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 Stone — Crawdaddy 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.Powered by Sidelines