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No. 56: Sheryl Crow, “Shine Over Babylon”

My drummer once said, “Two Les Pauls, locked tight through a Marshall stack, makes my dick hard.” For me, it’s a tight vocal harmony. And so, generally speaking, at least two or three tunes from any of Sheryl Crow’s six albums cannot miss.

This spring’s Detours included some truly lousy cuts, and Ms. Crow seldom avoids clichéd lyric writing. But “Shine Over Babylon,” like 2002’s “C’mon C’Mon” and 1994’s “Strong Enough,” is a cavernous epiphany, complete with a rapturous, soaring aria for a chorus and coat-of-paint-tight harmonies. If Mariah Carey can be recognized as extraordinarily consistent R&B craftswoman, then her neo-classic-rock equivalent should not be summarily dismissed as a Hollywood hack.

Sheryl Crow [official site]
“Shine Over Babylon” video [YouTube]
80 ’08 (and Heartbreak)

“Spin” Comes Around To M.I.A.

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 a writer who’s contributed to many of those magazines, as well as a few others! In this installment, he looks at the new issue of Spin:

So Spin puts M.I.A. on the cover of its December 2008 issue, some four months after Your Correspondent suggested that the Sri Lankan provocatress would be a bigger risk on the newsstand than, say, a milk-fed Welsh lass proffering pasteurized soul music.

Swell: YC believes Ms. Arulpragasam to have made astounding, magnificent music, and she thus deserves to be known by a greater variety of humanity than the beat freaks and crit-lit crowd of the blawgerati. Yet not only only did she not appear on the mag’s cover last year when Kala was released, it seems like a better time for a Spin cover would have been around this summer, when “Paper Planes” broke out via the Pineapple Express trailer.

If Lorraine Ali, the Newsweek scribe who penned the cover feature “M.I.A. Pow,” asked her interlocutee whether she’s troubled that the only reason that “Paper Planes” was picked for the trailer is due to the fact that it reminds people of the Clash’s “Straight to Hell,” the reader knows not. The reader also may be curious why M.I.A. continually makes reference to “the system,” a shorthand term for dark oppressive forces that conspire against the proletariat that YC has not heard used in common parlance since he was born. (Here YC should say that M.I.A., the daughter of a onetime radical Tamil Tiger, has led probably led a much more eventful and less comfortable life than he, and thus her views on various political and economic injustices have some weight.)

Ali gets around to discussing the tension between M.I.A.’s beliefs regarding the “system,” and her new in-laws, the Bronfmans, a clan that sold the Seagrams beverage corporation and briefly owned the entertainment conglomerate from whom she now records. Ali does not address the latter fact in the piece but does mention the former: “…her late grandmother was an avid drinker of Martell cognac…’she was, after all, Seagram’s number-one customer,’ ” says M.I.A.

Ali also makes a point that “the unlikely hit, which includes the hook “all I want to do [bang, bang, bang, bang ka-ching] is take your money,” leaked into the American consciousness right about the time those mortgage companies—who’d been taking our money—imploded, bringing the economy down with them.” YC certainly never made that connection, but he’s all for entertainment journalism that limns artistry to the wider world: luckily for Spin, this reference still resonates in light of deepening financial despair. In any case, Ali is a pro, and the story is a fine one, notwithstanding YC’s quibbles.

Now, some quick notes…

1. Chris Norris, a writer who YC holds in great esteem, doesn’t get much out of Elvis Costello in “The Spin Interview.” This could be because a.) there has been so much written about Costello for 30 years that he’s pretty much exhausted as a point of interest, or b.) your average rock writer becomes a genuflecting, slobbering sycophant in his presence, since Costello embodies their fantasies of what they would do should they have any talent of charisma. (YC has done just that while interviewing Nikki Sixx a number of times.)

2. In “Heaven Down Here,” Marc Spitz–a former Spin staffer and playwright who evinces a consuming, almost unreasonable interest in high-haired, ghostly-pallored, and mopey 1980s “indie” bands from the United Kingdom–tells the story of Echo & the Bunnymen. Spitz did not succeed in changing YC’s mind that the band is frightfully dull: YC believes that Echo & the Bunnymen’s recorded output, combined with that of the Cure, does not remotely amount to this one song.

3. “Crazy/Beautiful” finds a former Idolator curator spending time with Toronto hardcore terrorists Fucked Up. Good piece, which is probably all that YC, whose band is discussed in Herr Raftery’s new book, should say.

4. Finally, one Matthew Newton explores the decline of sampling in a front-of-book piece titled, ahem, “Is Sampling Dying?” Newton presents evidence that, in light of vanishing revenues in the music biz, copyright holders are making the practice at the very least prohibitive. He also interviews the RZA, who proclaims that “without sampling in hip-hop, it’s really a soggy-ass form of music.” YC believes that recontextualization in music and all art has resulted in lots of great shit, but RZA’s words sound a lot like Jeff “Skunk” Baxter or some other rock guy claiming that “if there’s no guitar, it’s not rock and roll.”

“Spin” Tries To Expand On MGMT

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 a writer who’s contributed to many of those magazines, as well as a few others! In this installment, he looks at the new issue of Spin:

When making a point regarding the blogospheric prominence of a band of recent vintage, it is customary to cite the number of “hits” said band has on Technorati or Google.

Having done so w/r/t the band MGMT in the previous paragraph, Your Correspondent will note that, while accompanying his gal on a shopping jaunt this past weekend, he heard a few of the band’s songs played in a Manhattan Marc Jacobs store and five minutes later in a Juicy Couture shop across the street. Throughout the late summer and early fall, YC heard tunes from Oracular Spectacular in virtually every boutique in Manhattan where he read the paper while his beloved tried on shoes.

Based on such anecdotal data, it would seem that Spin‘s braintrust chose the cover subjects for the mag’s November issue judiciously. MGMT’s music is described therein as “psych-pop” or “psychedelic,” which is balderdash: YC more or less hears wistful, percolating tunes largely made with vintage synthesizers, a genre that has been semi-popular with Spin’s readership ever since the release of Air’s Moon Safari and as such has no connection to “psychedelic” music whatsoever.

But it could just as easily be that many readers have heard and enjoy MGMT’s songs, but have no sense of who the act is and wouldn’t particularly care to learn. What then, Spin powers-that-be?

For the very, very little it’s worth, YC likes Oracular Spectacular better than he likes the current music of the last six months’ worth of Spin cover subjects. He also knew absolutely nothing about MGMT previously, and from the evidence of “Head Games,” by Spin contributor Victoria DeSilverio (with whom YC worked for a very short time at Blender), them boys ain’t that interesting. Met at Wesleyan; started duo as lark; never expected to be taken seriously; were taken seriously by two NYU students and a Columbia A&R rep; championed by lots of young folks; have pretty hair; travel the world; get lots of pussy (presumably).

Elsewhere, assistant editor David Marchese receives the dubious honor of attempting a civil conversation with notoriously rude rock and roll legend Lou Reed, who’s promoting a new live recording of his initially misunderstood 1973 album Berlin. YC, who counts the early ‘80s Reed/Fernando Saunders/Robert Quine/Fred Maher quartet as one of his favorite bands of all time, will scream if he reads Reed intoning “I wanted to do what Hubert Selby did, but with guitars,” and then proceeding to belittle an interviewer for asking questions that displease him one more time. Y’all should read it just to witness how utterly contemptuous he is towards Marchese’s reasonable queries, and how candidly Spin presents the conversation.

What was most interesting in the issue to YC was “A Tale of Day-Glo Body Suits, Dogs Chewing Gum, and Surf Music on Dust: Black Rock (An Oral History),” in which frequent Spin contributor David Browne presents an oral history of the Black Rock Coalition, a New York-based confederation premised on promoting African-American rock and roll musicians that included Living Colour and 24/7 Spyz, as well as fellow travelers like Fishbone.

Once signed, these acts were not only pitched to “the one black kid at the Van Halen/Circle Jerks show,” but to white kids who could not understand Public Enemy and were eager to support black artists who, y’know, play “real music, like Hendrix, maaann.”

YC should say that he and his teenage knucklehead pals were knocked off their asses by Bad Brains’ I Against I in 1986, that he bought Vivid the day it was released in 1988 and was one of 25 people to see the band open for the very shitty English band The Godfathers in Louisville that year, and that he saw 24/7 Spyz five times in the early ‘90s. But in hindsight, it seems like Living Colour made one world-class hard-rock single, but otherwise produced very ponderous, overstuffed, didactic, and ill-conceived music. Yet any white kid with an interest in rock music was almost obliged to support the band, lest he or she embody the narrow-minded dirtbag hard rock fans were believed to be.

Browne’s piece is nonetheless enlightening. To wit:

• Spyz guitarist Jimi Hazel and Fishbone singer Angelo Moore express frustration not only with major labels leery of investing on black rock bands, but with the expectations of black audiences at the time. Moore: “When black people hear music that’s past a certain tempo, they have to think too much to dance to it, so they don’t try.” Not only does the mind boggle at the prospect of a white musician trying to make this point, but these words are illustrative of how often many musicians are alienated from their immediate peer group.

• Spyz bassist Rick Skatore: “if you played instruments, they’d say ‘Are you into Prince?’ I would say, ‘That’s not the kind of stuff I’m feeling.’” How odd that in the ‘80s, Prince could be looked at as a pop artist, and not universally acknowledged as both the most Ellingtonian figure of the last 30 years and a consummate rock and roller.

• BRC executive director Earl Douglas: “When we tried to book bands at black clubs uptown, there was flat-out resistance…the biggest battle was that our audience didn’t drink… someone said ‘you don’t understand—the bar is where the club owners make their money.’ I thought, ‘We need some alcoholics in this organization.” YB is reminded of a Bowery Ballroom bartender who once told him that one of the Johns of They Might Be Giants walked up to him after a show, handed him $50, and said, “Sorry our fans are so fuckin’ lame.”

• Douglas again: “Alternative music came in, and suddenly Living Colour was thrown into that old guard. The mainstream thought of them as an ‘80s metal band…” Perhaps the band shouldn’t have tried to be a high-minded glam metal band populated by slumming fusion cats, and focused more on the Homestead/SST/AmRep paradigm guitarist Vernon Reid certainly was aware of.

• Browne also makes the point that the BRC paved the way for younger bands with African-American members like TV on the Radio and Dragons of Zynth to be a justly unremarkable part of modern popular music.

It also bears reminding that the most influential African-American rock and roll band of the last 30 years had no formal connection to the BRC, although the group is mentioned briefly in Browne’s piece. That would be the greatest hardcore punk band in the history of the world and one of the best American bands ever, full stop. This group did not try to make a point about how black rock bands should get their due. It was all show and no tell for Bad Brains.

Sizing Up The Slimmed-Down “Rolling Stone”

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 a writer who’s contributed to many of those magazines, as well as a few others! In this installment, he looks at the new issue of Rolling Stone:

And so, the reformatted Rolling Stone has hit the newsstands. The mag’s publicist did their job properly, since the announcement of this transformation was dutifully picked up by another hallowed media brand that adjusted the dimensions of its physical product recently. Your Boy would also reckon that many boomer newspaper editors call for reporting on adjustments taking effect in the mag simply because of its totemic significance to the real greatest generation.

The Oct. 30 issue is the first to shrink from 10 by 11 3/4 inches to 8 by 11 inches—or, according to an “Editor’s Note” from Editor and Publisher Jann S. Wenner, “the dimensions of the classic magazine,” by which YB thinks he means “standard.” The mag will also add more pages, and is perfect-bound instead of stapled together. Mr. Wenner could have additionally noted that retailers will likely prefer that RS takes up as much space on their respective shelves as most magazines with which it competes. That the mag was so much larger that it stood out at the newsstand was a source of pride for Wenner… but no longer.

But what this adjustment really does is provide Mr. Wenner multiple opportunities to hit his favorite beats. The new format represents “change,” which, rather than a quality that Rolling Stone has mistrusted when it has occurred in culture after about 1975, is now to be championed, since it’s the linchpin of the message of the man adorning the cover of this issue. After all, Bob Dylan said “he not busy being born is busy dying,” a phrase Mr. Wenner quotes in the note, alongside a Lovin’ Spoonful reference he first paraphrased in the first issue of RS 41 years ago (“we believe in the magic of rock & roll and the magic can set you free”) and a note that Barack Obama has appeared on the cover three times in seven months, “a record equaled only by John Lennon.”

Mr. Wenner references Dylan, Lennon, and the words of John Sebastian as compulsively as the likes of Sarah Palin cite Biblical scripture: their verities are fixed, eternal, and not subject to flights of fancy. But YB doubts that Sen. Obama, should he not become POTUS, will join such august company. He’ll likely be consigned to the same purgatory to which RS has dispatched former Wenner crushes as Howard Dean and John Kerry.

While he admits that it’s a little disconcerting to see Rolling Stone’s visual templates slotted into a smaller package, it makes no difference to YB what physical format the magazine happens to adopt. For whenever he buys a particular issue so that he can write this column, he is somewhat anxious that someone he knows will spot him with such a bourgeois artifact. Why, the other day YB was slightly ashamed that the guy in front of him at the store purchasing a New York Review of Books might notice his choice and thus think him a bit of a cretin.

YB’s pitiable insecurity is premised on commonly held—not to mention correct—views that Rolling Stone concluded long ago that music produced during the heyday of Dylan and Lennon is the gold standard and that current popular music merits attention mostly because of long-standing ties to major labels with which the mag has been entangled for its entire history, as well as a propensity to chase a quick buck with covers awarded to the likes of Lindsay Lohan. Frequent readers of RCC can see that this tendency has been kicked around in this space consistently for the past 19 months.

But here’s the thing. Six years ago YB, using the nom de plume “Rob Kemp,” worked at Dennis Publishing’s Blender, a magazine that scared the wits out of Wenner Media. At the time, Blender’s rapid gains in circulation succeeded in prompting Rolling Stone to, ahem, “change.” Since Blender’s editor was English and was importing Fleet Street values to American magazines so as to attract increasingly distracted young men, RS needed an English executive editor.

So Ed Needham, a Briton who had worked at Maxim competitor FHM, was hired that year. Someone who worked at RS at the time described to me how Needham had declared in a staff meeting that RS was “at war” with Blender. Effective immediately, staffers were to punch up their captions, include more pictures of generously endowed women–as well as charticles, sidebars and other “points of entry”–and, most controversially, shorten all articles and scale back long-form investigative reporting. And boy-o-boy, did the “times they are a-changin’” crowd come out swinging, bemoaning the mag’s lost soul with invective that makes the current hubbub seem as picayune as it is.

Since contempt toward Rolling Stone was the accepted posture at Blender, this turn of events greatly satisfied some of my superiors. One of them, however, said that his “heart sank” when he heard that longer articles on more substantive topics than, say, the wolverines living Jessica Simpson’s t-shirt would be poleaxed.

The Blender-ing of Rolling Stone did not last very long. Needham left in 2004, and Wenner reinstalled gravitas quickly thereafter. His interest in post-James Taylor popular culture being nil, Wenner has since left his other main magazine US Weekly alone. But the Bush era has been one of the periods when he identifies deeply with Rolling Stone; letting the mag exclusively celebrate famous people fecklessly and cover modern music listlessly during the past four years was not an option.

This is all a roundabout way to say that the music content of this issue—not to mention most issues—is not the point. Long form articles advocating Wenner’s views are the point: this issue’s cover story, “Obama’s Moment,” by executive editor Eric Bates, is a more wide-ranging and substantive interview than a preceding piece in July, authored by his boss, who turns into a star-struck stenographer when faced with one of his many crushes. And as much as YB finds Matt Taibbi’s scorn for non-Eastern elites troubling, his “Death of a Red State,” which details Colorado’s changing electorate, is vividly reported. And RS gives 12 pages to “The Lost Years & Last Days of David Foster Wallace” by David Lipsky, a worthy requiem. (YB would cite more, but he realizes that Idolator readers get bored when he doles out compliments.)

Ultimately, YB’s sociopolitical views dovetail with the majority of Mr. Wenner’s. But it’s not just that he agrees with the aims of much of the advocacy journalism in RS. Mr. Wenner finances worthy, deeply reported journalism that even its ideological opponents must acknowledge is substantive. It’s what he evidently cares about; the sense that he uses long form pieces to impress his fellow limousine liberals is incidental.

And then comes Jenny Eliscu’s “Elvis Costello & the Attraction,” wherein the titular boomer icon appears to be mildly bemused as to why he’s conversing with Nick Jonas, a young man he may never have heard of prior to this sitdown. In light of Rolling Stone’s current M.O., it’s quite telling: why is this older fellow bothering with this whippersnapper whom he barely understands? Does he not think he has something better to do?

YB should admit that the current political and financial climate is influencing the lack of ad hominem bitchiness in this post. He hopes to go back to mocking Rolling Stone very soon.

[Photo: AP]

“Spin” Does The Time Warp

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 a writer who’s contributed to many of those magazines, as well as a few others! In this installment, he looks at the new issue of Spin:

The October 2008 edition of Spin features as its cover subjects the Tennessee quartet Kings Of Leon. Contributing writer David Peisner’s conceit in the corresponding profile, “American Regal,” rests on the imbalance of the band’s profile in Europe in comparison to that of the US—it seems that English folk are intrigued by the Los Bros Followill’s background as itinerant kids running around the South with their preacher dad. And it seems that, since the band’s fourth album debuted on the Billboard charts at No. 4 (or is it No. 5? The mag may be sorting this out for a bit) a week and half after this issue hit the stands, Spin’s braintrust called this cover choice correctly.

But your very own Keyboard Krybaby found it very difficult to focus on the piece. KK suspects that it has little to do with the relative merits of Peisner’s words. Nor does he believe that it’s his disinclination for the band, which he saw perpetrate a singularly dreadful showcase performance at the Mercury Lounge in 2003, and from which he’s not heard anything he liked since. KK was mildly interested to learn from the story that the band was signed to RCA before Caleb and Jared Followill learned how to play their instruments; in fact, there was no existing band before the signing, which made KK wonder if RCA thought the idea of concocting a “Southern Strokes” out of whole cloth was irresistible. (This also may explain why KK thought they sounded so shitty live back then.)

He also could not focus on “Normaltown,” a story regarding Of Montreal, an Athens band he dislikes very much. But neither that nor writer Andy Battaglia’s story is at fault for KK not being compelled.

Rather, KK reckons his problem lies with the fact that this issue of Spin was likely produced and then sent to the printer anywhere from early August to very early September. Whatever the timeframe, the issue doesn’t grapple with the present, which more or less has been its intention since it began publication in 1985.

While he was reading this issue, KK was preoccupied with both a possible collapse of the worldwide financial superstructure and various televised interviews with the governor of Alaska. It may be that KK is too easily distracted; a reader would be forgiven for exclaiming, “Hey schmuck, I’ll opine on the contents of goddamn music rags if your mind is on something else!”

But here was this particular issue of this particular magazine, dated October 2008 but seemingly beamed in from mid-August. This isn’t to suggest that an entertainment-oriented publication like Spin should be worried that Ben Bernanke isn’t interviewed therein as to the relative merits and deficits of Fleet Foxes. It’s merely that the realities of production schedules in a quadruple-fucked publishing landscape and the intended reader’s ability to access culture and events instantaneously combine to hobble the magazine’s ability to contend with what’s going on right now.

Spin’s staff could not have predicted the market meltdown, but they clearly knew that this would be the issue that would hit the stands closest to Nov. 4. And so the October issue contains a somewhat timid, “well, we have to address it somehow” piece pegged to the election that nonetheless doesn’t address the Palin/Biden moment.

In a March post regarding the April 2008 Spin, KK discussed Peisner’s “Power Ballots,” and said that he “wouldn’t be surprised if (it was) to be Spin‘s last word on the election.” But that was not so; here “Strange Bedfellows” presents “44 moments in which the worlds of music and politics intersected brilliantly… and awkwardly.” The list is not worth citing, and a side-by-side comparison of Obama and McCain’s positions on issues like media consolidation and intellectual property rights seems intended to “let the reader decide” which candidate is more favorable. Either Spin’s braintrust is afraid of alienating increasingly scarce readers who might be offended by the pro-Obama views the staff surely holds (KK thinks the amount of said readers would be negligible or nonexistent), or they’re leaving the Obama-shilling to Rolling Stone.

One of four sidebar interviews with musicians as to their voting sympathies piqued KK’s interest: the other three involve Young Jeezy, Common, and some nerd from Cold War Kids and how each is going for who you’d expect them to.

But the interview with Rage Against the Machine’s Tom Morello is worth reproducing at length:

“The dialogue between the two political parties is always framed so narrowly— each candidate is trying to out-conservative the other in this heated competition for the red states. That’s why half the country stays home on Election Day; the zealous enthusiasm that many Obama supporters felt during the primaries may have ebbed. And as long as Obama is saber-rattling about Iran… well we don’t need another warmonger in the White House of any stripe. It was the Democrats who were elected two years ago to end the war, and they rolled over like the Beverly Hills Chihuahua when it came time to do anything.

“The most important issue facing this country is prosecuting the Bush administration for the war crimes they’ve committed. Is that something that will be discussed during the debates? Unlikely. Is that something Obama might agree with, even if he can’t come out and say it? As the half-Kenyan Harvard Graduate from Illinois who isn’t running for president, I might have some insight, but I’d just be guessing. It’s not even that complicated an issue, but it’s so outside the pale of what we’re allowed to discuss in elections. The candidate I’m in most in favor of may not exist. Then again, I didn’t think it was possible the Berlin Wall would fall or that lunch counters would be desegregated…”

(Note: The last instance the 44-year-old Morello cites predates the dawning of his political intelligence, unless his beliefs began before he was conceived.)

KK, using the alias “Rob Kemp,” interviewed Morello a decade ago, and found him to be far, far better informed than musicians of the “I read Maximum Rock’n’Roll in the ‘80s/Reagan and Bush suck” variety. But there was one question Morello didn’t like: How did he reconcile RAtM’s anti-corporate, antiestablishment posture with the band’s association with a component of a multinational corporation? With evident irritation, Morello responded that a major-label platform enabled the band to reach “that one kid” whose conversion to radical activism would have made it all worth it, etc., etc.

We can safely assume that Morello is now comfortable enough so that he no longer needs an irretrievably compromised and increasingly nonfunctioning platform to communicate important ideas to that one kid. So KK is going to begin taking Morello and his demands for purity in the public square a bit more seriously when every musical endeavor he’s involved in has no connection whatsoever to a multinational corporation.

And now, on another note…

Earlier this year, an editor at one of the publications regularly assessed in this space phoned KK, who used the above-referenced alias to review heavy metal albums (more notable rock critics were probably beat up by metal fans in high school, such has been their disdain for the genre). The editor asked whether I had ever heard of the Canadian heavy metal band that is the subject of the documentary Anvil: The Story of Anvil, which had wowed Sundance. I was ashamed to say that I only dimly remembered the name, but hey, I knew a lot about Thor and the Mentors!!!

Which is to say that KK was interested to read “Heavy Mental,” a piece regarding the longtime relationship between the band and the film’s director and the subsequent “Anvil’s finally getting their due” aftermath.

On a less substantive point, he’ll note that he’s very very tired of the “this is the real Spinal Tap” meme employed in this story and others regarding metal bands condescended to by mainstream rock writers. On a more substantive point, he’ll note that two archival photographs in the piece from 1978 and 1986 depict the two remaining Anvil dudes, Steve “Lips” Kudlow and Robb “Robbo” Reiner, alongside their since departed colleagues, Dave Allison and Ian Dickson. But the text doesn’t mention the latter two whatsoever, nor does it say when current bassist Glenn Georgy joined the band. It seems likely that the piece’s author, Tom Roston, included such in the draft he submitted, only have it excised in the final version. Sigh.

“Blender”‘s Purr Seems A Bit Muted These Days

pds.jpgOnce 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 a writer who’s contributed to many of those magazines, as well as a few others! In this installment, he looks at the new issue of Blender:

Two weeks ago, word came down that Kent Brownridge was stepping down from his daily duties as chairman/CEO at Alpha Media Group. Alpha is owned by the Quadrangle Group, a private equity consortium that had taken on the American magazines previously owned by Felix Dennis, a British publishing magnate. Brownridge had previously spent 30 years as Wenner Media’s general manager, but was pushed out two years ago by his boss.

During his year at the helm of Alpha Media Group, Brownridge cut costs: he decided that Stuff, an even more boorish spin-off of Maxim, was redundant and best folded into the main mag. But evidently, his partners believed that they should be seeing greater profits in a shorter amount of time.

At the time, Brownridge told WWD‘s Stephanie Smith that he hadn’t been spending enough time with his new wife. But on Wednesday, Brownridge said he will now become the general manager of OK!, an American iteration of the hugely popular British publication and competitor of Us Weekly, a Wenner Media property that Brownridge supervised closely. In the extremely unlikely event that Mr. Brownridge will read this post, Anono-Prick would like to invite him to submit a comment as to what changed in the past two weeks. Did his wife tell him, “no thanks, honey, go ahead and run a magazine,” or was his statement to Smith a face-saving measure?

In any case, if Brownridge’s fellow investors expected greater profit margins from Maxim and Blender within a year of taking them on, it seems likely that they do not understand the magazine business. It may also have been that Quadrangle Group believed that they were purchasing the Dennis Publishing of 1999-2002, a company that virtually monopolized the meager attention spans of every backwards-baseball cap wearer who was too timid or too stupid to secure real pornography. But the unlimited ability to access content for free and/or with greater convenience is what faces every sector of the publishing diaspora, and with every passing nanosecond since that time, men have found it easier to use the Device You Are Currently Gazing At to head down the same path David Duchovny has of late.

Anono-Prick cannot help but wonder what Blender Editor-in-Chief Joe Levy makes of Brownridge’s exit. The two had to have had a fairly good relationship while both worked at Rolling Stone, since Brownridge hired Levy away from a job that he held for 11 years.

For the cover of its October issue, Blender turns to the Pussycat Dolls, five women who have parlayed the performance tropes of strippers into international stardom. The story, “Real Dolls,” is written by Deborah Schoeneman, a writer who has worked for Page Six and has since specialized in chronicling the doings of various fabulous people. (She also dated a good friend of AP’s for a very short time; AP only spoke to her twice.) Schoeneman follows the Dolls around Los Angeles for a bit: she begins with a party in Beverly Hills that finds a Russian banker paying for his trophy wife to join the Dolls for the evening, and otherwise does her best to make the expensive drudgery of the members’ working lives seem interesting.

Schoeneman asks Alpha Doll Nicole Scherzinger about the aborted launch of her solo album Her Name Is Nicole, upon which Blender‘s cover story 11 months ago was pegged. “I decided to hold off,” she punts. “I didn’t want to lose the momentum of the PCD. That train’s been moving so fast.” In last year’s story, however, Scherzinger stressed that the record was her one shot, and that she should not miss her chance to blow, and that this opportunity comes once in a lifetime. Or, alternately, “I need total focus, total concentration, total centering, because this album is everything I’ve been working for my whole life. You get one chance, and this is my chance.”

While “Real Dolls” is a pretty short story, the remainder of what used to be understood as the “feature well” is protracted. “The Geek Squad” is a photo essay concerning the participants in Nerdapalooza, which was held in Orlando, Fla., in July. Associate editor Mark Yarm’s text commences with one of AP’s last favorite magazine-writing tropes: he compares the goings on there to “the set of a Fellini film–if Fellini had been a ’80s baby weaned on Nintendo NES, Star Wars and superhero comic books.”

And for the first time in Editor-in-Chief Joe Levy’s nine-month tenure, Blender sallies forth a list! The list’s bailiwick? “The 33 Most Overrated People, Places, Trends and other Junk in Rock.” From the premise (damning this or that as “overrated” is an ancient magazine tactic) to its execution (complaining about “Freebird” and Timbaland isn’t novel), the piece doesn’t stand up to the kind of amused assemblages that the mag made its name on. But of course, the list has already has been picked up all over the place for the temerity to suggest that Tupac’s reputation is inflated (AP agrees), and a nice lil brushfire has resulted. Which justifies the entire exercise, AP supposes.

The rest of the mag is similarly protracted. The component of the Guide devoted to new albums is down to six pages; the customary two pages devoted to film reviews is down to one page and one review. Now, a shrinking ad market is simply the hand that Levy has been dealt, but almost every aspect of this issue of Blender lacks the confidence that marked it before his tenure.

When Levy took over in January, he had two or three months to figure out what worked and what didn’t. It seems that, since he has kept virtually every editorial gimmick that Blender had developed in its seven-year lifetime, he likes Blender the way it was. His single formal addition is his pal Rob Sheffield’s Station to Station column, which this month examines Baltimore’s DIY scene, which is the kind of subject Sheffield should tackle all the time, instead of waxing incoherent about reality TV or his ’80s faves.

The one deviation from “the way Blender has been” is the animating imprimatur of his predecessor, Craig Marks, who, as second in command to Andy Pemberton from 2001 to 2004 and then as the boss until early this year, turned the mag from a American version of Q into the liveliest music rag in the US.

(Here, AP should say that he worked under Marks at Blender in 2002-2003 under the alias “Rob Kemp”; I did not befriend Marks at the time and have had no contact with him for five years. My admiration for what he accomplished, and his great talent and intellect are untainted by anything resembling a personal relationship. I’ve only spoken to Levy a few times and never had a significant professional interaction with him.)

It seems like Levy is stuck. Above, his paymasters look over his shoulder. To his left, he sees the departure of a boss he got along with. To his right, his intended readership is consumed with pictures of naked breasts they did not pay for. And below is the legacy of his predecessor, the guy who came up with the tricks that now lack much in the way of spark.

“Spin” Goes Back To Beck

0809-beck-cover.jpgOnce 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 a writer who’s contributed to many of those magazines, as well as a few others! In this installment, he looks at the new issue of Spin:

To whom does Spin turn to helm its September ’08 issue? To an artist who came to light in 1994, a guy who a signed a contract that guaranteed him the ability to release music on indie labels but nonetheless went straight into the major-label breach and has remained there since, despite a consistently professed indifference towards how corporate machination may impact him. An artist whose modus operandi split the difference between the Sub Pop and electronica eras, upon both of which Spin bet the farm in the 1990s.

Beck Hansen could have been made up by a couple of mid-’90s Spin editors over the phone. Follow the guy around for a week or so, try to engage him in conversation, transcribe the useful portions of the conversation, throw in references to “bricolage” and “William Burroughs’ cut-up technique,” and you had Spin gold.

This formula held true from the release of Mellow Gold and through that of Midnite Vultures, a five-year period when even folks who found him too affected and too “look at all the records I have and how cleverly I combine them” would be hard-pressed to deny that Beck had pretty hot hands.

Your very own Correspondent more or less thinks Beck is a worthwhile artist; he hasn’t much affection for the “croak into a mic while blooped and bleeped iterations of Skip Spence’s Oar creeps along” tendency common to Sea Change and Beck’s most recent Modern Guilt. While he prefers Beck with a spring in his step, it should be noted that Guero and The Information didn’t yank his crank.

Beck probably would have benefited from a more protracted break in the last decade than he’s taken. He’s often been compared to another little “musical genius,” but YC thinks the example of Prince from about 1992 to 2000, as a guy who refused to go away for awhile and recharge, is instructive w/r/t to Beck’s productivity. Both can depend on die-hard fans to take an interest in whatever they do, but other folks’ interest will flag until a vital vein happens to be tapped. (YC should say it is not for him to dictate a musician’s work-rate and how a musician wishes to provide for his dependents.)

So here’s Beck, two months away from the release of Modern Guilt and on tour in Europe. It is there that writer John McAlley shadows him for Spin‘s September 2008 cover story. The writer employs an overly cutesy conceit in “Reverberations: the Beck Sessions,” wherein story elements are presented as if they were tracks awaiting mixing at a recording session. We learn that Beck is diffident in conversation as ever; that he looks at Scientology as something that has always been in his life, vis-a-vis his father’s longstanding affiliation; and that, since Modern Guilt is the last record he’s obligated to deliver to Universal, his future records will probably be released independently.

And so it seems that Beck arrives on the cover of Spin simply because the editorial braintrust had no better option this month. Perhaps no suitably promising acts have been been spewed into an onerous major label recording contract from the undernourished maw of the indie-rock blawgosphere, which has been Spin‘s preferred scenario for the past year. But with this cover, perhaps the mag can attract older readers, them what have more of a print habit than their younger cousins and to whom Beck, despite needing a shot in the arm real bad, is a comfortable reminder of, y’know, how cool everything was in the 1990s. Kinda like Spin!

Now a few notes:

1. YC briefly listened to Canadian synthesizer terrorists Crystal Castles a while ago, and didn’t like what he heard. He had one look at the couple of pictures of Castle Ethan Kath in the photo essay “Thick as Thieves” and concluded that the guy was the patron saint of every smug, metal t-shirt wearing hipster cocksucker YC sees at every club show in New York City. Then he read the text, and learned that Kath used to be known as Ethan Deth, bassist for the biker-metal band Kill Cheerleader. YC interviewed Kath/Deth two years ago for a front-of-book article in Spin that did not result in further assignments from the mag. While he didn’t like Kill Cheerleader’s music, Deth/Kath was a most entertaining interviewee, which reminds YC that he should not summarily dismiss people who merely look like jerks.

2. It is not YC’s custom to criticize performers specifically with little regard to what it is written about them in a given mag. But indulge him this time! Patti Smith is the subject of this issue’s Spin Interview. Unlike Beck and Prince, Smith did indeed take a break from recording from 1979 to 1988 and again from 1989 to 1996, none of which has improved her profoundly doctrinaire, “rock and roll is like poetry, maaaann” M.O. from abject worthlessness. YC believes Smith to be an artist who is only concerned with a pompous, oracular spoken-word tradition that, frankly, is intolerable without a strong basis in, y’know, being musical. So there!

3. Finally, Marc Weingarten pens “Speak of the Devil,” a story regarding Stanton LaVey, the grandson of Satanic Bible auteur Anton LaVey. It’s a pretty engaging portrait of a young man who dines out in Los Angeles on his grandfather’s reputation–running around with strippers and porn stars, hanging out with Marilyn Manson and Hank III and otherwise acts transgressively for a modest living. Consequently, most conscientious Satanists (presumably including his mother, with whom he is estranged) believe him to be a lightweight, rather like lots of celebrity scions.

“Fashion Rocks” Serves Up Anna Wintour’s Vision Of A Music Magazine

fashionrocks.jpgOnce 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 a writer who’s contributed to many of those magazines, as well as a few others! In this installment, he looks at the Condé Nast-produced, music-centric one-off Fashion Rocks:

Let Your Boy get something out of the way immediately: the main reason he chose to assess this particular publication this week is simply that it is likely that many, many more Idolator readers will have access to it than the printed versions of the magazines he normally considers in this space.

Which is to say that Fashion Rocks was mailed in the last couple of weeks to subscribers of Vanity Fair (of which it is nominally a supplement), Wired, and probably a few other magazines published by Condé Nast. Which is also to say that Condé Nast succeeds in producing publications that bespeak heft and significance and thus are less expendable to readers who would otherwise forsake printed matter entirely for the options presented by the Device You Are Currently Gazing At. Discriminating readers… like you!

Like last year’s Movies Rock, a supplement sent to GQ and Vanity Fair subscribers, Fashion Rocks is clearly intended to attract additional revenue from many of Condé Nast’s advertisers and also pimp a TV special by the same name that will be broadcast on CBS on Sept. 9.

But unlike Movies Rock, this issue is produced under the auspices of Vogue. (Previous iterations were produced under the auspices of GQ.) Which is yet again to say that it’s more than likely that editor-in-chief Jonathan Van Meter had very little leeway as to what sort of content would constitute the issue and essentially carried out the wishes of Anna Wintour, the editor of Vogue since 1988.

About the best thing YB can say about Ms. Wintour is that she demonstrated a previously disguised sense of humor about herself by attending a high-profile screening of a movie premised on the persistent perception that she is, frankly, a cunt. Unlike virtually every woman he’s ever known, YB is not fascinated with Vogue, the instrument with which Ms. Wintour preys on the insecurities of women. Wintour has been so good at making females feel like they’re worthless unless they spend money on material goods proffered by Vogue advertisers for so long that, in terms of the publishing milieu, she’s indestructible.

And so she’s charged with producing a one-off magazine that is intended to promote a television special that involves famous music figures. Fashion Rocks is best understood as how Ms. Wintour contends with music culture. This means that Justin Timberlake, a guy with no new music on the horizon but whose fashion imprint, William Rast, will put out its fall line next month, is an appropriate cover choice.

It is beyond doubt that Wintour is familiar with Timberlake. But had she heard of the Kills, who are profiled herein via an article entitled “Band of Outsiders”? The London duo certainly bears a certain Velvet-esque élan that stands them in stood stead with runway habitués, but there’s one aspect that’s sure to get Wintour’s attention: Kills guitarist James Hince is Kate Moss’ latest pale, leather jacket-clad stunt dick. If pint-size hesher icon Ronnie James Dio found himself as Moss’ dragon-slayer (or fellow dragon chaser) du jour, then he’d be profiled herein, no questions asked.

Writers and personalities that are only vaguely in Wintour’s orbit are called in for pieces that are each headlined with a startling lack of flair. In the issue’s de facto introduction, “Sound and Fashion,” longtime Village Voice fashion scribe Lynn Yeager explains that “music and style have always been in sync,” an idea which doesn’t need explaining; Joan Jett talks about her own style aesthetics in “Born to be Bad”; in “Dirty Pretty Thing,” Liz Phair is described as “the rock equivalent of Carrie Bradshaw”; the part of ex-label honcho Danny Goldberg’s mem-wah, Bumping into Genius, concerning Courtney love and “that dirty little man she married that the younger people think is so wonderful” is excerpted in “I Am Legend”; “Hearts of Darkness” explores “emo” culture now that designers have taken note of it; “Fine and Dandy” examines André Benjamin and his Benjamin Bixby line; and finally, in “Hit Man,” profilee Mark Ronson, a DJ at several events that Ms. Wintour has surely attended, is described as the son of “socialite Ann Dexter-Jones” and incorrectly as the stepson of “the singer of Foreigner, Mick Jones.”

Ultimately, the writing in the mag does not address the point of Fashion Rocks. But the photographs accompanying the articles cited in the previous paragraph are lensed by the likes of Terry Richardson and Steven Meisel. And a marquee photo package, featuring several performers that will probably drop out of the accompanying special by the time it’s broadcast, involve the contributions of Meisel, Norman Jean Roy, and Jean-Baptiste Mondino. Pretty pictures, after all, are the point of Fashion Rocks and of any endeavor involving Ms. Wintour.

(YB should say that an essay appending Meisel’s shot of Mariah Carey includes the single, solitary example of memorable, insightful scribbling in the entire issue, courtesy of Michael Joseph Gross: “…Carey is Long Island’s answer to Dolly Parton, a woman whose bodacious bod and over-the-top style have distracted many people from her rare and substantial talent…Carey’s aspiration to G4 style seems an effort to make up for her bridge-and-tunnel background.” True dat, and thus it’s the one of very few ways someone with that kind of background can matter to Ms. Wintour.)

So clearly, YB finds Fashion Rocks to be a fairly vile proposition. But one photo essay therein is particularly ghoulish, and is the other reason he chose to write about the mag.

“Here Comes the Son” finds Dhani Harrison sporting a mustache and styled in the manner associated with his father George in 1967-1968. He also cavorts with one Sasha Pivovarova, one of those Eastern European wraiths models that Wintour often employs. This young woman is clearly cast as Patti Boyd, the woman pere Harrison was married to in the late ’60s and early ’70s–although Harrison disingenuously describes her look in a caption as being based on Stones muse Anita Pallenberg. Dhani’s mother is Olivia Arias, who no doubt is thrilled to not only see her son pantomiming his father, but to witness him hugging up to a representation of her husband’s first wife.

Harrison’s new band thenewno2′s album apparently will be released soon. YB can only assume that young Harrison or someone (poorly) advising him believes the record faces nigh-unto-impenetrable barriers, since somebody in a relevant position thinks there’s something to be gained by breaking the rule observed by all Beatles progeny: “I will not be judged based on my dad’s legacy–or at least I will avoid the appearance of doing so.”

But Van Meter quotes Harrison in his editor’s letter as a way to justify this bizarre exercise: “It’s very hard to take a step in any direction musically without referencing something The Beatles have done.” Van Meter adds, “In every way, our ten-page layout with Dhani and Sasha perfectly captures what Fashion Rocks is all about.”

Precisely. It all makes perfect sense and is very high concept to vampires like Ms. Wintour and her underlings.

“Vibe” Just Wants To Celebrate (Itself)

jayzcake.jpgOnce 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 a writer who’s contributed to many of those magazines, as well as a few others! In this installment, he looks at the new issue of Vibe:

And so, after a yearlong run-up that included many lists of “25 Best Things” and haphazardly conceived, poorly designed “then and now” photo features in most issues, we have the 15th-anniversary “juice” issue of Vibe.

Man-o-manishevitz, do magazines love them some anniversaries. Let us count the ways:

  1. Longtime advertisers can be convinced to spend a premium, while new advertisers can be told that the anniversary issue is a great “jumping-on” point.

  2. When an issue is designated as such, the edit staff doesn’t have to worry about picayune matters regarding timeliness and can focus exclusively on the mag’s history.

  3. Edit staffers have an opportunity to impress upon readers the notion that the magazine and its legacy are eminently important.

In Vibe‘s case, they must, since there has been no gallop in the MSM to trumpet the fact that the mag has been around for 15 years. But whatever! Let ‘em pretend that it matters.

Appropriately enough, the issue is fronted by Jay-Z, a figure who has for two thirds of Vibe‘s lifetime embodied every artistic and aspirational ideal the mag holds dear. But Jay doesn’t look thrilled cutting the birthday cake on the front cover image, shot by Miko Lim: looking cheerful is not his thing, after all. The image on the flip (or back) cover, photographed by Leann Muller, is shot in black and white and is more, ahem, iconic.

Former XXL editor and ego trip founder Elliott Wilson, who is also editor-in-chief Danyel Smith’s husband, tails Jay to London and his headlining gig at the Glastonbury Festival. Wilson makes much of Jay’s longevity and centrality to hip-hop. He also notes Noel Gallagher’s stupid, nativist comment to the effect that Glastonbury should always and forever be about “guitar music” and witnesses Jay’s awesome onstage response. Vis-a-vis Gallagher’s comment, Wilson perpetrates a cheap, defensive taunt: “Hip-hop ain’t dead. Rock is dead.” Keyboard Krybaby doesn’t particularly get why hip-hop partisans at this late date insist that the genre is walled off from other idioms, in that he believes that hip-hop is a subset of rock and roll; here, Wilson seems at least as narrowminded as Gallagher. Otherwise, Wilson gets Jay to engage in the interview to a greater extent than in others KK read recently.

The other story of note is a follow-up of sorts to the magazine’s Obama cover last year. William Jelani Cobb, a Spelman college academic and author of the forthcoming book In Our Lifetime: Barack Obama and the New Black America, scribes “Who Ya With,” an examination of the black political establishment’s initial standoffishness w/r/t the candidate. It’s unfortunate that the piece is identically oriented to a recent New York Times Magazine piece by Democratic Party beat reporter Matt Bai. But Cobb, unlike Bai and the perpetually timid Times, at least alludes to why Jesse Jackson resents Obama enough to have remarked under his breath on Fox News that he wanted to “cut his nuts out” for “talking down to black people.”

Just by mentioning Jackson’s “extramarital drama,” Cobb gently suggests that Obama’s points w/r/t absentee fathers in the black community chafed Jackson, who sired a child with a former staffer, then had to be shamed into acknowledged doing so, thus becoming the John Edwards of 2001. Obama might as well have been talking down specifically to Jackson. Just as President Clinton must be angered that he is no longer the anointed star of the Dems, Jackson is now denied the top spot in black leadership to which he was accustomed, and he doesn’t like it. While Cobb made the point about Jackson’s absentee parenthood only in passing and should have emphasized it much more, that still beats the nervous nellies at the Times.

But apart from “It Was All A Dream,” a fashion spread comprising actors from the upcoming Biggie biopic Notorious, the rest of the issue is an assortment of best lists (15 “game-changing tracks since 1993″; “15 most definitive sportswear brands”; “the unfadeable 51,” a list of key albums from 1978 through 1993) and meditations on the wonder of Vibe itself. “Deep Cover” finds Ciara, T.I., Naughty by Nature’s Treach, and others reminiscing over their first time on the mag’s cover, whereas “The Originals” involves Diddy, Shaquille O’Neal, Beyoncé, Ice Cube, and KK’s beloved T-Pain (whom Vibe has evidently decided is a worthwhile artist) each discussing why they’re great.

Much more telling than any of those breezy strolls through Vibe-World is an unsigned piece titled “Cover Me Badd,” which analyzes 17 cover images that, in the staff’s judgment, have not aged well and are otherwise shitty. A March 2005 issue fronted by Gwen Stefani and Pharrell Williams is dismissed thusly: “We momentarily forgot what magazine we were making and decided to make this one. Twenty-five people in downtown NYC were psyched.” So… KK guesses that emphasizing the hook girl of Eve’s “Let Me Blow Your Mind” and a producer who dominated hip-hop for a while means that Vibe had lost its soul that month? Was Williams “over” by 2005? Or is it that many dopey white folks like Stefani?

More troublingly, an image of a wet, shirtless Usher in 1998 is described as “how you make sure no straight man (or grown and sexy woman) buys your magazine.” Vibe hardly is the only publication that fears the taint of homeroticism (KK knows of one gay editor who, upon taking the helm of a totemic mag, was instructed by his bosses that under no circumstances should it be perceived as a gay magazine), and many rappers may not approve of and then not cooperate with a magazine that’s sympathetic to the gay lifestyle. But it seems that such a jibe not only insults and invalidates every gay man that works or used to work for the mag, it suggests that Vibe doesn’t want gay readers, which is fairly insane at a time when mass-market publications need all the customers they can get.

In her editor’s letter, Smith thanks many of her staffers for designing “pages with elegance and grace.” KK doesn’t agree with Smith here, given his long-standing contention that the mag is packaged poorly and looks terrible: counterintuitive page design and worryingly mismatched colors abound in this issue as well. But she promises a redesign in the next issue, which KK hopes will address the headache he often gets when looking at Vibe.

“Blender” Gives It Up For Lil Wayne Once Again

blenderrrrweezy.jpgOnce 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 a writer who’s contributed to many of those magazines, as well as a few others! In this installment, he looks at the new issue of Blender:

Is Dwayne Carter the best rapper alive? Anono-Prick cannot say for sure, but he can say that he has sure as hell enjoyed every verse he’s heard out of the sesquidillion Carter has crafted since 2005, not to mention his work as a teenage Hot Boy. He can also say that Carter has had particularly hot hands for the past two years: not only is he the guest spitter of choice for every current R&B and hip-hop figure, but despite the unending, Zappa-esque stream of cuts he’s put up on MySpace, his third album, Tha Carter III sold a million units in its first week on shelves, an achievement associated with a distant epoch.

Lil Wayne also seems to think of himself, above all else, as an artist. Or, in his telling in “Lil Wayne, There is None Higher,” the cover story of the September ’08 Blender, his artistry is compulsive: “It’s a faucet I can’t turn off,” he tells senior editor Jonah Weiner.

Clearly, he’s the answer to Blender‘s prayers. And so it’s very likely that, once Tha Carter III proved to be a blockbuster, Weiner hustled down to Miami to hang out with the perpetually sizzurp- and chronic- guzzling rapper. The trouble is that–and here AP must admit that he’s hung up on possibly anachronistic notions of journalistic ethics and the concept of an “appearance of impropriety” that possibly no longer or never did apply to entertainment publications–this is Blender‘s third major feature regarding Lil Wayne since January.

All of which have been written by Weiner, who is also the author of a four and a half star review of Tha Carter III that appeared in last month’s issue. He’s probably developed a rapport with Wayne, and he sure as hell has made it clear that he thinks the rapper is nigh-unto-messianic, both of which surely come in handy when trying to gain access to one of the busiest artists in popular music.

(AP should mention that Weiner was hired right of out of college a few months after AP began his own doomed year and a half at Blender; AP sat next to Weiner and got along great with him, although watching his star wax while AP’s own waned was frequently frustrating).

It was hardly obvious a few months ago, given the surfeit of Weezy tunes online, that Tha Carter III would have had the success it continues to have at the brick-and-mortar level. So AP doesn’t necessarily begrudge Blender putting Lil Wayne front and center at a time when he’s a genuine pop figure, and not just a hip-hop standard bearer. And Weiner’s piece is quite good, and Blender‘s powers-that-be are to lauded for taking a risk, given the long-standing perception in the publishing field that white readers avoid magazines with African-Americans-that-are-not-Obama on its cover that AP likes to mention every week, etc., etc.

But it probably would have been prudent to send another writer down for the interview: Weiner is certainly not the only Blender scribe capable enough to do the job right. In the unlikely event that Blender continues awarding Wayne minute-by-minute, adulatory coverage in the rest of the year, senior editor Josh Eells or contributor Chris Norris should the get the nod. Otherwise, Blender and Weiner have made their point re: Wayne over and over again.

The other piece of substance in this issue is “R. Kelly: Trapped in the Courtroom,” in which writer Edward McClelland relates the goings-on in the Chicago courtroom that saw Kells get off without a nick. The writer focuses on the fact that the young lady alleged to be the recipient of Kelly’s affections, Reshonda LaFair, has consistently denied that it was she on the tape, which is why the case hinged on the accusation of creating child pornography and not of committing statutory rape. Apparently, LaFair’s family still benefits from Kelly’s largesse: She’s said to still visit his Chicago compound, and her dad has played guitar on several post-2002 Kells albums.

McClelland conveys a key fact of Kelly’s M.O. w/r/t to his amorous habits that AP hadn’t previously considered: Although evidence of his past exploits was inadmissible in court, apparently Kelly has a history of doing as he likes with young girls and is more than willing to throw money–whether settling lawsuits or paying for silence–at anyone who threatens to blow the whistle or otherwise stymie his lifestyle. (AP directs the interested reader to Bill Wyman’s R Kelly Sex Facts, which provides the context that the judge did not allow in court.)

Which brings AP to his corollary point: Chuck Berry has similarly poo- and piss- fixated predilections. In 1959, he was convicted of violating the Mann Act, i.e. bringing a teenage girl across state lines, and jailed for four years. While AP wouldn’t shed a tear if Berry were punished severely for his practice of videotaping women going to the bathroom in one of his restaurants in the St. Louis area, he also wouldn’t begrudge him his astounding, Louis Armstrong-level musical legacy. (Berry was also sentenced to prison for four months for tax evasion in 1979.)

Similarly, R. Kelly is more than likely a creep and sociopath, and AP wouldn’t have been upset if he was convicted. But no matter how much an asshole he might be, AP would never deny that Kells is a fucking great artist. Never mind his effortless way with a tune: “Real Talk” and “Trapped In the Closet” demonstrate a keen sensitivity toward how speech patterns can be rendered musically; “When A Woman’s Fed Up” shows that he can be empathetic in his recordings, if not in his recklessly conducted private life. AP would detail more of Kells’ formal innovations, but he’s probably going on a bit. Let’s just say that if personal conduct is the barometer of whether an artist should be countenanced by people of conscience, then you gotta get rid of every recording from Led Zeppelin, Frank Sinatra, and God knows how many others.

In any case, McClelland’s piece is excellent, particularly in light of how most mainstream media gatekeepers seemed to be discomfited by the case and dimly understood the defendant as an idiot savant who made this bizarre video that their hipster children thought was hilarious. AP wouldn’t be surprised if editor-in-chief Joe Levy missed the kind of deeply reported journalism that his former employer still invests in, and regarded l’affaire Kells as a major story about a major musical figure, and thus chose to give this the consideration it deserves. As it is, Blender‘s September issues tended in the last several years to be devoted to a “hot list,” which is absent from this issue and tends to be produced less expensively than sending a reporter to Chicago for a month. AP would be surprised if Levy’s boss, Kent Brownridge, was keen on more reportage of this sort, but good for Levy if he can get away with it.

Finally, a quick word regarding “Masters of Reality,” this month’s Station to Station column by Rob Sheffield. Sheffield watches Denise Richards: It’s Complicated and Living Lohan and concludes that… the people involved in these are foolish or sociopaths or both. He also makes quippy references to phenomena AP had to look up: “Kim Kardashian, with an ass that looks like the Denali National Park with a blanket thrown over it…”; Dina Lohan would need the Large Hadron Collider to make her seem like a “full-fledged human being.”

We are thus reminded that Sheffield can proffer snark. What we don’t know is what any of the current crop of reality programming tells us about contemporary American society, other than Sheffield likes laughing at–and possibly feels superior to–the participants. Levy is clearly content to let his friend take two pages in the magazine he runs to say that he, like most of his fellow viewers, is amused by these shows, and he will use convey his amusement with verbiage more snide and ornate than “OMFG” and “LOL.” But we never learn from Sheffield what these shows mean.

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