Guaranteed to sell with dead faces on the front: Rolling Stone celebrates 50 years

6 Nov

Rolling Stone magazine is turning 50 this year, and CBS Sunday Morning kicked off its show this week with an interview with Jann Wenner, who began the counterculture mainstay when he was just 21. Over the years it’s gone from newsprint to glossy, oversized magazine to what is now a slim, stapled publication that is more an advertisement for its online material as anything substantive. In the CBS interview, Wenner talked about why he has put the publication up for sale last September, explaining it needs to “live on its own.” That’s code for, “It’s breathing its last, and I don’t want to be here to watch my baby die.”

At least, that’s how I hear it.

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame RS installation

The news itself is now the story: Rolling Stone’s 50 Years anniversary retrospective at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

I’ve been a subscriber since sophomore year of college. (I still remember the string of scolding dunning notices I got from the publisher in 1982 saying, “Bruce Springsteen pays his bills; so should you.” I replied in my final, successful letter, “Here’s another copy of my canceled check from three months ago. Signed, Bruce S.”) I did my thesis on Hunter S. Thompson (and named one of my kids in his honor). I became enough of a fan of Annie Leibovitz, David Fricke, Mikal Gilmore and many other journalists to buy their books and tune into their podcasts. For decades, the magazine has been tactile proof of the permanence and importance of what I hold dear: rock music, self-satisfied leftie politics, innovative celebrity photography and Dave Grohl gushing about his mom.

RS’s sale is yet another sobering sign that all of that may be coming to an end. Chuck Klosterman just published X, a terrific collection of essays on his two abiding loves: sports and earsplitting, ridiculous heavy metal. (Gotta hand it to a guy who invests 10,000 words into justifying his devotion to KISS yet retains his self-respect.) In the final piece,”Something Else,” he observed something both obvious and shocking enough to stop my breath: “Dying used to be an occupational risk to living like a rock star, but it’s now the primary thing rock stars do.” By extension, that’s now the publication’s reason for being:

 I have a friend who works at Rolling Stone magazine, and we sometimes play a party game where we speculate on whose death would (or would not) warrant the magazine’s cover…. It’s almost become a business decision: The only issues of Rolling Stone guaranteed to sell exceptionally well are the ones with dead faces on the front.

TP Rolling Stone coverSadly, Tom Petty was on the cover of the most recent issue for that very reason.

Perhaps it’s best that the publication passes the baton. Their reputation for investigative reporting took a near-lethal hit and lawsuits continue from the magazine’s debunked story about campus rapes at UVA, and they are not alone in railing against Trump and his cockamamie cronies. While they may feature Kendrick Lamar on the cover (between obituaries), it’s less because young rap enthusiasts read RS and more because older RS readers want to say they know something about rap. And it’s all about the video clips on the website now, accompanied by photos scaled to be viewed on iPhones. Times have changed.

Sob!

***

Thankfully, before I posted this and crawled off to drown my sorrows in a reasonably priced pinot noir, my younger daughter intervened. She assured me that rock music will continue to thrive as long as people like me continue to care. So, everyone out there, c’mon: clap your hands and say with me,

I do believe in rock and roll!
I do believe in rock and roll!
I do believe in rock and roll!
(fade out)

See you on the flip side …

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4 Responses to “Guaranteed to sell with dead faces on the front: Rolling Stone celebrates 50 years”

  1. Every Record Tells A Story November 7, 2017 at 3:20 am #

    Here in the UK Rolling Stone has only just appeared on news stands, so it still carries a whiff of so e5ing slightly exotic to me. It’s the magazine bands would talk about but we would never see, except in airport newsagents, when I would pick up a copy. I hope it doesn’t go the way of the NME in the UK, which is now a free magazine, devoid of charm and content.

    • lpon45 November 7, 2017 at 11:26 pm #

      RS is still a pretty good magazine, with more hits than misses. Enjoy it while you can …

  2. pamhoughton November 7, 2017 at 8:03 am #

    Can’t say I was an avid reader of Rolling Stone but I feel your pain. 🙂 You do have to wonder, though, about the future of rock music. By the way, I have another book you might like: it’s a memoir by Viv Albertine, who was the guitarist for the Slits. Found it in Scotland. Had never heard of her, didn’t know she was influential in the punk scene. My husband knew of her, however. Anyway…I’ll pass it along if you’re interested. I really, really liked it.

    • lpon45 November 7, 2017 at 12:54 pm #

      I would definitely like to borrow the book. My daughter referenced it in her senior project at NYU and she’s been bugging me to read it.

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