Wish I'd Said It

Weeds are flowers too - once you get to know them.

- A. A. Milne

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Rolling Stone Magazine: When It Mattered & When It Stopped (Issue #146)

A few weeks ago, I bought the 40th anniversary issue of Rolling Stone magazine. It made me feel a bit old because somewhere in a box in my basement or garage is issue #1. As I paged through it, I was reminded of when the magazine mattered and when it stopped.

For a time, Rolling Stone offered me something the magazine racks in Smalltown Ontario never had: people who looked like me, writing enthusiastically about the things I cared about - mostly, but not solely, music. It was intoxicating and I devoured every word, lingered over every picture of Janis, Jimi and Bob.

I was mildly discomfitted when it went from newsprint to a glossy format. I found it a little harder to read but had to admit the pictures sure looked spiffier.

I wasn’t happy when founder/publisher Jann Wenner decided to move its offices from San Francisco to New York in the 70s. It smacked of going corporate, something RS would have sneeringly disparaged a few short years earlier. But I stuck with it because of the writing. The voices were still angry, eloquent and passionate. They tilted against the status quo like pen-wielding jousters.

Hunter S. Thompson led the charge. His hilarious, insightful, drug-fuelled rants peeled the patina of politeness from society, the media, and politics. He was the best, most natural writer I’ve ever read. But sometime toward the latter part of the 70s I found his rants to be more addled than interesting; the demons he fought no longer entirely outside himself.

To me, Thompson’s decline mirrored RS’s. Full page ads for perfume and BMWs had somehow replaced pictures of girls with unshaven armpits and classifieds featuring used Volkswagen buses. The magazine which established itself as the voice of the counterculture had become just another corporate mouthpiece. Chic had replaced cheeky.

I stopped buying it and didn’t miss it.

But I have a weakness for anniversary issues of just about any magazine. I’ve got anniversary issues of Esquire, Penthouse, Playboy, Harpers and dozens of others. I bought Rolling Stones’ 25th and 30th. Something wallet-loosening happens when I walk past a magazine rack and espy glossy covers with big numbers plastered across the front. So buying the 40th was automatic.

I’ve added it to my Bathroom Stack and leaf through it now and again. Most anniversary issues have an element of self-congratulation running through them. It’s understandable. But I’ve not seen anything like Rolling Stones’. That issue features a lot of interviews with famous, or used-to-be-famous folk. At some point in the interviews they’re asked how important RS was to them and their careers. I was actually embarrassed at how pitifully and blatantly self-serving it was, begging to be told how important it...used...to...be.

A couple of days ago I was wandering past a magazine rack and saw RS touting its 40th anniversary with a totally different cover. Hmmm. I checked it out and saw what I’d missed in the one I’d purchased earlier: They were “celebrating” their 40th with three (3!) different issues. Three different 40th anniversary issues - each at eight bucks a pop.

Hunter Thompson would have eviscerated them. And then happily cashed their cheque.

I put part two back on the shelf. If I notice RS 40th III (Fatter & Glossier!) I’ll walk right on by.

Yes, I’ve changed over the years too. I’m fatter but still a long way from glossy. My hair is still long and I still love rock n’ roll and I still only wear a tie if someone dies.

I appreciate Rolling Stone making me feel like part of a great social movement for a time but I’m no longer buying what they’re selling. Nor do I need anyone to speak for me. And if I want to know what the counterculture is thinking nowadays I’ll find it expressed in pixels, not amongst glossy, scratch-n-sniff pages.

But if I’m ambulatory and have 20 bucks in my pocket in 10 years, you can bet your buns I’ll be taking the 50th home with me.

Well, at least part one.


Longtime readers of my emailed column are familiar with Hilary of Dejablues Designs. She designed all my spiffy headers and the clickable fishies that magically transported you to my book’s page on Amazon.com where tens and tens of you purchased copies and helped make it An Enduring Classic. Over the years, our deep and much-cherished friendship has developed into a pleasant, casual acquaintanceship. (I’d insert a smiley here if I hadn’t declared this a smiley-free zone.)

Anyway. Hilary has recently joined the Blogosphere. I’d be pleased if you’d visit her site and see her many talents on display. You can find it here or copy and paste this link into your browser: http://thesmittenimage.blogspot.com/

Tell her Frank sent you. But I have a hunch she’ll already know.


Hilary said...

Dear Mr. Baron,

Thanks for the link and the nod (not to be confused with a wink and a nod).. and for "outing" me on your own blog.

Much appreciated. :) <-- (in blatant violation of the smiley-free zone)

Your pleasant but casual acquaintance.

Frank Baron said...

You're welcome Hilary. And I only declare my column/blog to be a smiley-free zone - not my responses.


mogie222 said...

So funny. I actually bought the 40th edition to help me as I recovered from my elbow surgery. I thought I would have trouble holding a book, so I got a few magazines and that was one of them. Your take as self-serving was interesting, but that what I expected from the issue. There were actually a few of the interviews, especially Ringo Starr that stood out. I actually quoted from it to my niece who was going to see Bob Dylan a few weeks later. Ringo talked about loving Bobby Dylan, but when you see his show, you never know what he's gonna give you. I told my niece that (who was so stoked for the concert) and sure enough, Bobby Dylan was not sharing the love that night, just like Ringo said. My niece reported the concert sucked. She had seen him once before as said it was an awesome experience.

Frank Baron said...

Hiya Abby.

I haven't read all the interviews yet. Just skimmed Mailer's, Wolfe's, Dylan's and Weir's. I just felt really weird about the issue. It brought home the disappointment I felt at the time I stopped buying RS in a way that the previous anniversary editions didn't.

It was like watching Gloria Swanson again in Sunset Boulevard, believing she was still young and beautiful despite all the evidence to the contrary.

Moby Dick said...

Rolling Stone has sucked for a long time. Longer than Courtney Love, Britney, Paris, or Anna Nicole. National Lampoon on the other hand was still pretty funny when it stopped publishing.

Frank Baron said...

Hi Spidey. I have a TON of old National Lampoons (and a few Harvard Lampoons too). In their prime, they were hilarious.

Crabby McSlacker said...

Great post, Frank.

It is sad--but it's sort of emblematic, isn't it, of the way the whole counter-culture of the 60's and 70's is celebrated at the same time it's watered down, bowlderized, sanitized, commercialized, and trivialized? If I see one more damn commercial from some Fortune 500 company trying to sell schlock with a song that used to Mean Something, I think I'll puke.

But then I no longer have hairy armpits, so I guess we all sell out and move on.

And I was already Smitten with Hilary, but thanks for the reminder!

Frank Baron said...

Thanks Crabby. It's nice to know I'm not the only disgruntled old fart out there. ;)

Stace said...

Did you ever hear that song by Dr Hook and the Medicine Band - "Cover Of The Rolling Stone"? It's a great reminder of how important that magazine was to the music industry and the bands in that era, but to be honest I've never seen it as anything more than trash during my lifetime. (I'm only 24!!!)

"We take all kinda pills to give us all kinda thrills, but the thrill we never know,
Is the thrill that'll getcha when you get your picture on the cover of the Rolling Stone!"

(Interestingly, according to my father, that song did actually get them onto the cover of the Rolling Stone.)

Frank Baron said...

Yeah Stace, I believe your Dad remembered correctly. I recall looking at that cover at the time and thinking "it worked!"

No one said...

I think I should pull my head out of the woods and get my pop culture fix! I didn't have any commercials to contribute nor any thoughts on Rolling Stone - pitiful of me. Very fun blog by the way!

Frank Baron said...

Thanks Dana and nah, the woods is a great place to be. You're not missing much of importance. :)