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Rolling Stone Turns 1000! (That’s 38 In Human Years)

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Rolling Stone had a birthday last week — one freakin’ thousand issues and still as fresh and relevant as it was on its first day on the planet, 9 November 1967. Yeah, she has a few wrinkles here and there, but she’s remarkably well-preserved and can still hold her own with any magazine that came before or after her birth.

Sure, there were other music magazines before Rolling StoneCrawdaddy for the hippie-oriented and the original Hit Parader, with its chord charts and lyric sheets, come to mind — but by and large, those magazines were beholden to the record labels and their content reflected that. Whatever else there was about rock & roll was pretty much teen fanzine fodder.

Rolling Stone changed all that, and then some. From the outset, her edict was rock & roll not only can change the world, but is changing the world, and you’d be well-advised to listen. That was a powerful message, a defiant proclamation, and one to which, through all the years and changes, the magazine has steadfastly adhered. And somewhere along the way, she went from being an almost underground newspaper to evolve into the cornerstone of modern journalism it is today.

Nobody writing about pop culture today can deny they were influenced by Rolling Stone, in fact, most of us would probably would not have been inspired to write at all had it not been for Jann Wenner and his cadre of guerilla journalists. Guys like Hunter S. Thompson vindicated our belief that the way we were being taught journalism was just, well, boring. He and others, such as Cameron Crowe, demonstrated that not only was it okay to immerse oneself in reportage, to become a character in the story, it was essential. I’ve not used the phrase “in my opinion” since; it seems a redundancy.

From its inception, Rolling Stone recognized the power of the image: that publicity still of John Lennon in How I Won the War was the reason I, a scrawny 14-year-old kid with delusions of rock stardom, bought that first issue. Those cover images kept me — and millions others — coming back again and again. Whether it was Annie Liebowitz reinventing the art of portraiture in her photos or Robert Grossman’s brilliant political caricatures, those covers have, almost all of them, been snapshots of the moment. More, they stand as testaments of history.

It’s only fitting that the 1000th issue of Rolling Stone should be not a mere retrospective of the past 38 years, but a celebration of where we were then, where we are now and where we may be headed. This isn’t merely a magazine issue, t’s more akin to coffeetable edition in content and feel — all it needs to be one is heavier paper stock and a hardcover. Oh, and a price tag of around $40.

At US$5.95, RS1000 is a steal. The 3D cover alone, loosely inspired by the Sgt. Pepper album jacket, is worth the price of admission. A whimsical hologram of all figures pop, it’s a coup de grace of technology melding with acid flashback. While some have derided it as a syptom of the magazine’s midlife crisis, I find it a source of endless hours of enjoyment and eyestrain.

Rolling Stone has always had great covers, though; they’ve been immortalized in song (if one considers that Dr. Hook song a path to immortality), praised as photojournalism, even revered as art. But the proof is in the details, and RS1000 illustrates in word and image why Rolling Stone has never merely reported on the aspects of pop culture; in the process, she became the embodiment of pop culture.

The writers, photographers and illustrators who have worked on the magazine through the years have done so with a passion rarely found in journalism before Rolling Stone, and it’s lavishly evidenced in almost every page of the “100 Greatest Covers” that make up the bulk of this edition. The images on their own are timeless, and the essays that accompany them chronicle what America was about then, whether “then” was 1971 or 2006.

Rolling Stone set the bar for pop journalism, and though many have tried, no one has been able to raise it to the next level. It’s become trendy in certain quarters (mostly neocon and neopunk quarters) to dismiss Rolling Stone as a hippie relic no longer relevant to today’s world.

The truth in RS1000 shows in no uncertain terms that not only is she relevant, she’ kickin’ it, baby.

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About Ray Ellis

  • Eric Olsen

    very nice job Ray – great title – thanks!

  • http://www.utopia2000.org Barry Stoller

    One other big difference between then and now: No access to Wenner Publications without an agent – no matter how much anyone kisses their big, bloated butt.

  • http://musical-guru.blogspot.com Michael J. West

    Ugh! Are you kidding? Rolling Stone has been an EMBARASSMENT for at least a decade! God in Heaven! And I’m neither neocon or neopunk!

  • http://www.futonreport.net/ Matthew T. Sussman

    A fitting anniversary – one for each remaining subscriber.

  • zingzing

    rolling stone? let it… die. (thumb down in pie.)

  • http://rodneywelch.blogspot.com/ Rodney Welch

    Reading the 1000th issue is like reviewing my life during high school and college. I could remember when just about each issue arrived in the mail. Rolling Stone, Playboy, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Warren Zevon and the Clash — pretty much my diet back then.

  • http://gohah.blogspot.com Gordon Hauptfleisch

    I remember–when I had a subscription– reading my copy cover to cover. Now I just occasionally look at a newstand copy and maybe glance at the front cover top to bottom–or if I’m not so engrossed, top to middle, before passing on it altogether.

  • http://gratefuldread.net NR Davis

    RS had its day and its sun has long since set. The mag’s initial joie de vivre, communal spirit, sense of rebellion, authenticity and relevance are as dead as Hunter. Congrats on the 1000th issue and I’m glad you enjoyed it, Mr. Ellis, but do know that a lot of people are long past caring about Boz Scaggs-worshipping sellout Jann Wenner and his sellout magazine and resultant empire.

  • http://philobiblon.co.uk Natalie Bennett

    This article has been selected for syndication to Advance.net, which is affiliated with newspapers around the United States. Nice work!

  • http://www.myspace.com/thecleardeigns the clear deigns

    Why is Warren Zevon missing from the cover? A better fit for one of the angels than Kurt or Hunter, I say!

  • Cy Hunter-Quick

    RSM has been the finest medium for am americophile to keep in touch with essential USA feel. I hope it does not morph into something samey, or arty, but stays as edgy as I find it -but it is none of my business: not only am I English but I am old (12 inside, 65 outside). Cy

  • duane

    Month after month RS continues to compile some of the finest ads featuring really attractive pouty-lipped stuckup babes and ridiculously handsome androgynous males who are going nowhere in life except to parties with the attractive babes. I’m so envious. I didn’t realize there were articles interspersed among the ads until, a while back, I heard from my niece that she was excited about the Olson Twins being on the cover, and she begins quoting bits of the article to me. “Article?” I says, scratching my head. Well, you learn something every day. Incidentally, the niece got a little miffed when she later discovered that I didn’t know that the Olson Twins were a couple of chicks from some TV show, and not that band of girlish guys, who Melissa [that’s the niece] explained was called Handsome or some such, and who, she explains to me, were recently featured in the fashion section of RS. “Wow!” says I, “Rolling Stone is just jam packed with the kind of information that we need to keep up with the latest developments in American culture, huh, Melissa?” Melissa just gave me this weird look and ran off to watch the Lizzy McWire (or some such) show. Well, I always did have trouble talking to kids.

  • http://www.popculturegangster.com/2006/06/venting_and_ran.html Pop Culture Gangster

    At least you got your 1,000th issue. I’m locked in a mortal battle with Rolling Stone’s customer service to get my copy. It must have been lost in the mail or stolen, and now they refuse to send me a replacement issue, saying that they are out of them.

    Odd thing is that they still have it for sale on their web site. For $20.00! You can go to my blog (follow the URL link to the left) for the full saga and hopefully a resolution!

  • Tcat

    Great issue and I have one! I hate to part with it but must pass on the memory to my brother, who turns the big 50 this year! Like RS he also is still kicking and 3 dimensional as well!

  • http://culturesalad.blogspot.com/ Ray Ellis

    Nice of you to pass on the issue to your brother–may he guard it with his life. And a happy birthday to him!