Nearly 45 years ago, a 21-year-old publishing wunderkind and a 50-year-old Bay Area jazz critic decided that the world needed a magazine about rock n’ roll that was also about “the things and attitude that music embraces.” In addition to publishing landmark articles about and interviews with generations of rock stars, their magazine also contributed greatly to the cultural canon. They supported/tolerated the excesses of Hunter S. Thompson, publishing “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” as a two-part article. They nurtured the growth of Tom Wolfe, assigning the article that eventually became “The Right Stuff” and serializing the first draft of “The Bonfire of the Vanities” over nearly 30 issues. They hired a 15-year-old Cameron Crowe, allowing him the experiences that eventually inspired “Almost Famous”. They published the best work of a host of talented contributors, such as P.J. O’Rourke, Griel Marcus, Joe Klein, and William Grieder. They broke a number of journalistic stories, including the truths behind the Patty Hearst kidnapping and the Karen Silkwood death. They discovered the all-time best pop culture photographer, Annie Leibowitz, as 21-year-old college student.
It isn’t as if there hasn’t been a steady and serious decline along the way. In 1977, they moved from their counterculture home in San Francisco to the capitalist/bad journalism capital of New York. They ignored hip-hop and alternative music during the last musical heyday of the ’90s to the extent that they allowed Spin to nearly relegate them to irrelevance. They’ve propagated a fetishism of the Baby Boom generation that has made them a consistent laughingstock (Five Stars for Magic by Bruce Springsteen and Goddess In The Doorway by Mick Jagger, anyone?). They hired a former FHM editor in 2002 to further dumb down the magazine. Perhaps most troublingly, in 2006, the 60-year-old former wunderkind turned a minority stake in US Weekly into full ownership… he’s now the controlling force behind the magazine that epitomizes the worst of the post-millenial celebrity obsession (Just Like Us and Who Wore It Best, anyone?).
There is always that moment though, when one has to realize that any residual respect/nostalgia is not only comical, but also pathetic. The final nail in the coffin came last week.
Other 2011 covers from the “Rock n’ Roll Bible” include: Justin Bieber, Jimmy Fallon, and the ever-relevant Elton John.
Looks like Jim DeRogatis was prescient in the 1996 assessment of the former wunderkind that got him fired: “He’s a fan of any band that sells eight million albums.”
R.I.P. Rolling Stone… we’ll try to remember the good times.