Have you ever gone back and tried one of those things you really liked years ago and come away disappointed? Like picking up one of those pieces of candy you had thought so much of as a kid, and finding it tastes nothing like your memory tells you. You ask yourself whether you’ve changed or has the product changed. Sentiment and nostalgia do have a way of clouding the mind.
That’s what happens to me whenever I pick up a copy of Rolling Stone magazine. Each time I pick it up I find myself wondering if it’s always been this garish and trivial. Am I really that out of tune with “pop culture” that I find almost everything they talk about irrelevant? Maybe I’m just no longer their target audience?
When I first started reading the magazine, more than thirty years ago, it was considered counter-culture. It was the newspaper of the alternative in music and ideas. It was where you went when you wanted to find out the truth about what you read in the mainstream press, be it music or politics.
No fluff pieces on Donny Osmond for The Stone, but interviews with Keith Richards talking about life in Rock and Roll and all its bittersweet truths. It was considered almost subversive to carry a copy around with you. It was a sign of your hipness that you could say things like, “I read it about in Rolling Stone.”
Hunter S. Thompson headed up the “National Affairs Desk,” reporting on the sleazy underbelly of American politics that nobody had dared talk about in public before. Other journalists were terminally jealous of the freedom he enjoyed in being able to say anything he pleased, about anyone at all, without editorial constraint.
When Dr. Hook came out with their version of Shel Silverstien’s Cover Of The Rolling Stone, it became de rigeur to learn at least the chorus to sing along with. Everyone knew how much it meant to get your picture on the cover, and buy five copies for your mother. It wasn’t until much later that the satire of the song started to sink in, but at the time we took it for the gospel truth.
Maybe I need to look no further than that song. How important was that magazine in the first place? Was it just serving as some sort of validation of lifestyle choices? Did it genuinely offer an alternative to the mainstream? Or did it merely glamorize a bunch of coke-snorting assholes like the ones in the song, and make them appear special?
At first there was that connection to be made between the magazine, the music, and the changes that were happening in society. It was the only magazine that made sense to people under a certain age. It talked about the people they admired, told the news from a perspective more in tune with their view, and had an editorial policy more in keeping with their intended audience than any other magazine on the market.
But all news pretensions aside, it was and is a music magazine. A magazine of popular culture. As the corporate world began to understand the money that was there to be made from the rock music that was at the heart of the scene, it began to exert more control over the product. Smoothing out the rough edges and making it more palatable for middle America.
With the birth of People magazine and others of that ilk, Rolling Stone lost the distinction of being the only pop-culture magazine. Their move from San Francisco to Madison Ave. in New York City was the beginning of the separation from the hipster reputation to becoming a more main-stream product. As the alternative became corporate, so did they.
That’s not a judgment, rather an observation. They had always been no more than a reflection of what was out there, and so they had to move with the times. As the seventies turned into the eighties, and the “Just Say No” campaign began, they attempted to be a voice in the wilderness, but it wasn’t the same.
More and more you are just as likely to find the same starlet gracing their cover as the one gracing the cover of People or Us. Slick glossy pages filled with the same big ads that adorn fashion magazines, gossipy content, and the glorification of the star system seems to be the content of the day.
Sure, buried in the middle pages might be a news story that’s adventurous—but how many people are actually buying it for that content anymore? When there’s a picture of a partly-naked Britney Spears on the front cover, I sincerely doubt it.
Memory and time do play tricks on you. Movies that you once thought great turn out to be a bore twenty years latter. We all grow old and change. Maybe it’s not fair to judge a magazine that’s geared towards youth culture by one’s memories of years gone by. But every time I pick up a copy of Rolling Stone Magazine and glance through it, I shake my head and sigh.
There’s something missing and I can’t quite put my finger on it. Maybe it’s something missing from society, too. But they used to be the ones who pointed out what it was that was absent. Now they blend in with the rest. Selling the brand without questioning the content.
REF:Aaman Edited: PC