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 Blender:
Five weeks ago, Anono-Prick suggested that, after featuring chicks consecutively on the previous three covers, it was time for Joe Levy’s Blender to feature a dude on its cover.
Right on time, here’s the August 2008 edition, which is fronted not by a comely young woman, but by a guy who shares a physique with a goodly part of the readership Levy and his colleagues desperately want to not to lose to World of Warcraft, Twitter, and a komputah-based distraction that emerged while AP was writing this sentence. Jack Black is thereupon styled in combat gear, as per his role in the upcoming Tropic Thunder: he has enough credibility as a rock figure via his beloved D. that no one should look askance that he’s on this particular magazine’s cover.
Many months ago, AP alluded to a few words of wisdom offered by a publishing potentate. AP should disclose that said pearls–”in the late spring and summertime, they can see all the tits and ass they want on the street; In the fall and winter, they can’t, and that’s when you put nearly nekkid chicks on the cover”–were courtesy of Felix Dennis, Blender‘s former owner. At the time, Mr. Dennis was keen to impress upon the staff that a music magazine risked losing credibility if it went the “pendulous dugs” route too often; that this directive came from a man whose persona and publishing philosophy rebuked American notions of “credibility” amused AP and a few of his colleagues.
And so, in July comes no sweater meat. (Black’s pair doesn’t count.) It does seem, though, that Blender is overcompensating w/r/t the dude quotient in this issue. The issue contains exactly one piece of significance–by which AP means features, front-of-book items involving the subject’s participation, and lead and secondary “down page lead” music reviews–involving a female artist. This would be the four-point “Useful Tips” front-of-book featurette regarding Katy Perry, the Christian music refugee responsible for the most strident song regarding one young woman’s aborning interest in another to never appear under the “womyn’s music” rubric.
Otherwise, the pieces emphasized in the August Blender go like this: AP’s beloved T-Pain will have a new album, THR333 Ringz, ready for the fall; Chris Martin answers what are very likely not real queries from Blender readers; the four members of Motley Crue phone editor-at-large Elizabeth Goodman over the course of a week and disclose their mundane tour preparations; contributing editor Rob Sheffield rhapsodizes over the Hold Steady; Michael Joseph Gross talks with the cover dude; a piece details how games like Guitar Hero and SingStar are proving to be adept at selling downloads; contributing editor Jon Dolan visits the American Museum of Natural History with Conor Oberst…
Alright, let’s take a breather here.
…senior editor Jonah Weiner awards four and a half stars to Tha Carter III after spending half a year as the mag’s Lil’ Wayne correspondent; Beck’s Modern Guilt, Black Kids’ Partie Traumatic, Seun Kuti & Fela’s Egypt 80′s self-titled album, and the Cool Kids’ The Bake Sale are judged to be very good indeed; contributing editor Robert Christgau uses a five-star review of a 2007 compilation to eulogize Bo Diddley and then devotes an “Every Original Album Reviewed” to Funkadelic (but not Parliament) and spends a lot of ink extolling funk, which is kind of funny if you’ve ever seen the guy move in a most arrhythmic fashion to live music in the NYC area; and finally, senior editor Josh Eells solicits in a “Who Do You Think You Are” interview with G-Unit that 50 Cent fancies Phylicia Rashad rotten.
The next prominent placement of a female “artist” pops up in the review section’s “point of entry” item “I Love This CD.” Tila Tequila, Blender‘s June cover girl, has this to say about Madonna’s Hard Candy: “…how great does she look for her age? I’d date her.” AP suspects that, if queried on merits of of the past five prime ministers of the UK, the ever reliable Ms. Tequila would exclaim, “Margaret Thatcher? I’d hit that!”
Gross’ “G.I. Jack” comprises a fairly innocuous conversation: most often, that’s all you can expect from a conversation with what appears to be a well-adjusted, talented guy who pretty much everybody likes. But AP is fairly confident that Black’s likeability will not amount to a big newsstand gallop. AP wouldn’t be surprised if Blender lobbied for a Coldplay cover a few months ago, lost to Spin and Rolling Stone, and had to settle for Black pimping a movie that has produced little anticipation.
As it is, Blender does not have a very wide latitude w/r/t to male cover subjects. Rolling Stone can put Obama and iconic musicians familiar to its aging longtime readership on its cover for a newsstand boost. Spin is now the whistlestop for bands transitioning from the blawg/Pitchfork diaspora to the wider world. But which huge-selling male musical figure or band can a happily commercial, generalist music publication that has historically declined to put baby-boomer faves on its cover rely on these days?
When AP worked at Blender, the answer was always thus: Eminem. Now? Coldplay, sure. AP would think that the mag’s staff might have predicted Tha Carter III‘s first-week sales of a million, so why not him? Might be the old saw that images of black individuals tend to not do well for publications aimed at white people. Why not Nickelback? Might be that New York publishing types still cannot countenance butt-rock. Radiohead? Might be that too many of their fans proudly eschew print. Blender is in a pretty daunting bind here.
But it seems past time for Levy to come up with some new editorial gimmicks. He seems to have thus far abandoned Blender‘s longstanding reliance on lists, which is perhaps too redolent of the tenure of his predecessor, Craig Marks. His single formal addition has been giving over three pages an issue to crony Sheffield’s aforesaid Station to Station column, which this month finds Sheffield chewing over the Hold Steady’s new album Stay Positive. He likes it a whole lot, and in saying so, Sheffield grapples with an artist in the here and now instead of crafting hosannas to his ’80s faves, which has been his column’s tack thus far.
Levy had better get cracking: Blender‘s August 2007 issue topped out at 136 pages. The page counts of the subsequent seven issues, which concluded Marks’ run as editor-in-cheif, would never go under 120. Three of Levy’s first four issues topped out at 96 pages; the current mag hits 108.