1967 was the year The Doors released its self-named album. Elvis and Priscilla were wed. Jimi came out with Are You Experienced? And before the year was out, the Beatles set out on The Magical Mystery Tour. 1967 was the year that Kurt Cobain was born; the year that Woody Guthrie died.
1967 was the year Rolling Stone was launched.
Although the newsprint biweekly seemed rather unusual in a period when Life magazine was thick and glossy and The Saturday Evening Post had some of the best writing going, it became an important voice because Jann Wenner and his editors had the good sense to give assignments to Tom Wolfe—The Right Stuff and The Bonfire of the Vanities were consequences of writing Wolfe did for the publication—and Hunter S. Thompson, a man who we could use right now to chronicle the mendacious beasts that are slithering on the political scene today. In 1973 Annie Leibovitz became the chief photographer for the magazine, creating images that have become both signature and timeless.
Fifty-three years later, Rolling Stone still exists.
But like anything 53 years on, it isn’t what it once was.
Today Rolling Stone is owned by Penske Business Media, a privately held firm that is headed by Jay Penske. His father is Roger Penske, perhaps the most legendary still existing person in motor sports. Penske pere, for example, as a racecar team owner, has not only won more Indianapolis 500 races than anyone (18 times), but last year he bought the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The family does it big. To its credit, Penske Business Media owns a range of magazines, from Art in America to Variety. Anyone who keeps journalism alive deserves our thanks.
I recently got an email solicitation from Rolling Stone that said that were I to subscribe post-haste I would get “instant access” (once there would have been a tongue-in-cheek reference to “instant karma”) to:
• Exclusive interviews
• Award-winning features
• Trusted music, TV, and movie reviews
• In-depth political commentary
• Stunning original photography
And I suspect that while all of those areas have sufficiency and probably sometimes excellence, Wenner’s own interviews in the early years are rightfully legendary; the feature writing isn’t Wolfe in his prime; Thompson has never been eclipsed; and, well, Leibovitz.
But let’s put all that aside.
Here’s the thing that really drove the stake through any possibility that I would have considered achieving “instant access.”
Were I to have signed up, in addition to saving 50% on the publication, I would have gotten a “FREE Rolling Stone Tote Bag.”
Yes, the sort of thing that PBS and AARP provides to members who sign up for things.
But then again, it is 53 years old.