“Spin” Does The Time Warp

anono | October 3, 2008 12:00 pm

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.