Friday, November 19, 2004

Rock (Magazines) In A Hard Place

Why does America have (most of) the good rock bands, and the UK all the good rock magazines? Rock-wise, there's precious little entertainment emerging from the British Isles (and don't get me started on U2 - I'd rather hear you drag your toenails over a blackboard while strangling a cat than listen to yet another offering from "the world's last Rock Band"). The current giants of rock mostly reside in the US, if they didn't originate there. But is there a single US rock magazine worth a nickel, or five minutes of your precious bathroom time?

Rolling Stone seems to exist for the sole purpose of holding down the magazine stand. I can't remember the last time I purchased an issue, but it's been well over ten years now. The blurb in my daughter's magazine-drive package said SPIN was "devoted to covering all aspects of youth culture." Youth culture?! I doubt I could think of a better way to alienate two demographics at one go! Blender? By kids, for kids.

Further up the rack we have the relative newcomer, Tracks magazine. "Music Built To Last" is their masthead, which is a larger claim than you can make for the magazine. Imagine Oprah's "O" magazine devoting an issue to rock. Now imagine paying money for it - every month.

Paste Magazine has its heart in the right place. But the writing needs a little more vinegar, or mustard, or ... whisky? Something to up the testosterone level, because the prose is just too kind.

The one American music rag that I still pick up from time to time is Revolver. The writing stable seems to be filled with guys who write as if they're peeved because the editor just interrupted their daily dose of Suicide Girls. People magazine, written by punks.

For the good material, the real deal, the enchilada with the suicide sauce, you have to cross the puddle. Mojo, Q, Uncut ... these publications get it. They implicitly understand that rock has become a nostalgia vehicle, but that rock's most avid consumers don't want to be lumped in with the Beatlemania crowd. Every issue devotes nearly a quarter of its pages to some past chapter in rock, covering familiar ground while throwing in a few salacious details which might have escaped notice at the time, and scanning it all with a narrative eye that's just jaundiced enough to let you off the hook for getting soft in the head. It's a little wink at the aging hipster, telling him, "Aah, you know and I know it wasn't really as good as all that - but it was, wasn't it?" In the meantime, they throw in some contemporary stuff that might stick to the wall, might not. Doesn't matter, so long as you can say "Free The Bees" over a pint glass, and sound like you know what you're talking about.

Too bad those magazines are so bloody expensive. You buy one or two and you've got no money left for that smashing new music they're on about....


Tom said...

Remember when I used to buy Spin magazine on a regular basis? I even got a subscription one year, from Keith as a Christmas present. It was a mostly mainstream rag back then, with a few corners that seemed to feature the alterna-bands that I liked. The writing was decent to my untrained eyes and low expectations. But as time wore on, I found less and less relevance to my musical tastes. Had Spin changed, or had I? Both?

Whisky Prajer said...

I think SPIN has changed. I recall spending evenings in your apartment reading the magazine Keith had subscribed for you, and SPIN was the only US rag who dared to suggest/infer/whisper that Bono might be a bit of a weiner ("Ah, that's God: he just thinks he's Bono!")

And who can forget the image of Johnny Cash in trunks and boots, posing with a look of barely-concealed impatience on his back-yard diving board? JC is gone, but where's Leonard Cohen in a lawn-chair in Montreal, with his air-rifle? No, SPIN has lost its teeth.