“Spin” Turns The Rock-Star Notion On Its Ear

anono | June 26, 2008 10:00 am

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:

It has been a longrunning meme at this column that mainstream entertainment magazines don’t like it much when their competitors run a cover story featuring the same famous people at the same time as they. And so it comes to pass that the July 2008 Spin hits newsstands two weeks after the most recent issue of Rolling Stone. The former comprises an image of the entire lineup of Coldplay, whereas the latter features only the band’s front-sissy Chris Martin. RS is clearly observing prevailing publishing wisdom that an image of a single individual will produce better newsstand sales than that of several; Spin goes with the noble concept that “Coldplay is a band.”

But Your Boy wonders if the respective muckety-mucks of Spin and Rolling Stone can muster any righteous indignation as to which has the exclusive right to feature the most self-effacing rock band in the history of the world around the release date of Viva La Vida or Death and All His Friends. It seems like all concerned would keep their heads down, play ball with one of the few bands to debut in the past decade that can command a consensus among people around the world that have no “oh they’re just the Home Depot version of Radiohead” bona fides to prove, and hope that these issues do well in a crumbling marketplace and not worry that the dudes across the street had the same access they did. But Spin‘s braintrust must be pleased that their issue came out two days before Coldplay’s record debuted at No. 1.

In any case, the issue under consideration this week is a Bizarro World version of Spin‘s June 2007 issue, which perhaps unintentionally featured a three-part examination of what the term “rock star” used to connote: namely, a imperially arrogant, debauched, and extravagantly wealthy individual. This month, again perhaps unintentionally, the mag presents a trisected meditation on how residents of the indie-rock diaspora are often seized by notions of humility.

Spin begins, of course, with Michael Joseph Gross’ “Shine On,” in which he spends some time in London with Coldplay. Gross presents a woman who works next to the band’s rehearsal space: she knows little of the band other than that they are unassuming and that they are probably “crap at what they do.” He recounts the standard litany of Koldplay Komplaints–their music is dull, the 40-Year-Old Virgin “gay” comment–then notes that the band’s new album is produced by Brian Eno and Arcade Fire knobsman Markus Dravs, and is thus spikier and more challenging than its previous music.

For the remainder of the piece, Gross portrays the dudes being self-deprecating. They are self-deprecating while planning the band’s marketing; they are self-deprecating in that they foolishly ceded too much decision making to others and erred in dismissing their now-reinstated manager, Dave Holmes; Martin frets over the possibility that someone might think the name of the album and the video for “Violet Hill” are pretentious, as well as the celebrity culture that makes his family’s life trying; and so on.

YB should mention here that he was interested to learn that Martin’s grandmother is Zimbabwean despot Robert Mugabe’s next-door neighbor. But otherwise, YB is mostly struck that with Coldplay, the now 15-year-old expectation that musical artists should not behave in a manner associated with Louis XIV dovetails with an ancient and very English notion that one should not draw undue attention to or seem altogether pleased with oneself.

Similarly, Deputy Editor Steve Kandell’s “Animal Collective of Montreal” (BTW: no matter the knowledge and predilections of Spin‘s readership, that’s one unwieldy mufuggin’ headline) concerns the Canadian quartet Wolf Parade. The men of this band are also laconic and concerned/unconcerned with seeming too prepossessing: like Coldplay, they each profess a lack of interest in cellphones and the innuhnet, and are bemused that anyone cares much for their music. Unlike Gross, Kandell ascribes these traits to the band’s nationality; he also delightfully describes singer/guitarist Dan Boeckner as being “one blue knit cap away from being Jimbo from The Simpsons.”

Finally we come to “Fjord Escorts,” which concerns how the Swedish government takes an active interest in and indeed subsidizes native musicians as key exports abroad. The piece is written by Adam Sachs, a fellow YB has known since he was 14 years old and with whom he spent a long weekend prior to this writing, so he must recuse himself from any qualitative assessment. He’ll just leave you with the fact that Swedes–part of the Scandinavian continuum populated by folks widely considered to be exceedingly reserved–seem to regard music and musicians as humble artisans producing exquisitely designed and serviceable craft, and not powerfully self-involved “art.”

YB should say here that he tends to desire humility in his personal acquaintances, in elected servants, and in other players in public life. And it may be that most self-conscious, middle-class music fans were taught by Nirvana 15 years ago and by the domestic and foreign policies of the current administration that swaggering around with your big dick is bad. “Those folks are not like the Motley Crue, most rappers, or the tweakers on all those realty shows,” they might say. “They’re like me: responsible and humble. They look like they go to the same bar as me.” And perhaps some of the people interviewed in these three articles are in fact preening jerks, but are adept at concealing this from journalists.

But YB more or less believes that some artists should be arrogant. Swaggering around with your big dick when you have a titanic, compelling gift that enriches the human race is okey-dokey in YB’s book, and he’d like the regular-guy paradigm to go away for a while.