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).
In “Rolling Stone remix,” appearing in the September 4th edition of the Chicago Sun-Times, media and advertising writer Lewis Lazare comments on the recent decision by the editors of Rolling Stone to re-tool the magazine’s look and editorial focus, in an effort to wrest readership back from the clutches of exclamation pointed “male interest” glossies like Maxim and FHM. Lazare rates the re-vamp a “C,” and suggests that the magazine will likely lose what made it great in its continuing competition with the towel-slapping antics of mags like Maxim. He’s right; but RS may have lost what made it great long before this latest tune-up. Its finger firmly on the fading pulse of AOR, the Stone bravely bestows 5 star “classic” status on work by artists whose heydays were roughly the same as those of RS itself. Dylan’s and Young’s recent work aside, does anyone believe that an aging rocker like Eric Clapton is still releasing “classic” material? By continuing to put the classic back in Classic Rock, and presenting “new faces” months or years after said faces emergence, Rolling Stone has maligned itself to the point that what was once a paragon of American music journalism now must bring up the rear, and lap at the heels of the lowest common denominator.
But is it Rolling Stone’s fault?
Another chapter in the ongoing tale of how the media business sucks
Rolling Stone has finally given up. Yep, according to the New York Times, Jann Wenner has hired a limey editor who’s going to have the magazine doing the Full Monty posthaste—by this I mean employing the we-need-to-be-more-like-Maxim formula of shorter stories, more pictures, and dumber content. The new kid on the block is one Ed Needham, he of For Him Magazine infamy, who is quoted in the article as saying, “I don’t think people have time to sit down and read.”
Now I’m the first in line to bash The Stone for hyping whatever happens to be popular without regard for taste, for being Jann Wenner’s personal suck-up tool, for being all too frequently a tool of the music biz. But at least the magazine, for all its faults, still had content: Actual researched stories, frequently interesting, occasionally even enlightening. Stories that had to be read, not just skimmed or flipped through. Apparently, that’s becoming a thing of the past; The Stone is choosing to become just another piece of crap.
“No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money,” wrote 18th century essayist, poet, novelist, editor, reporter Samuel Johnson. For Johnson, writing = work, and it seemed to him that anyone who performed work for someone else without being rewarded for it (presumably, voluntary, charitable work is its own reward) was simply stupid. You should therefore be aware before you go any further that I am paid nothing for my contributions to GloNo (nor is anyone else whose work appears on these pages) and that we actually spend money to keep this site up and running.
Arguably, we are densely stupid.
In a comment appended to the post about GloNo celebrating its first anniversary, Sab indicated that he is a professional writer. While not wanting to provide a biography of my colleague, suffice it to say that he works at a magazine that provides him, in return for his writing (and editing and affiliated activities), money and other benefits. Because of that exchange of writing for money, not only is he not a blockhead, but he is a professional.
Consider a prostitute. I’ll call her “Sally.”* When Sally is working, she is exchanging sexual activities for money. Consequently, she is a professional. But what is Sally when she is involved in performing those very same acts and she accepts nothing in return? Is she any less a professional then, or is professionalism a state of being that exists only when there is an economic exchange involved? (One might also wonder what Sally was the time she was involved in performing sexual acts just prior to the first time she did it for money.) It is a curious thing to consider the words professional and prostitute. Perhaps being called a “pro” isn’t exactly what it seems.
When Sab is writing for GloNo, he is still the same person who is writing for an employer; in fact, he may be doing his GloNo writing during the period of time that his employer is purchasing from him.** So while Sab is temporally making money because he is ostensibly doing something of value for his employer, he is actually doing something that puts him in an entirely different category. Perhaps instead of putting him in the “blockhead” category, it would be more appropriately labeled “amateur.” (Lest anyone think that I am being unduly harsh on Sab, let me note that I, too, am a “professional” writer, so all that is said of him in this context can be applied to me.)
For some reason, our society seems to value less the endeavors of amateurs than that of professionals. Consider, however, the Olympic athletes. They are amateurs. (At least while they are participating in the Olympics; professional sports figures are permitted to play in the games through some bureaucratic ledger main.) Does anyone believe that any of those athletes would be better if someone was paying them to do what it is they do? Would sponsorship make them better athletes?
Which, finally, brings me to the subject of music. It seems as though musicians who are professionals are also valued more than those who play for the love of their calling. In fact, many of the arguments regarding the downloading of songs for free can be said to have their basis in the nature of professionalism. Consider a musician. I’ll call her “Sally.” When Sally is exchanging her musical performances for money, she is a professional. Let’s say Sally performs a song and takes nothing in exchange for it. It is precisely like a performance she just previously executed for money. What is Sally when she does this performance for free? Let’s say that Sally records a performance. It is put on a disc. She is getting money for that work if she works for a recording company (or if she runs her own company). Someone buys that disc and copies it into a digital format that’s offered on a website. Someone else downloads the song. No money is exchanged. The argument is that Sally is being robbed because she is a professional, with her professionalism being predicated on her making money as individual copies of her recorded song are purchased. When she decides to play for free, it is her decision. She gets to be an amateur when she wishes to be. But the non-economic-exchanged extraction of her music by a download (or by some other means, such as taping) is considered a theft of property. Yet the definition of “property” becomes somewhat confusing in that a recording is a nth-level copy of an original, and typically, the original, or the authentic thing, is what is perceived to be of value due to its unique existence.
A problem with what could be construed as musical theft is predicated on the type of contract that exists between the musical performer and the organization that provides money for that performance. Let’s return to the example of Sab and the magazine company he works for. That company pays Sab $X per year. There are certain assumptions behind that $X. Fundamentally, is the publisher’s determination that by paying Sab $X, it will be able to derive revenue of $X + 1, and therefore make a profit. Let’s say that the magazine has a circulation of 100,000 one day. The publisher decides that he will increase the circulation to 200,000. Suddenly, Sab’s work in the magazine will have twice as many copies. Sab will continue to make $X. He is not paid on the basis of a percentage of his work in some volume of copies. In fact, because his magazine is taken by the publisher and placed on the Internet, there is arguably an infinite number of copies of his work out there. The publisher owns the work. Sab doesn’t. He has entered into a contract in which that relationship is spelled out, wherein he is paid $X. (One assumes that if he wins the Pulitzer Prize he’ll receive a bonus from his publisher, but there is no guarantee. Further, one would expect that his salary would be increased as a result of the Pulitzer because the publisher would assume that it would garner a greater audience, which would result in the possibility of $X2 + 3. Once again, no guarantee.)
In the case of musicians, the deal that tends to be constructed is one that is based on volume. That is, the performer gets a piece of the gate: the more units sold, the more the musician makes (or the less she owes). Presumably, this protects both parties (i.e., the musician and the recording company). That is, if the musical recording hits it big, then the artist gets to share in a greater percentage of the reward; the recording company doesn’t get it all. If the record tanks, then the recording company is out but a modest amount (and depending on the deal worked out with the musician, it may be that the musician needs to change her profession in order to pay back the advance that the recording didn’t recoup). In effect, this is almost a lottery mentality. Perhaps what needs to be done is to reconstruct these relationships between musician and recording company such that there can be an assurance of a more mutual benefit for each party without the exploitation of either. To say nothing of the exploitation of the buying public.
The whole issue of professionalism is one that seems to result in work that is less extraordinary than it otherwise might be. Of course, as mentioned, this is being written for nothing. Or maybe for the love of words: Call me a “pro.”
* “Sally” is used in the two wonderful album titles, “Chasing Sally Through the Alley” by Robert Palmer and “Sally Can’t Dance” by Lou Reed.
**Much of this was actually written during a plane trip that I was taking for my so-called “day” job. However, the ticket for the trip was not being paid for by the company that employs me, but by a third party. So what does that make this?
As we (I) are often prone to dissecting the relationship between corporate AmeriKKKa and popular culture (by way of advertising, “marketing”, etc.) on this site, I figured I’d throw this out there today. It’s something I have thought about a great deal, but it all came to a head while “reading” a copy of Men’s Health (gag, I know) during lunch. Forget why I was looking at such a worthless piece of dreck for a minute though, and concentrate on my point: We have lost the ability to be critical in today’s society.
I think we all realize that much of what we “consume” in our consumer culture, at least where entertainment and media are concerned, is garbage. But how did it get to be this way? I often hear the old dudes proclaim that “It’s always been this way” but I refuse to believe this. It’s gotten worse, for sure, and the biggest reason is that people are afraid to call something crap when it obviously smells, even when it’s stuck to their own shoe.
I was recently guilty of repeating that grandmotherly phrase, “You get more flies with honey than you do with vinegar,” only to be repudiated by a fellow GloNo scribe: “But you get the most flies with shit.” And that’s it in a nutshell.
Take a look at Men’s Health (or any other magazine for that matter) and you find our culture reflected, the price tag still attached. Political Correctness dictates that they can’t really call a spade a spade; advertising revenue and the necessity to guard against ever saying anything that might offend anyone for any reason (for God forbid anyone take issue with something and make anyone’s job any more time consuming or difficult) make the rest of the self-censorship complete. And what are you left with? A bunch of drivel about nothing, with that cheeky (or “cute”, as one ridiculously corporate-brainwashed friend would say) tone that substitutes for voice.
What’s clearly missing from most media today is commentary. Analysis. Opinion, good or bad. Criticism. And it’s no wonder. We as individuals never want to have to defend anything we say or believe, because dammit, that’s hard work: thinking, forming complete sentences, arguing, writing, acting in a manner that inherently accepts responsibility for the outcome. All of these are frowned upon by society today. We’re taught from a very young age to look for the bright side, to view the glass half full, to be happy and content with whatever our situation in life might be. Seek comfort in like others. Work within the system. Do as you’re told. Advocate, but don’t agitate. Most importantly, respect others’ right to have an opinion—no matter how stupid or uninformed that is. “Hey, maybe Brittany Spears does have something to say!” After all, 50,000,000 Elvis fans can’t be wrong, can they?
Well, the Elvis fans weren’t—but they could have been. The Brittany fans, their opinion and right to hold it respected (of course), are fucking morons. But that’s not the point. The point is that someone needs to say this, out loud and loudly. Speak up and defend the opinion: Sting is an irrelevant and pompous blowhard; George Bush is the dumbest man to ever walk through the Oval Office, let alone sit behind the desk there; Modern R&B sucks so bad, it tarnishes the very term “rhythm and blues” (of which it has neither); Robert DeNiro has forgotten how to act and is but a caricature of himself. And on and on and on.
These are the things that need to be said. These are the ideas that will form a better society, which will allow us to differentiate, choose, and grow. If you’re not comfortable with having your own voice, fine; sit there and shut up. But remember, those who criticize are to be encouraged and appreciated, not vilified.
“In criticism I will be bold, and as sternly, absolutely just with friend and foe. From this purpose nothing shall turn me.” –Edgar Allen Poe
Ask my man Phil Wise about Maxim Magazine and he’ll most likely wince in pain. Back in the day, he’d subscribed to the mag, and found it to be to be a good read…if the cable’s out, you lost your little black book, and bandits made off with your record collection. Excluding the occasional decent article, Maxim’s content pretty much puts the toilet bowl back into bathroom literature. The joke got even funnier when Dennis Publishing (Maxim’s sugardaddy) unleashed Blender, a music magazine written in the same towel-slapping tone as its brethren. And now Men’s Health has sent out MH-18 to meet the masses. Like li’l Aaron Carter following in the Backstreet footsteps of his crooning brother Nick, MH-18 has combed its hair like Maxim and started hanging out at The Peach Pit.
MH-18 is published by Rodale, Inc., the parent of Men’s Health, Men’s Journal, and other magazines with covers featuring shirtless dudes with great abs. Though it isn’t affiliated with the Dennis Group, there’s no mistaking the look and feel of a mag like Maxim, Blender, or Stuff. Where Maxim’s masthead features the calling card of SEX SPORTS BEER GADGETS CLOTHES FITNESS, MH-18 has its own, pre-kegger version: FITNESS SPORTS GIRLS GEAR LIFE. The articles are a potpourri of inspirational bios, female tips, product reviews and Men’s Health-type fitness how-tos. The snapshots of young athletes are the best. In a very Boy’s Life sort of way (“you too can be a rodeo rider! C’mon, it’s easy!!!”), surfers with names like C.J. and Hawkbit tell the average lawn-mowing high school shmoe what’s it’s like being a world-class wave rider. It’s the same fawning type of copy that reigns over at Rosie, where a profile of Hollywood newcomer Shannyn Sossamon lets every lonely girl in the world know how to get discovered lickety split.
One insight into the demographic research sunk into MH-18: no music/movie reviews. Instead, the last third of the book features reviews of video games and personal electronics gear. In the Summer 2001 issue (ft. a Judas Priest-clad Mena Suvari on its cover), the “Report Card” section features reviews of personal CD systems by two high school cross-country runners. Like the interactive nature of Disney’s Zoog TV cable outlet or similar articles in magazines aimed at teen girls, MH-18 is making an attempt at least to actively involve the voice of its target market. I guess I’d still like to see music reviews or band profiles. Maybe the guys in Blink-182, Sum-41, or SR-71 could review MH-18…
Now don’t get me wrong. I’ve subscribed to Maxim, too. After all, I’m as big a fan of young starlets doffing their kits as the next dope. But just like Phil Wise, it’s the copy that kills me. It’s white noise in print. And MH-18’s attempt to latch onto the younger brothers of Maxim’s subscription base kind of kills me. Rodale’s press release for MH-18 describes what its editor believes about his new ad vehicle: …[MH-18 will] “help teen males break through the clutter of information to find out what they really want to know about being fit, looking great, and staying on top of their lives at home and school.” And hey man, that’s great. I know that I was like a little lost sheep without MH-18 to guide me through puberty. But later on in the same PR, MH-18’s ad director weighed in with his thoughts (perhaps while lighting a cigar made of C-notes). “Teenage spending power was more than $150 billion last year, and is expected to grow by almost 10 percent a year well into the decade,” stat[ed] Steve Bruman, Advertising Director for MH-18. “MH-18 magazine and Web site offer a new conversation for marketers to reach this young, dynamic segment.”
MH-18: We’re here to make sure that you’re just as dumb as your older brother.
But no nipples.
I spent about an hour last Saturday morning hungover on my brother-in-law’s crapper. Did the same thing Sunday morning. The john is well-stocked with several issues of Maxim and Stuff, and I’ve started to like those magazines for what they are. They’re fun. And occasionally there are some interesting articles. The thing that really angers me about them is that they never show nipples. They show all kinds of cleavage and every young starlet in every imaginable sultry pose, but never any nipples.
That just seems cheap to me. A rip off. A prick tease. A Playboy-Lite for these neo-Puritanical times. Playboy at least has great fiction, intelligent interviews, and halfway-decent articles. All that and full nudity.
But still, I no longer resent Maxim and Stuff for their rather meat-headed editorial slant. There’s a certain playful anarchy going on in there. Like when they teach you step-by-step how to pick a lock. Maybe this sounds to you like a recipe for drunkfratrape disaster, but I’m hoping it’s pretty harmless. Let’s the kids think they’re being naughty without really causing any trouble.
Plus, I read an interview with a sexually precocious 17-year-old supermodel who blew off the advances of a member of a certain boy band, claiming, “The Backstreet Boys are all butt ugly.” I’ve had a soft spot for these rags ever since. Call me open-mided. Or call me a sucker. Whatever. It’s pop trash and it’s entertaining. Like watching the E! channel.
So when I read Michael Goldberg’s column, The Drama You’ve Been Craving, about publisher Felix Denis’ new music magazine, Blender, I had to pick it up. Even though Goldberg warned me not to:
If Blender succeeds by following the approach Dennis has taken with Maxim and Stuff— Maxim is currently the best-selling general-interest men’s magazine in the U. S. — we may end up longing for the days when we could count on Rolling Stone, for all its problems, to occasionally deliver a solid article about a meaningful artist such as Radiohead or Tom Waits. Clearly Blender will be targeting “generation mook,” those Tom Green/Limp Bizkit/Eminem-loving kids. I’m expecting the worst.
Well, after reading through much of the premiere issue, I think Goldberg can relax a little. Maybe.
Maybe Blender is being sneaky, and corporately co-opting “cool” like the Gap, Volkswagon, and Sprite, but Issue One contains an interview with Thom Yorke of Radiohead, a big article about Weezer, a full-page review of the new Lucinda Williams album (plus a full-page picture — a woman baring no cleavage for once), and a two-page review of the new Beach Boys reissues.
Granted, the interview with Yorke is based on dopey questions sent in via email by fans. And Weezer isn’t exactly an underground band, and the writer didn’t defend Pinkerton nearly strongly enough. And much of the rest of the issue is filled with “bootylicious” photos of Janet Jackson and Destiny’s Child. But check out this excerpt from Andy Pemberton’s editorial:
Who else would review over 200 CDs every issue and cover everyone from the big fish to the tiny minnows? Who else knows that music is beautiful and scary and sad and wise and fun – especially fun – whatever genre it’s from? Answer: no one (we checked).
Except Glorious Noise, of course. We’ll let Blender focus on the fun, and that’s okay. Fun music has it’s place. Not everybody has to be heavy and serious and snobby. And if Blender turns a few frat boys on to Lucinda Williams or Alejandro Escovedo then that’s good for everybody, right? Except for the snobs who want to keep their favorite bands as their personal pets. And we’ll let them worry about it themselves.