Posts tagged "Joe Levy"

“Blender” Hosts A Summertime Bro-Down

jackblack.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:

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.

Okay.

…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.

Joe Levy Makes His Entrance At “Blender”

aliciakeys.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 an anonymous writer who’s contributed to several of those titles—or maybe even all of them! After the jump, a look at the new issue of Blender:

Madonna, Mariah Carey, Kid Rock, John Mayer, Keith Richards, and Alicia Keys are all artists that can reasonably expect to be treated with deference in Rolling Stone whenever it is advantageous for them to consent to interviews and photo shoots. Each of these artists can expect to be covered in Blender, too, and each is teased on the cover of the mag’s May 2008 issue.

In Rolling Stone‘s telling, John Mayer is a famous soft-rock singer-songwriter who peels off Stevie Ray Vaughan-style solos whenever he can get away with it. To Blender, he’s a smart and relatively self-aware guy who knows that a lot of people think his songs are sissy shit, fit only for your uncool chick cousin and her book club buddies. Mayer knows this, and even if it’s debatable that he should give much of a fuck since he’s richer and has bagged more famous hawt broads than anyone reading this sentence could dream of, he’s quite happy to play Blender‘s game.

So senior editor Josh Eels climbs aboard the Mayercraft Carrier, in which Mayer is the draw for a cruise traversing the Caribbean. To Eels, the trip mostly comprises packs of cougars and bachelorette partiers similar to the hypothetical woman described above, all enjoying the fellowship of other Mayer fans, going to his shows on the boat, and hoping to catch a candid glimpse of–or even share Patron with — the object of their affection. (Notably, the photo spread accompanying the piece, “Greetings From the Mayercraft Carrier,” does not include the widely disseminated photo from the cruise in which Mayer poses in Borat’s man-thong.) Eels is good at on-the-spot “wtf?”-style reportage; this kind of story is key to Blender‘s interest in the absurdities often found in the periphery of pop music. “What do you think of Buddy Guy?” is not part of Blender‘s purview.

That kind of question is, however, part of the purview of Rolling Stone, for which Joe Levy worked as an executive editor for almost eleven years until this past January, when he was hired as editor-in-chief of Blender by fellow Wenner Media dissident and current Alpha Media Group Chairman Kent Brownridge. This issue is the first in which his name is listed as such on the masthead.

When he was hired, Levy said that he hoped to inculcate more respect for artists, which is an aim of Rolling Stone, in the magazine he’s now running. But for a purely cosmetic design overhaul, this issue indicates that he’s working with the staff and pool of freelancers that was in place for his predecessor Craig Marks’ last year, and thus the mag’s philosophy and accompanying editorial apparatuses have not been monkeyed with.

Your very own Anono-Prick would think that this month’s cover subject, Alicia Keys, might have indicated a shift towards “respect for artists,” since AP thinks Keys’ music and persona are both predicated on profoundly boring “this-is-how-proper-music-used-to-be-made” tropes. Sure enough, in “Alicia Keys Unlocked,” senior editor Jonah Weiner reports that she believes that “there was so much more good music 40, 50 years ago.” But Weiner unearths the fact that, due to various comments Keys made that that ranged from the anti-Bush to–dude–the pro-anarchy, the New York Police Department put Keys under surveillance prior to the Republican Convention in NYC in 2004. Although it may seem that the mere fact of a member of the creative class not much caring for the current POTUS isn’t terribly noteworthy, Weiner did succeed in the unprecedented feat of interesting AP in Keys for a moment. Still, AP thinks that Keys may have been chosen to be the first cover gal of Levy’s tenure because of her abundant “artistic” qualities; As I Am was released six months ago, and the promotion of the album’s third single, “Teenage Love Affair,” isn’t much to hang a cover on.

Levy’s first issue blows through the front-of-book Burner section without much fuss and includes a week-long “Phone Home” feature from a touring Kid Rock and a “Dear Superstar” sit-down with Keith Richards, in which he answers questions that are probably not from flesh and blood readers. After the Keys profile comes a “Spend $848 with…” stunt feature in which rest-of-the-world-conquering German emo-boppers Tokio Hotel spend that sum at a Hamburg Casino. (AP gets nervous when ever he writes the words “world-conquering” and “German.”) AP has absolutely no confidence that these little Krauts will ever interest anyone in America beyond particularly avant-garde 11-13 year old girls, but he thinks it would be pretty cool if Tokio Hotel broke the U.S. Senior editor Victoria De Silverio touches on the issue of be-fright-wigged frontboy Bill Kaulitz’s sexuality, but points out that the kid became famous for his 2003 rendition of “It’s Raining Men” on the German Star Search. AP isn’t sure about German culture, but he’s confident that no minder in the U.S. would ever allow their tween boy charge to sing that particular song.

Then comes the Mayer piece, then “Rock’s Secret Millionaires,” a foldout quasi-list feature that’s most likely sponsored by Mini Cooper; it seems like a bit of an afterthought. By page 73, we’ve reached the reviews section “The Guide,” wherein Madonna’s Hard Candy and Mariah Carey’s E=MC2 are both assessed to the tune of four stars. R.E.M.’s Accelerate, while awarded three and a half stars, is nonetheless dismissed by senior critic Jon Dolan with language far more frank than Rolling Stone would ever allow regarding that band.

And that’s about it. The feature well is nowhere near as crowded as recent issues, and there’s no ingenious, irreverent list of the “top” this or that. It’s quite possible that, given the two or three-month lead time, much of this content was initiated by Marks. If that is the case, then it would be a very foolish editor indeed who would swan in and say “I don’t care how long this has been planned and how much $$$ has been dropped; this is Day 1, and everyone must start over now.”

AP’s supposes that new bosses don’t always bulldoze into a new workplace, changing everything that worked immediately because they need to “leave their mark.” Levy has a staff remaining from Marks’ tenure, and, given that AP does not have access to Audit Bureau of Circulation data, it doesn’t seem like the mag is tanking on the newsstad; Blender isn’t broken by any means. Some exponents of Old Media could do a lot worse than to evoke the irreverence of the computah world, which is what this mag has been up to for some time.

But Levy will have to come up with new editorial gimmicks, and he’ll likely bring in more of “his own people,” like his pal who signed up earlier this week. AP hopes, though, that the respect for artists Levy speaks of never materializes.

[Cover image via Eartodastreetz]

60123_sheffield_rob.gifAs sorta-predicted by the Anono-Critic, pop omnivore and Love Is A Mix Tape author Rob Sheffield is leaving his post at Rolling Stone and following that mag’s former executive editor, Joe Levy, to Blender, where he’ll write a monthly column. [Page Six / Photo via Random House]

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]