Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Shrinkage

I bought my first copy of Rolling Stone Magazine when I was 14 years old (1974, for those wondering), and began subscribing when I was 16 - one of the very first things I spent my money on after getting my first job. The magazine is not what it used to be, but it has endured for over 40 years, driven primarily by Jann S. Wenner, Editor-in-Chief and auteur since the very first issue.

The new issue arrived in the mail last week, and it is the first issue to be released in "classic" magazine format, meaning that it is roughly the same size as just about every magazine you'd find on the newstand. Explaining the change, Wenner says the following in a special Editor's Note:


Of course, what never changes is our DNA. A great magazine is a set of voices and values, artfully and urgently translated into great stories and pictures. The soul and mission of Rolling Stone remain the same as a magazine coming from midtown Manhattan as they were when we were a rock & roll newspaper published from a warehouse- district loft in San Francisco: We believe in the magic of rock & roll and that the magic can set you free.

I'm not entirely certain that I believe that, and to be honest I'm not sure that Jann Wenner believes it either. I think what Wenner believes, and this is a critical distinction, is that the magic of rock & roll circa 1967 can set you free. I'm not sure he even listens to the rock & roll of 2008, though in fairness I really have no idea what he listens to. I'm just guessing, based on the majority of the reviews in his magazine.

Getting this issue made me think about the various "ends of eras" that have taken place since I started reading Rolling Stone. Maybe I've missed a few.

Summer 1975 - death of co-founder and guiding political light Ralph J. Gleason

Summer 1977 - move from San Francisco to New York City (Jann Wenner starts wearing suits and ties)

January 1978 - original, classic logo is retired

January 1981 - magazine "upgrades" to higher quality paper; reduces size, again changes logo

Circa 1981-82 - conscious decision to abandon the classic rock criticism style of reviews (personified by Greil Marcus, Dave Marsh, Paul Nelson, Lester Bangs, others) for a shorter, less theoretical style

Now that I think about it, I'm not sure the rest of the eras really matter all that much. There have been times when I've been tempted to cancel my subscription, but usually just around the point where I'm ready to pull the trigger, an article appears - written by someone like Marcus, or Mikal Gilmore - that reminds me of what the possibilities are, and I stick around just to see what might happen.

The latest issue is a good one, and I admit that the new format is certainly easier to carry around and read. But the transformation is now truly complete - Rolling Stone is just like every other magazine. And that really is the end of an era.

1 comment:

Michael A. Gonzales said...

i know how you feel...heck, i loved rolling stone most when it was still a newspaper.