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Friday, September 28, 2007

Sheena WAS a punk rocker - Jann S. Wenner never was.

I lament what’s become of Rolling Stone magazine. Once the chief source for great information about the music industry and what was the rebel culture of Rock n’ Roll – it has become little more than a Madison Avenue shill-machine.

I’ve been a subscriber on and off for many years; dating back to the late seventies. Back then, its format was similar to a newspaper – a smaller, dirtier paper (think 70’s smut rag). Then it took on the form of a pulp-weekly (think local rag one picks up for free, found sitting outside various establishments in any metro area). Finally, in the eighties, (or the ‘haties’ as I like to think of them) the Stone adopted its current, oversized-glossy magazine style.

Rolling Stone tipped it’s hat – and America’s youth culture never picked up on it.

About five years ago I received an offer for a lifetime subscription. Wow, really? A lifetime subscription? Of course I accepted.

Yes, I had been outraged from time to time by some of the magazine’s coverage and cover subjects. In particular those issues graced with the likes of Sam Kinison (a dead, fat comedian whose hate-filled rants were never funny), Sebastian Bach (who?) and Andrew Dice Clay (again, who?). And I objected to all those issues featuring nearly nude celebrity-wannabes whose names no one remembers, or in some cases, wants to (Jenny McCarthy! Ewww). What the hell did they have to do with Rock ‘n Roll? Yes, sex has always been an important part of the rock culture – but this was something else. Something more blatant minus the usual cultural significance – it was cheap, tawdry and in most cases totally unwarranted.

Of course, now, it has become a matter of course for Rolling Stone to choose the flavor of the week for their covers. People who often have nothing in common with and are not even in the same realm as cover subjects of its first two decades. Crap ‘celebs’ like Disney’s (no, really DISNEY’S?) current teen scream Zac Efron, in a photo that is so air brushed it almost renders him featureless and genderless, routinely grace this once credible mag’s cover. That is when they are not paying homage to their own legend or drudging up ancient rock casualties like Kurt Cobain (suicide – big whiner) and Axl Rose (career suicide – big whiner). I guess suicide really IS a good career move, not to mention a means to sell magazines. Or when they are not advocating their insufferable HOT LIST issues – which are nothing more than shopping lists culled from all the freebies accorded the staff of Rolling Stone via advertisers and the wannabe famous. Or when they are not making yet another MOST IMPORTANT albums ever list – which are usually short-sighted (featuring many of today’s big sellers), oddly misogynistic (women not only rock – they also write credible songs with a unique sensibility – hello?) and almost immediately rendered irrelevant.

It’s sad. Very, very sad. But the suspect cover models, endless self-back-pats, waste-of-time nostalgia trips and horrible, lackluster writing (seriously – where do they find these writers?), are not the only thing that makes my heart sink with the arrival of each new issue.

Remember that lifetime subscription? It’s a scam – sort of. Yes, a new issue appears faithfully every two to three weeks. But with a major difference – one that flies in the face of what the magazine once stood for.

You see, those lifers represent a devoted audience – one that adds up to big numbers – numbers which are then hawked to advertisers as a means of proof of readership which in turn keeps ad rates up, up, up. Fact is, Rolling Stone no longer cares about their readers. They don’t have to. The readers are no longer an integral part of the financial support the magazine needs to stay afloat. It’s now all about the advertising. And if you look at a recent issue, there are pages upon pages upon pages of the stuff; big glossy, high-concept flotsam featuring dead-eyed models sporting the trendiest stuff. Most of the ads promote ‘hip’ clothing lines (like I need a $700 pair of jeans) and schools that promise to teach you pro tools and ‘the business’. And, oh yes, there is the occasional ad promoting a new album (music? In Rolling Stone? Why that would be like MTV playing a music video) – usually in the very same issue that includes a lukewarm, badly written review of the said/same album.

I remember when the ads were as exciting as the cover. As exciting as the articles. What happened to the promise of punk rock? At least anger was not apathy. Punks railed against the establishment. And so did the Stone. Conspicuous consumption was intended to be part of the revolution. Being complacent; resigning one’s self to the inevitable was simply not in the cards.

Oh, well. Sheena WAS a punk rocker (Jann S. Wenner, incidentally NEVER was). Now Sheena’s in P.R. Or a reality television show producer. (Note to the balding, fat, lead singer from Poison – YOU are NOT a Rock Star!). She hates here life and what she’s become – but all that Cristal champagne keeps the demons of lost promise at bay.

The Stone still does a fairly good job of covering liberal politics in America – villainizing Republicans and religious zealots with predictable glee while exalting the likes of Hillary and Obama. Yeah! And they should, considering a lot of the money the magazine generates for publisher Wenner goes to wonderful, needy liberal causes – like the Democratic Party.

I sure miss the days of old – when the magazine stood for the counter culture – and not THE CULTURE.

You see, I don’t want naked nymphs coming into my house. I know it sells copies, but it bores the hell out of me. Same with all the gossip column crap and the glassy-eyed nostalgia pieces (Johnny Rotten is throwing up in his grave and, yes, he really is dead – in a way). And the album reviews? Writers used to build entire careers based on the strength of their album reviews. Now it is just some biased poser playing connect the dots with the latest buzz words. I can picture the little brats huddled in their pubic hair lined bathrooms, masturbating all over the page featuring their review the day an issue comes out. No doubt, exactly the same activity they were enjoying while writing it.

Rolling Stone has become like that sad Uncle you have. The one that shows up at your party sporting a bad toupee’ and a lip-glossed twink girlfriend who is constantly talking on her cell phone, careful to remain at least three steps behind him at all times. Your Uncle touts duds featuring the labels that are (gasp) advertised in Rolling Stone magazine. They’re way too young for him and the whole ensemble (twink, toup, haute couture) makes his flesh look sickly and makes yours feel prickly icky. You know who I’m referring to… the Uncle who every time you see him, you just want to knock off that damn head nest and tell him to go get some f*cking integrity!

Rolling Stone grew older alright. It even grew up. But – as previous generations at the heart and soul of the origin of the magazine have so eloquently expressed – if that’s what growing up means, then I want no part of it.

I don’t want any part of the hollow shell that Rolling Stone has become.

Sheena doesn’t either, Jann.