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Book Review: Spin Magazine

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Oh, Spin, Spin, Spin. Once upon a time you were a pretty great mag. But today, I’m not even linking to your official website, because just doing so would damage my credibility as a music writer.

Seriously. You suck.

I give a lot of shit to Spin… oh, you noticed? Fancy that. Well, I want to take a few minutes to explain why.

Ten years or so ago, folks, Spin was the only place you could read about the major indie-rock exponents in America. Yo La Tengo, Pavement, Guided By Voices, even Daniel Johnston were to be found in rich detail and fascinating profile in Bob Guccione Jr.’s publication. This was during the time when Rolling Stone had soaked itself in the grunge movement, of course–before it sank into the muck and became the Britney and Xtina Gazette. But if you wanted to read about something more cutting-edge, angular, weird, or yes, elitist, you passed up Rolling Stone , even back then and settled on Spin.

Then Guccione the Younger went and sold off the magazine to Vibe, the Rolling Stone of Urban Culture. (SIDEBAR: Yes, I hate the fact that “Urban” is the official euphemism for “Black” too, but you do know exactly what I’m talking about when I say it, don’t you?) Vibe is owned by Quincy Jones. Its publication style is a lot like his production style: glossy, teflon-coated, made slick and palatable to the masses.

And it affected Spin to the great detriment of everything. Today they try very hard to pretend to maintain that sharp edge, but they only pull it off if you buy into the following conceits:

  • The only American music worth listening to is being made in Lower Manhattan or Brooklyn, which is conveniently where most of Spin’s writers reside.
  • The only music anywhere worth listening to is that GOD DAMNED retro-postpunk shit.
  • People who have long, Ashton-Kutcher hair and leather jackets are the fashion template of tomorrow, and not merely a throwback to Jared Leto on My So Called Life.
  • Dave Eggers, who wrote A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius and edits McSweeney’s, is thereby qualified to be a rock writer.
  • Karen O. from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs is a sex symbol (!!).

Put another way, I just went to their website-that-I’m-still-not-linking-to and looked up all of the most talked-about underground bands of 2004: Arcade Fire, Fiery Furnaces, the Streets, Animal Collective, Devendra Banhart, and Iron & Wine.

The results: Three passing mentions of Arcade Fire (and one snapshot of them in one of the online photo galleries); four whopping paragraphs on the Fiery Furnaces, written before their 2004 album Blueberry Boat was even released; absolutely nothing on the Streets; a review of an album by another band that suggested they might have been influenced by Animal Collective; three paragraphs and a picture of Devendra Banhart; and, the most in-depth of all, one full interview with Sam Beam from Iron & Wine.

Meantime, Spin masturbated all over The Strokes (apparently they haven’t heard that everyone else in America stopped caring), The Darkness (eh), the Yeah Yeah Yeahs (already the most overhyped band in America), LCD Soundsystem (who did great singles and one mediocre album), everyone else remotely associated with DFA (spotty at best), and Franz Ferdinand (yes, okay, I like them). Bleah. How boring.

Finally, you’ll notice that Spin has a ridiculous tendency to crown bands as “Hippest Band in the World!” Next time you see one of those, watch the band closely for the next month or two. “Hippest Band in the World!” is Spin code for “Coming Soon to a Clear Channel-owned ‘modern rock’ station near you!” See if I’m wrong.

A few years ago, at my college radio station, our musical director sent out a memo complaining about the quality of the sets that some DJs were playing. Part of it read, “One person in particular fills up their set with nothing but Spin-sanctioned indie-rock (ick).” That pretty much sums it up. Read Mojo.
REF: CMP Edited: PC

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About Michael J. West

  • Quincy Jones isn’t dead, dude.

  • Oh. I could swear just recently…anyway, “oops.” Excuse me while I edit that out. 🙂

  • I remember when Spin was good. It was always such a treat to get one of those magazine in the mail. I think I still have some old copies in the garage somewhere. Thanks for the link to Mojo, never heard of that before but will check it out.

  • Eric Olsen

    I interviewed Bob Jr. for my first book back in the early ’90s, and briefly wrote a little for them, but then they changed editors (again) and I lost touch. Bob was cool but I never quite figured out that mid-Atlantic accent

  • i used to have a subscription, and kept it way too long.

    every once in a while they would surprise me with something cool…the last time being an article about Neu!

    that was a bunch of years ago though.

  • Sheila Jones

    “once upon a time,” “because just doing so”
    Michael J. West can’t write. Give it up buger flipper.