on July 12, 2002
I have been a faithful subscriber to RS for almost twenty years, and I have witnessed the magazine slowly transform from a credible rock and roll journal to the music equivilent of Tiger Beat. In the 1980s, Rolling Stone's passion was music, and it often gave well-deserved nods to artists that were on the cutting edge: U2, Prince, REM, the Smiths, and so on. These days, its attempts to sell copies are getting more desperate as they feature people like Britney, NSYNC, and BSB on their cover sometimes as much as twice a year. I have nothing against teen pop; after all, RS gave Duran Duran a cover story in the 1980s. But it's troubling to see a magazine follow trends when they used to create them.
The record reviews are, for the most part, dubious. Rob Sheffield is one of the usual suspects. Three-and-a-half stars for Britney and Destiny's Child? More trustworthy critics include longtime writer David Fricke, Anthony DeCurtis, and Barry Walters. These guys seem to know what they're talking about when they review records.
The only section of the magazine worth reading is the movies section by Peter Travers, a critic I may not always agree with but one I do respect. Travers has enough heart to go against the grain of public opinion by trashing shallow, self-important, corporate driven, Holllywood movies. It really seems that he is criticizing the very hype machine the rest of Rolling Stone seems to embrace.
All in all, RS has its moments, but its getting disappointing within recent years. Here's hoping it can regain the edge it once had back in the 1970s and 1980s.
Remember that adorable teen from "Almost Famous," who dreamed of writing cuting-edge rock articles for Rolling Stone? No way. Not now, anyway. Once an edgy herald of music and rebellion, Rolling Stone has lurched gracelessly into its old age, filled with a mess of stars du jour and frenetic MTV coverage.
Rolling Stone keeps an eye on the music industry -- scandals, controversies, concert coverage and reviews of the latest albums. They cover quite a bit of movie stuff as well, interviewing/covering directors like Peter Jackson and Quentin Tarantino, as well as (always attractive and usually young) actors. And there's also political commentary, stubbornly one-sided and lacking in subtlety and brains.
Long ago, Rolling Stone was a force to be reckoned with. But now it's the magazine equivalent of a paunchy, wrinkled guy who buys a toupee and sports car, in a futile attempt to convince the world that he's still young and cool. Newer, wittier, more musically interesting magazines like Filter, Under the Radar and the online Kludge have slipped into the place that Rolling Stone once occupied.
It certainly doesn't help that Rolling Stone is having an ongoing personality crisis. Is it a music mag? A political mag? A movie mag? It tries to be all three, and succeeds at none. Their politics is ridiculously one-sided, lacking any complexity. And the music coverage is too mainstream to be terribly interesting. Yes, some of the bands covered -- like the White Stripes -- are good. But up-and-coming bands, not to mention most of the rich indie music scene, are left to languish in the shadows.
Certainly Rolling Stone can't be commended for many of their choices -- it was a welcome relief when they put rock great Jimi Hendrix on the cover. But every cover of Jimi or the Beatles is outweighed by shirtless pictures of Timberlake or Usher, or naked pictures of Britney or Christina. Even the ones wearing clothes (like wannabe-rebel Avril) seem to be appealing to fetishes. Yep, many of the covers are eye-catching mainly for the skin factor.
Even those things might be acceptable, were the writing good. But save a handful of insightful movie reviews, the writing comes across as strained and painful. Attempts at wit and jokes fall flat. And some of the "human interest" stories border on revoltingly tasteless.
Creaking and covered in dust, boomer mag "Rolling Stone" passed its prime long ago. Let the gossip and pop coverage rest. Instead, check out mags like Filter, Kludge and Under the Radar, with their rich music coverage and insightful writing.
on August 30, 2003
Two years ago, Rolling Stone and MTV teamed up to create a list of the "top 100 pop songs of all time." According to that list, the number 10 song OF ALL TIME is, I kid you not, "I Want It That Way" by the Backstreet Boys. It was then that I started to suspect the once-great Rolling Stone was losing it.
In 1967, Rolling Stone started with a simple idea: a "real" music magazine to counteract trendy teenage fluff like "Tiger Beat." As the years wore on, they stayed true to their mission despite the inroads of disco and the MTV pretty boys of the '80s. Sure, artists like Duran Duran appeared on a few covers, but on the whole Rolling Stone worked hard to maintain its credibility, giving much-needed exposure to then-cutting-edge acts like Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, U2 and Nirvana.
Then, through a series of mergers and acquisitions, Rolling Stone eventually became part of the Vivendi Universal empire. Soon, pressure to increase circulation and "appeal to a younger audience" escalated. The people at Vivendi, a French water company that knows nothing about entertainment, seem to think "a younger audience" doesn't want to read anything about artists they've never heard of. In fact, "a younger audience" probably doesn't want to read at all; they just want to see a sexy pinup photo of Britney's boobs or Justin's pecs, whatever you prefer.
Now here's where I lost my last shred of respect for RS: All those Britney/boy band covers and the MTV Top 100 fiasco were bad enough, but what gave them the nerve to put CLAY AIKEN on the cover?! Any magazine with a reality-show contestant on its cover instantly loses all "music" credibility. They might as well hold their own "American Idol"-style contest to pick their next cover boy/girl. (You can see where that kind of strategy has gotten Vivendi; now they're desperate to sell off their entertainment assets so they can get back to what they know best, preventing cholera and dysentery among the French.)
In its heyday, Rolling Stone was a rallying point for those who truly appreciate great music. Today it's a glorified pinup fanzine with slightly better writing and production values than "Tiger Beat." Come on, Clay Aiken on the cover? Imagine the Rolling Stone of 1967 with an Ohio Express cover.
on April 3, 2003
Hey kids, how 'bout the latest juicy gossip on Britney and Justin? Wanna know what the guys in NSYNC like to do in their spare time? Don't miss the latest on that perennial Bad Boy Eminem....It's all right here on the slick pages of Rolling Stone. My goodness, has ever a magazine fallen into such rapid decline as this former bible of all things rock and roll? The teenybopper domain formerly covered by Tiger Beat, now dominates the pages of Rolling Stone. Personally, I gave up on the music aspect of the magazine about ten years ago. The artists they write about are mundane and the stories themselves amount to nothing more than flowery puff pieces. The only reason I kept my subscription so long was to read Peter Travers'solid movie reviews and PJ O' Rourke's political pieces. Alas, a couple good writers can't save this sinking ship. Rolling Stone used to be so anti-establishment and so far ahead of the competition, but now it's nothing more than a corporate mouth-piece of big record labels, radio stations and MTV. The old Rolling Stone would have railed against the Britneys/Backstreets/Eminems of the world. But, now it's their bread and butter. For the those of us old enough to remember the glory days of Rolling Stone, this whole debacle is heartbreaking. I've cancelled my subscription.
on December 13, 2006
I've been reading R.S. for many years now as have many of the other reviewers posting their views here. I share many of their complaints as well as their praises. On the whole, most of what is good about the magazine is also bad. Let's look at a few different areas:
1. Liberal political, cultural and environmental reporting. I like to get input from all ends of the political spectrum. R.S. certainly has my left flank covered. Usually entertaining writing covering relevant issues. If you are looking for balance, forget it. Jann Wenner and Co. are unabashed liberals and that's really the only kind of "news that fits." I don't think that's good or bad, that's just this publication's point of view.
2. Music reviews and coverage: I learn a lot about various artists here first. That's good. Unfortunately, most of them suck. Don't get me started on the reviews. For every thoughtful look at a well established artist or new face with real chops, there's a 3 or 4 star gush for the thug, tart or punk of the week. Most of which will never be heard from again and for good reason. I'd appreciate a little more control over the rating system here. Maybe group the reviews by reviewer so we could get a better sense of who likes what. Still, imperfect as it is, R.S. does expose its readers to a great variety of music all in one place.
3. Pop culture: Yes, I'm sick of the breathless coverage of the moronic exploits of the pop culture icons of the day. I don't ever need to hear about or see Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, Britney Spears, Kevin Federline, Pete Doherty, or.... ever again. Yet, is it wrong to admit I enjoyed seeing Britney in her underwear? The movie and game reviews are always worth checking out.
Taken as a whole, I enjoy my subscription to Rolling Stone. I find interesting stuff in every issue. Try it for a year yourself. What's to lose? In a world full of more and more media, R.S. is still relevant and costs less per month than a single latte!
P.S. Dear Jann, Enough of the photos of pop stars flipping me the bird. It's not cool, it's not funny, it's just crass. 'nuff said.
on June 27, 2002
I must be getting old; I can actually remember a time when "Rolling Stone" was the best printed source for reliable information regarding music and musicians; it was timely, pertinent, and highly respected. Unfortunately, it seems to have degenerated into a sad mixture of half-baked politics, overblown hype for new movies, silly fluff about "artists" like Britney Spears, and ads, ads, ads. In fact, "Rolling Stone" is now about as relevant and meaningful as "Tiger Beat" was in its day. Do you enjoy reading about trendy "stars" who will be forgotten by this time next year? Do you like to read article-length advertisements for the latest product from Hollywood? How about some ill-informed, poorly-composed political commentary? Are you fond of being bombarded with page after page of advertisements? If so, today's "Rolling Stone" is for you. If you are seeking worthwhile material about musicians and their music, look elsewhere - "Rolling Stone" has sold out.
Many reviewers slam RS for slipping away from the cutting edge but let's face it, that happened a long, long, long time ago when rock and roll itself stopped being cutting edge. If nothing else, Rolling Stone magazine precisely mirrors rock's co-opting with corporate America. Furthermore, in this day and age there is no shortage of available magazines, blogsites, websites, etc. for one to subscribe if they care to avoid what they perceive as blatant commericialism, so why slag off a magazine that has simply followed the path of the music form that spawned it?
I took a long time off from reading it because I too thought that RS has long since ceased to be worthwhile and it wasn't until I decided to browse some issues that I thought I'd give it another try. Since that time, I've dropped nearly all my subscriptions (too much money and not enough time in the day to read them all!!) and I'm glad that RS covers many of those various interest areas for me. I get political coverage that I generally agree with provided you understand their strong left leanings, movie reviews to keep up with what's out, solid music reviews that at least make you aware of who is releasing what, the old stand-by Random Notes, and the interviews. I still enjoy reading about rock performers and since I started back up half a year ago, I've seen enough of the older artists to satisfy my particular interests. Another good thing about it is that I can stay abreast of new acts and keep my own music collection fresh.
Yes, there are way too many ads, yes their incessant 'Top Whatever' lists are little more than reasons to get hate mail to print in their letters section, yes it is a corporate rag, yes it sucks at the teat of pop culture way too much, and yes it is too middle of the road to ever satisfy those who seek a bit more cojones in their periodicals, but it is bathroom reading at its best, it keeps me informed, keeps pressure on Washington, and still shines enough light on the dinosaurs I enjoy. When you consider that they practically give the magazine away in subscription form (versus the staggeringly high newsstand rate), it won't be a waste of your money to buy a subscription and give it a chance.
on June 14, 2002
What Rolling Stone does well, it does consistently well at. The political articles are usually good, as are the pieces on current larger issues in music (i.e. napster, contract battles, etc). That, and for basic stuff like album reviews and billboard chart info, it's fairly solid. (Of course, you can just read those online and skip purchasing the magazine entirely.)
Having said that, the musical content of the magazine gets swept along with whatever's popular at the moment (two years ago, it was teen pop stars on every cover; now it's cookie-cutter nu-metal bands). So, if you aren't a fan of what's hip at the moment, the musical portions of the magazine will probably bore you to tears. And ultimately, if you're out to read a music mag, you should be drawn to the musical content, right? Instead, if you're out to discover new bands and music, I'd recommend going to something like UnCut or Q, which, while also loaded with advertisements, at least talk about people you haven't seen on MTV twenty billion times already.
on December 26, 2002
Rolling Stone has a big, fat, schizophrenic problem--they still want to be the "rebel" magazine, and pretend rock and roll is still "dangerous" like it was when they first began waaaay back when. Problem is, rock is no longer a dominant force in the world and hasn't been "dangerous" in over 20 years. On the other hand, they want to be mainstream as well. In the 70s and 80s, they were mostly able to avoid the arena-rock groups and hair-metal bands, but not now--now they can't put Britney and N'sync on the cover enough. And since being taken over by the same guy who runs Maxim, look for ever more cheesecake to splatter on the cover (Is there any other reason to put a Jennifer Love Hewitt or Asia Argento on the cover?) I first got the hint that the mag was going downhill when the Spice Girls made the cover five years ago; when they gave Mick Jagger's solo record 5-stars last year, that clenched it. I give it two stars because it's still Ok to glance at the news items in the front and the record reviews in the back but the middle of mag is not worth your money.
on June 8, 2004
It's blatantly obvious to anyone over, oh, the age of 35 that Rolling Stone is well past its "use by" date, struggling steadfastly and usually embarrassingly to soldier on as the climate of rock and roll, now an inevitable component of star culture, changes on an almost monthly basis. A direct reflection of the industry it covers, it is now nothing more than a snake oil sideshow of smoke and mirrors, spinning its wheels in a bottomless quagmire of musos, actors, and faux celebrities who trade talent for a good spot under the lighting.
One need look no farther than the magazine's recent "50 Moments That Changed The History Of Rock & Roll" special issue for a quick snapshot of how far Jann Wenner and his merry gang of corporate teat-sucking writers have sunk. The first shred of readable text doesn't appear until 32 pages in, to wit the fairly innocuous letters page (although it's hard to fathom someone actually admiring Prince enough to put pen to paper), which nearly blends in with the 31 pages of ads for Mercedes-Benz, vodka, hair dye, satellite radio, the ACLU, and Tower Records which precede it. After jumping ahead 20 pages, past a "Rock & Roll" section which trumpets news of a Madonna tour, the break-up of Phish, and the booming ring-tone business, we arrive at the first example of tripe Rolling Stone has become famous for: a Q&A session with Canadian "teen terror" Avril Lavigne, who puffs herself up in a laughable bid for street cred by professing to drinking nothing but straight vodka ("swear to God"), "kickin' it" with Marilyn Manson, and a close encounter with Fred Durst. Her favorite T-shirt, which fits her perfectly, is a vintage Offspring item she picked up on Melrose for $50. She has no problem with people accusing her of not being able to sing, but don't dare dis her writing ability because that really ticks her off. Here's a two-word history lesson, Avril - Joan Jett - who accomplished more with three chords, momentum, melody, and about 1/100th of the corporate push your worthless MTV fodder gets.
Another complete waste of time, space, and ink is a short Lenny Kravitz article in which everyone's favorite retro rawk dawg laments a recent bout of depression brought on by being immersed in a world filled with Brazilian models and homes in the Bahamas, New Orleans, Miami, and SoHo, namedropping Mick Jagger, Robert Plant, and Neil Young along the way. Word to the wise, Lenny: stop thinking so much and get down on your knees every night and thank your favorite deity that the masses have been swindled into buying the turgid miasma you call "art" while those more deserving, like Steve Wynn, Billy Bragg, and the Muffs flounder in relative obscurity. Nice hair straightening job, though...
But to be fair, there isn't a complete black cloud of doom hovering over Rolling Stone. For the most part, they do get the aforementioned "50 Moments" feature right, heralding the ground broken by Chuck Berry, James Brown, The Kingsmen, The Who, The Rolling Stones, David Bowie, Led Zeppelin, Bob Marley, The Ramones, Bruce Springsteen, and old-school British punks. On the other hand, if I never read another word about The Beatles, Bob Dylan, Madonna, Nirvana, or hip hop, all of whose importance has been grossly overrated, I wouldn't shed a tear. As for Radiohead's dreadful "OK Computer" making the list? Gimme a break...
And then there's senior editor David Fricke, whose writing is like a beacon in the dark and someone for whom the last 20 years must have been especially painful, although to his credit he appears to follow his own muse and strays from the beaten path with his "Out There" column. Pretty cool Who concert review too, although I still say they need to pack it in while they still cling to a modicum of dignity. Conversely, shouldn't a guy with the obvious good taste to pen the liner notes to a Celibate Rifles album have considered it his duty to do something about Jack White placing so highly (or anywhere at all for that matter) on the magazine's recent "100 Greatest Guitarists list? Hats off to Bud Scoppa as well for his short piece lauding the Stones' criminally underrated "Black and Blue" album, which contains two songs, "Hand of Fate" and "Crazy Mama," that easily stand up to anything in the band's canon.
Admittedly, at the tender age of 46, I'm a good ten to fifteen years beyond Rolling Stone's target demographic and while's there's no one standing nearby with a gun cocked to my head, I keep re-subscribing to it, drawn to it like a moth to flame, usually at the insistence of a niece or nephew selling magazine subscriptions for their school. Feel free to insert your own twist on the old cliché about hope springing eternal, but after my current subscription runs out, I'm not putting another penny into Jann Wenner's pocket.