Thursday, October 02, 2003

Recently had a conversation with Curt about Rolling Stone, in which he posed the question, Was RS really better back in the '80s, or do we just think that, filtered through the lens of a time when it was the rock'n'roll magazine? I argued that it truly was better then, and no one I've discussed the question with has yet disagreed. I've got a stash of issues from their '84-'85 glory days (a wonderful Christmas gift a couple years back from my pal Robin), and they're marvelous. Cover stories and interviews by the likes of Gerri Hirshey, Anthony DeCurtis, Christopher Connelly (yes, that one), and Kurt Loder (of course, that one - don't forget that before his now-15-year-plus stint at MTV, Loder was a Senior Editor at RS; his collection of '80s pieces, Bat Chain Puller, is some of the finest rock writing of the era), combined with superb investigative pieces and fiction - yes, fiction. Tom Wolfe's The Bonfire of the Vanities was first serialized in RS before being published in hardcover, and in 1985, the magazine won a National Magazine Award for its meticulously researched two-part article on AIDS.

Now, they put Mary-Kate and Ashley on the cover, or worse yet, both of the American Idol bozos. 15 years ago, Clay and Ruben would've been on Star Search, and the mere thought of them gracing the cover of Rolling Stone would have evoked laughter in nearly anyone.

Which makes the magazine's current issue all the more impressive, as it's a clear return to their past days of (deserved) praise. Strolling through the Cincinnati airport two days ago, I was shocked to see Johnny Cash gracing the mag's cover, along with promises of interviews with U.S. Open champ Andy Roddick and General Wesley Clark. Their collection of pieces on Cash is great (the main one written by DeCurtis, no less), as are both interviews, along with a piece by a New York Times journalist on teen prostitution rings in Minnesota. Now, both the front (news-ish) and back (review) sections are still unfortunately choppy - I long for the days when RS would do column-long reviews of each album they reviewed, even by people like Graham Parker - but the meat of the mag (I nearly forgot to mention their one-page appreciation of Warren Zevon) is fine, classic stuff. And, unfortunately, the most solid reminder they could put forth that RS now rather sucks, since this issue's an exception, and no longer their standard. The best place to find intelligent rock criticism these days? Honestly, it's the 'net - especially the blogworld. Not such a bad thing, I s'pose...

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