I’m not certain what the final straw was, exactly. It could have been this summer’s Adam Lambert (that asinine “American Idol” runner-up) issue. Or maybe it was the utterly useless Megan Fox cover that did me in (although she was pretty hot, if I may say). Or perhaps it was the special, Tiger Beat-ish Jonas Brothers edition (“72 pages of intimate photos OMG!”) released this August.
Yep. Come to think of it, that was probably it.
After 10 tumultuous years as a Rolling Stone magazine subscriber, I finally ended my subscription via an angry, exclamation point-filled e-mail. While some (read: most) serious music lovers wrote off Rolling Stone a long, long time ago, it took me until quite recently to finally relieve myself of the head-pounding, bi-monthly migraine that accompanied each issue’s arrival.
You see, as infuriating as it was at times, I held the magazine close to my heart for nearly a decade. It started when my sister subscribed on a whim one day at the checkout of Best Buy. But as I became more and more passionate about music and my sister became smart enough to stop reading, the magazine fell squarely into my hands. Reading Rolling Stone as a naïve, prepubescent boy was my first brush with music journalism. And the emphatic way in which they wrote about music reflected my own budding enthusiasm for the medium.
Even now, I can feel the influence Rolling Stone has had on my musical tastes. Its constant gushing over Bob Dylan made me check him out for myself before I even knew what “everybody must get stoned” could possibly mean. Later, it made me rethink my high opinion of the whole emo scene. And it’s where I first read about Sufjan Stevens.
The nostalgia I felt for Rolling Stone kept me reading despite the obvious dip in integrity and relevance over the years. I overlooked the extremist, dogmatic, George W. Bush-hating political babble that filled each issue. (I’m no Bush-lover — or even liker, for that matter — but Rolling Stone fostered a hate for this man that went way beyond the normal spectrum of human emotion. If he had been assassinated, the magazine would probably have printed a full-color celebration spread complete with detailed death pics and free packets of confetti.)
I did become a little more concerned when I began to notice the apparent review inflation that Rolling Stone would give to its “pet artists” (U2, Green Day, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, etc.). Still, this egregious pay-per-star review system didn’t dissuade me from reading on.
What kept me going were those one or two redeeming articles per month that seemed to validate my blind affection for the magazine and the $19.95 yearly subscription fee. For instance, when the Jonas Brothers first graced the cover in August 2008, I was dismayed and even embarrassed to read the magazine in public (and this came months after those darling ladies from “The Hills” posed dumbly in the same spot). But then, a few issues later, there was a fantastic piece eulogizing the late novelist David Foster Wallace. My faith had been restored by a single article.
But the shit kept piling up.
Around the time of the Foster Wallace article, Rolling Stone switched formats from the classic, larger-than-average print size to the more standard-sized, glossy style used by magazines like Maxim and Spin.
Now, I wasn’t opposed to the magazine’s switchover in essence. Actually, I was quite excited for it. But somehow, with the change in format, Rolling Stone’s gradual debasement came to a head.
A new celebrities-are-just-like-us photo section was added. The biased album reviews became too corrupt to ignore. Every time an artist was interviewed, the magazine made sure to ignore the good questions about stuff like song craft and inspiration and instead focused on exactly what and how many drugs the person has taken (seriously, this occurs every time and is almost always uninteresting). They put Lady Gaga on the cover. It all became too much to bear. So I canceled my subscription and haven’t looked back since.
What happened, Rolling Stone? You used to be a cultural force that dictated America’s musical opinion. Remember how happy Stillwater was to be on your cover in “Almost Famous?” Remember the countless iconic photographs that sprung from your pages?
You lost a bit of clout after a couple decades, sure, but that’s natural for an institution that has been around as long as you have. At least you were still a magazine that had a contagious passion for music with enough engaging articles to keep a prepubescent kid interested.
But now, Rolling Stone, now you’re nothing more than a pandering, overstuffed, Us Weekly-ripoff tabloid. I know that many grizzled Lou Reed fans will tell me you haven’t been relevant since the ’60s and it shouldn’t have taken me this long to realize it. And I will say maybe they’re right. But you have now devolved into something that even the most casual music fans roll their eyes at.
Rolling Stone, you’ve broken my heart. I hope the bajillions of Jonas Brothers issues sold were worth it.