It Was Real at the Time
For sale: Tired, out of touch though revered brand.
price includes archives and 50 years of brand equity irrevocably tarnished by recent
shoddy practices. Best offer. Sale
My impression of Jann Wenner, the founder of Rolling Stone magazine, is that his life’s goal was to be almost as famous as the musicians his newspaper began to cover upon its inception in 1967. The original fan boy became a media baron. If he couldn’t shift cultural tectonic plates himself, he could at least befriend the genuine shakers and movers, document their achievements and share a little of the spotlight stage left.
It’s safe to posit that the glory days of magazines have passed. There are too many other, less thoughtful distractions. However, the great titles always bore an intensely personal stamp as distinctive as their logos and their covers in a crowded rack. I cannot think of The New Yorker without thinking of its legendary editor William Shawn. In
, Maclean’s was the undisputed realm of Peter C. Newman and Robert
Fulford was the heart of Saturday Night.
And so it was with Wenner and Rolling
Stone, for better and worse. Still, it’s a little disheartening to imagine Wenner’s
dream as just another title in the portfolio of a conglomerate. Word is that
Wenner would stay on as a guiding hand; those types of agreements rarely work
out since the seller cedes all vision and power in exchange for a hefty cheque.
As Kurt Cobain’s t-shirt read on one RS
cover: CORPORATE MAGAZINES STILL SUCK. Canada
After school was out in June, 1975, I was dispatched from
Montreal to to spend the summer with my older
brother at his behest. I believe he was concerned that I would grow up to be a petty
criminal if left to my own unsupervised devices because he was out west and our
dad lived in Edmonton .
While my brother went to work every day, I haunted Ottawa Jasper Avenue. I learned some things,
like never order a hotdog in a Chinese café, even if they’re listed on the menu
and WESTERN FOOD is stencilled on the window in a cowboy font. A stop on my
daily rounds was Mike’s, a newsstand crammed with cigar smoke and racing forms.
There, stacked at ankle level, I saw Mick and Keith, both shirtless, on the
cover of Rolling Stone. It was time
for this sophisticated man about town to take the great leap from Circus and Hit Parader, just the way I’d switched from AM to FM radio back
Random Notes became essential devouring. Rolling Stone was a bi-weekly paper, so there was no more immediate way to learn what my favourite groups were getting up to. I realized that
hip and high deejays had just been repeating what they’d read in Random Notes.
The record reviews were thoughtful, well argued, serious stuff, gold. Yet there
were elements of arch humour, an attractive snobbishness. The best ever that I
can recall was three words, J.D. Considine on J.D. Souther’s ‘Home by Dawn:’
“Don’t wait up.” Snotty, cheeky genius. Montreal
Writers were given prominence on the covers because they were as good in their field as their subjects were in their own. Tom Wolfe’s first novel was serialized. Brando and Prince granted interviews. The cover images themselves were frequently the talk of the town. Some were awkward. I had a hard time bringing an oiled up John Travolta sporting Tarzan briefs to the cash register. One of the Boston Marathon bombers did not warrant his additional 15 minutes of infamy, that one pissed me off. Bad calls and mistakes will be made over 50 years of publication, and anyway, provocation sells even if the articles are shorter and less nuanced.
During my 42 years as a loyal reader, I’ve watched the magazine change. Colour was introduced. The tabloid format was shrunk slightly, bindery, staples, were introduced. Rolling Stone shrank again into a traditional magazine format. Lately the perfect bind spine, glued pages, has reverted to saddle stitching as the editorial and advertising content has dried up. It’s not what it was, even physically.
Rolling Stone has always reflected the passions and prejudices of its founder. The irony is that a chronicler of counter-culture was slow to embrace punk because it was not music made by the Beatles, Dylan or the Stones, the rock establishment. Last year’s RS list of the top 50 punk albums had as much credibility as a
diploma. Efforts to remain relevant have spurted inches of fawning ink on
Internet fame junkies like Tila Tequila and runners-up in televised talent
contests. The magazine’s nadir was a recent double whammy: intrepid reporter
Sean Penn’s interview with a notorious Mexican drug lord, only to be topped by
a well intentioned but completely and utterly discredited feature on the
prevalence of rape culture on American college campuses. Trump University
But wasn’t it all big important stuff when rock music wasn’t a mere sub-genre of a disrupted industry. I used to read Rolling Stone like an album jacket, cover-to-cover at least twice. Dear me, it mattered desperately. When’s the next issue? These days when I prowl in the wee wee hours, I prefer to peruse The Economist. I’ve found with Rolling Stone lately that I might be interested enough to read half of every second issue. Maybe I’ve enabled its decline because I don’t care about Stone Temple Pilots, Kings of Leon, Star Wars, Fiddy, Jeezy, Miley Cyrus, Paris Hilton and Paris Jackson. Maybe I haven’t because I’ve stubbornly kept subscribing.