This month’s contribution from author, music fan, and curmudgeonly pop culture critic Geoff Moore is all about the lost art of music journalism, back when music writers for Rolling Stone, Creem, and Trouser Press served as conduits to the ever-elusive future of rock ‘n’ roll. And where did that future take the music press, exactly? Find out here, good people!
A recent trawl through the bargain shelves at the rear of our somewhat local Indigo store turned up a hardcover volume reprising some of the best editorial and graphic content from Creem, America’s defunct rock ‘n’ roll magazine. Boy Howdy! froths again between the covers of a coffee table glossy.
Nostalgia ain’t what it used to be, as Yogi Berra may or may not have said, but the book is a welcome addition to a library which includes two editions of The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock & Roll, The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll, 20 Years of Rolling Stone and various special Rolling Stone publications on artists like the Who, the Stones and Bruce Springsteen. Somewhere amidst lives lived in Montreal, Edmonton and Calgary, the first edition of The Rolling Stone Record Guide (red cover) was foolishly lent, only to be lost. There’s even a book on the shelf about RS and its founder Jann Wenner, Robert Draper’s coolly objective Rolling Stone Magazine: The Uncensored History.
Suffice to say, there was a time when one was as fanatical about the magazine as the records it reviewed. And unlike Creem and another long departed favourite, Trouser Press (which still exists in an abridged form in cyberspace), the self-venerating, former tabloid endures in a slicker, more compact, vanity format as surely as the Muddy Waters and Bob Dylan songs from which it lifted its namesake masthead.
Every single edition printed between 1975 and 1990 was devoured – the John Travolta Tarzan bikini bottom cover issue being the exception, just because, well, ick. Relatively current and authoritative sources of music news, gossip, insight and opinion were not overly prevalent in the pre-digital age and Rolling Stone’s content mattered as much as the music it described, even if the editorial gravitas was at times as laughably puffed up and self-referential as the egos of the stars on its covers. And then, like FM radio, it slid into the slimy corporate slough of the predictable and uninteresting.
Or maybe, one turns 30 and features on rap-metal acts and wacky ensemble sitcoms set mostly in coffee bars no longer fire the imagination. The familiar writers, Dave Marsh, Cameron Crowe, Paul Nelson, Chet Flippo, Kurt Loder, Timothy White, Greil Marcus et al had all moved on to other ventures. So David Fricke and Mikal Gilmore (brother of Gary who was the subject of Norman Mailer’s best book, The Executioner’s Song) aside, a byline on the cover meant something next to nothing to the lapsed, once loyal reader.
We are back together again and have been for a few years. The matchmaker was our niece who raises funds for her school by selling ludicrously discounted magazine subscriptions, a welcome change from chocolate covered almonds and frozen chubs of cookie dough, although one quietly wishes young people were permitted to hawk cigarettes and beer.
The world is an imperfect place; rock ‘n’ roll was supposed to change all that, wasn’t it? Anyway, a familial obligation was met on the dime of traditional media, which has been smoked at a level crossing by a high speed train anybody can ride for free. Good Housekeeping did not appeal even though there eventually comes a time in life when your average mortgaged homeowner would rather emulate Heloise than Keith Richards.
The renewed relationship has had few sparks. Have you ever paid a dollar or two to see a hit film in a repertory theatre months after its first run and then felt ripped off despite the meagre cash outlay? Wayne’s World springs to mind. Four out of every five issues of Rolling Stone are like that too, as one of us strives to remain hip and in the now while the other mutters to the dozing tabby tomcat about the terminal mediocrity of the Montreal Canadiens, RRSP account statements swiped by Mr. Clean Magic Erasers and a retirement strategy that likely involves dropping dead at the office.
Jonas Brothers cover stories are of more interest to our 13-year-old subscription salesperson as opposed to the subscriber. In a recent cover feature a would-be starlet, younger than one’s dental fillings, opined that “men are afraid of powerful vaginas.” Perhaps she was referring to some sort of Tantric/Bond villainess clench. A disengaged reader could not be bothered to find out.
American Idol is a lowest common denominator, a pop culture abomination best left to the hacks at People magazine and Coca-Cola marketers. That Rolling Stone even reports on the show’s developments is one thing. That the magazine’s ingrained snootiness crumbles into slightly edgy PR fawning… There are no words and nor should there be in the pages of Rolling Stone.
‘Gonzo’ journalism, almost always political and one of the iconic foundations of the Rolling Stone’s carefully groomed, iconoclastic reputation, seems have devolved to merely describing any current neocon figure as “batshit crazy.” And that’s fine and probably true, but it’s facile, and worse, devoid of humour. Before he lost his mojo, many, many years before he ventilated his cranium, Hunter S. Thompson was an hysterically funny writer.
Rolling Stone magazine is a survivor and its fifth decade of publication is to be acknowledged as the content is not consistently wretched. We tend to reserve our rock ‘n’ roll affection for what’s been lost, for who’s been left behind as human wreckage, for what stayed the way it was for whatever reason. And so, we must prefer our coffee table with Creem.
Geoff Moore is a writer from Montreal who is now based in Calgary. He likes music, hockey, beer, and chasing kids off of his lawn.