteries does it hold? Where is Steve Jobs’ ZoSo?” (Maybe Jobs regards the iPhone as his ZoSo, which would render the Air his Houses of the Holy, right?) “We now can control music, cast and personalize it. But for one night, we were reminded of how it feels the other way around. How it feels to be engulfed by a volatile, outrageous presence… That command once made Zeppelin seem oppressive, almost demonic. Now it makes them ineffable.”

This is key: Many insurgent music fans hated Jimmy Page for his imperial arrogance in the 1970s, and their 1980s kin wanted nothing more than for major labels to suffer a tortuous demise. Now, as the latter comes to pass, it’s easy to be nostalgic for the divine right of kings with which Led Zeppelin conducted itself three decades ago.

Finally, in “Who’s Next,” Spin prognosticates as to hot acts for 2008–as music magazines must! YC will add that a.) out of the eight cited, he’s only familiar with Santogold and Jay Reatard; and b.) Margot & the Nuclear So and So’s is a shitty name for a band.