Rolling Stone is up for sale – not surprising given the financial pressures that continue to morph the print media industry. Last month, New York’s venerable Village Voice chose to stop putting out a print version. The New York Times does an excellent job reporting about those decisions here and here.
More interesting to me, has been the debate about the magazine itself. Some of that debate is misremembering its history, not understanding music as an art form, and of course, nostalgia.
I’ve seen a lot of rants. Many go like this:
“Good riddance! I remember when Rolling Stone was about music and not politics.”
Except – that’s wrong. Rolling Stone was always about politics. Long before Matt Taibbi started writing about Donald Trump, there was a half-century-long list of left-leaning political authors writing for the magazine.
One example: Hunter S. Thompson, the gonzo journalist who wrote about “Fear and Loathing” in Las Vegas, the ’72 Democratic race, McGovern, and Nixon’s White House, and Bill Clinton, and everything in between. All appeared in Rolling Stone. Was it political? Heck yes. So were P.J. O’Rourke, Daniel Schorr, Carl Bernstein, and Greil Marcus.
If Thompson created the paradigm, Tim Dickinson and Mike Taibbi continued the tradition. Furthermore, Taibbi’s work on Wall Street and the Great Recession also demands attention. It’s deep, thoughtful, masterful critical journalism. Examining the American financial system’s bankruptcy is political.
The second argument is Rolling Stone no longer covers music. This goes to discourses of nostalgia. There will be no more interviews with rock artists of the 1960s such as John Lennon, or Frank Zappa, Mama Cass, or Jerry Garcia. There will be no more live updates from artists like David Bowie, or The Clash, or The Police, or The Plasmatics, or, as of days ago, Hüsker Dü.
The magazine always kept up with contemporary music and popular culture, from the CBGB swill that brought us New York Dolls and The Ramones, which lead to the Sex Pistols, and post-punk. They covered the glam metal and new wave of the 80’s, as well as the college rock that led to U2 and R.E.M. breaking big, to the rise of hip-hop and N.W.A., to grunge’s rise and demise.
Rolling Stone covering Taylor Swift, Kanye, The Killers, Miley Cyrus, Gaga, and other contemporary artists doesn’t mean it stopped covering music. It might not be covering what you consider your music, known colloquially as “real” music. That’s nostalgic bias coming into play.
Which brings me full circle. Even if you wanted Rolling Stone to not be political, popular music as an art form is often very political, tackling everything from sexism, to racism, to war, to homophobia, to politics, to injustice, to poverty, to ignorance.
From The Doors’ Unknown Soldier, Peter Gabriel’s Biko, Johnny Cash’s Man in Back, FGTH’s Relax, Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On?, Springsteen’s Born in the USA, Public Enemy’s Fight the Power, Daniel Amos’ Real Girls, Sabbath’s War Pigs, Billy Holiday’s Strange Fruit, The Police’s Invisible Sun, U2’s Sunday Bloody Sunday, R.E.M.’s Exhuming McCarthy, Dylan’s Hurricane, The Julie Ruin’s Mr. So and So, Pussy Riot’s Straight Out of Vagina….get the picture?