When looking around for something to write about, I checked out rollingstone.com, figuring that there might be a hook or a bit of news that would be worth noting on this site. For example, I was pleased to see there that Elvis Costello will be releasing Cruel Smile next month, which will include live cuts from a tour that I chronicled here back on June 8.
That was the bit of news. But then there is the hook. Which is, arguably, the hook on the back of a bra. There, along the top of the page were photos of: (1) Bree Sharp; (2) Jennifer Love Hewitt (with a fetching Valley of the Dolls look designed to appeal to male libidos everywhere); (3) Eve. Not one skinny, gap-toothed signer or buff actor. Just the girls. (Not that I’m complaining, mind you.) But that trio cycles me back to Johnny Loftus’s piece here on September 4 about the change of guard at the periodical that was once all the news that fits (I promise to stop referencing this site). Now, it seems, what matters most is how snugly clothes can fit (assuming that they’re being worn).
One could argue that Rolling Stone is now, and always has been, about sex, drugs and rock and roll. Historically, the order has been reversed, with the music coming first and foremost, but always within a larger context. Thanks to the steady hand of Ed Needham, the new editor, ex-of FHM (OK. There are more women on the homepage of that magazine’s site), sex has gotten back into the front seat. But, fundamentally, the publication has always smacked of sex, wither it was John and Yoko, Natassja and the snake, Angelina and her tat, or any number of other skin-intense images. Now it is simply more transparent. It is all about newsstand sales, and when you’re competing for the wallets of young men who like rock, then it is a hell of a lot easier to win their money with come-hither covers when the rest of the magazine rack is covered with female, er, racks. (I apologize for this last, nearly unavoidable locution, but let’s face it: the whole point here is the objectification of women for the sake of teen-aged boys with bad complexions.)
Earlier, the purpose of the provocative covers on Rolling Stone was to be just that: provocative, skewering the prevailing sensibilities of the bourgeoisie. And when it came to coverage of drugs, there was an implicit understanding between the publication and the audience that it was about achieving a higher consciousness. There was a political aspect to it. (This is not to picture those of the past with some sort of faux nobility: there were a lot of oafs and pigs then, too.) Now the provocation has given way to titillation. Drugs, as in Ecstasy, are, in effect, the retarded adolescent version of Viagra.
The change, of course, is that whereas Rolling Stone was once part of the so-called “counter culture,” it is now foursquare in the dominant culture. It once offered a sociopolitical critique (yes, even in its straight music coverage); it is now a bastion of socioeconomic performance, which is predicated on ever-increasing sales (“Bring on the ladies for the lads!”).
One of the collections of Hunter S. Thompson is titled Songs of the Doomed: More Notes on the Death of the American Dream. Which is something that could be applied to what has become of Rolling Stone.