Lefsetz: The Long, Slow, Impending Death of Rolling Stone

Justin-Bieber-Cover-Rolling-StoneYes, I still subscribe to Rolling Stone...

I have since 1969. And I still haven’t gotten over the lack of a fold, never mind moving to New York and ultimately going slick.

But this binding issue is the last straw.

So what killed Rolling Stone?

The refusal to regenerate – it got old with its audience – as opposed to MTV, which jettisoned the VJs and continued to play to the same 12-24 demo. You could still pay attention after aging out, but MTV was no longer targeting you.

Rolling Stone publisher Jann Wenner was the techie of his day, a Jeff Bezos-like figure who instead of starting an online bookstore started a magazine. He figured he could do it better than the established outlets which featured a few reviews if they had space for the music revolution at all. And in Rolling Stone you found all the news you were interested in – not just about musicians, but politics, about culture. It was the bible of the younger generation.

And with its peaks of Hunter Thompson’s “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” and his and Timothy Crouse‘s coverage of the 1972 election the magazine earned respect. And with the breaking of the Patty Hearst story Rolling Stone toppled the establishment, it was where you went to find out what was going on.

And then Wenner took his eye off the ball.

The magazine had gone through financial ups and downs, but now Wenner was more interested in being a man about town than an outsider poking those set in their ways.

Happens all the time.

22787_lgOnce you gain approval you go for the victory lap, but the truth is there’s no there there. The rich and famous club is a deep dark canyon where everybody’s looking over your shoulder to see if there’s someone more worthy and looking back over their shoulder to see if they’re gonna be replaced. And they are, fame never lasts. Oftentimes the riches don’t either, and the truth is the parties and people are frequently just as boring as those in your own neighborhood, the only difference being you can’t get in.

This is a dirty little secret of society, which you think Wenner would want to reveal.

But then he purchased US and that took care of his financial problems and then he turned his publication over to people without names who carried on the tradition.

The game was always the same.

A little gossip, some music news, some reviews and some features. It’s just that it became formulaic, like a band recording the same 10 tracks over and over again, only with different titles.

Then certain artists were canonized and nothing bad could be said about them.

Yet the fans of these bands had long stopped reading and the younger generation couldn’t care less. And then Blender lied about its circulation and Rolling Stone cut the length of its reviews in response and all the gravitas was thrown out the window. Rolling Stone was the Howard Stern of its day – there was enough room to stretch out as long as you wanted to.

And you read the stories.

Sure, the music changed, it became a lot less interesting. Players no longer drive the culture.

20130827-coverWhere were the musicians when North Carolina cracked down on the LGBT community?

Apple’s Tim Cook and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg raised a ruckus, but the artists were silent, because not only are they uninformed doofuses, they’re afraid of alienating a potential audience member. The stars of yore were alienating entire communities willy-nilly, that’s what being a rock star was all about!

Then came the UVA rape story controversy. Credit the WaPo for poking holes/breaking the story, it just didn’t sound right. From here on in when it sounds too good to be true, when it just doesn’t add up, I’m gonna question it, that’s what Snopes is for! Not that this is a badge of (dis)honor for RS, but what’s worse is no heads rolled – certainly not at first. Winner supported the writer and it wasn’t until months later that the editor was ousted.

And now there’s shrinkage.

Rolling Stone is only one downsizing away from becoming a pamphlet.

Must be an advertising crisis. Then again, magazines go into death spirals all the time, they hemorrhage readers, cut costs, lose advertisers and go down the drain.

As will happen to the Stone. It ceased being a must-read years ago. It missed the internet completely. Seems that every established brand in the music industry did, the labels and MTV included. Revolution comes from outside.

I don’t think anybody in the younger generation relies on Rolling Stone, if they read it at all.

It’s probably unsavable.

First they came for the record stores.

Now they’ve come for Rolling Stone.

As for the vinyl revival, there’s an over-trumpeted phenomenon if there ever was one. It’s like saying there’s a furniture revival because of Antiques Roadshow. What next, the return of Stanley Steamers? Vent windows? Why is it the media always lauds revivals of the past when the truth is no one’s got a deck to play a cassette, never mind an 8-track, and what’s in the rearview mirror is there for a reason.

Rolling Stone lost the plot.

But to see it fade away in front of my very eyes is sad and creepy.

It won’t be long before it’s a website like Paste, a vestige of what once was, when music drove the culture and it was us versus them…before everybody wanted to be them – just like Jann Wenner.

Let that be a lesson for you, once you sell out it’s only a matter of time before you become irrelevant and die.

So, so long to long afternoons spent mesmerized by the words of musicians.

So long to the belief that music ran the world.

And so long to the canard that Rolling Stone matters.

It doesn’t.

If only it took their vaunted Robert Zimmerman‘s advice.

He not busy being born is busy dying.

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14 Responses to Lefsetz: The Long, Slow, Impending Death of Rolling Stone

  1. Furioso says:

    I really think Rolling Stone helped kill Rock n’ Roll by promoting that scuzzy Nirvana led grunge to death. And really, what did grunge get us except a return to hard drugs and dirty hair?

  2. Newbaumturk says:

    I still subscribe too mostly only because it is so cheap I might as well. The rape story did almost make me cancel. It’s funny you showed a picture of Bob Dylan, who they still put on the cover a few times a year. I personally can’t stand Dylan and have never seen the appeal so I wrote them an email last year telling them as much. I do enjoy their political writing especially Matt Taibbi. When I get issues like the one after David Bowies death I’m reminded why I subscribe. When they put Kim Kardashian or Fall Out Boy on the cover I think how terrible. If they raise the price I’ll cancel.

    • Brandon Leftridge says:

      You’re a slave to the grind, god love ya.

      Do they really put Dylan on the cover a few times a year?

      I’d buy that issue. If I saw it.

      But I didn’t see it.

      As someone who doesn’t subscribe, I don’t see RS. I don’t care what they do.

      That said, I DO appreciate the days when they actually MEANT something. And that’s been a while. Bless Taibbi, right? At least he writes.

  3. CFPCowboy says:

    We have watched the death of print, in general. From the KC Star, Time, US News and World Report, all the way back to the Saturday Evening Post, so it is not news. The fraternity at UVA has yet to take ownership, but it should be obvious that Rolling Stone was under-insured for that fiasco, and whether or not they survive it, they ceased being a respected rag. Facebook and UTUBE now carry the news of the music and entertainment. The rags are old news. We want our hearsay to at least be current, and that only leaves Rolling Stone with the real news. Enter the failure to vet stories. Yes, there was the General who didn’t see eye to eye with the President, but the first wrong move, and Rolling Stone is fish wrap. It’s been over for a while.

    • Furioso says:

      Yeah, it’s been over for awhile. I’ll miss magazine stands at airports but that’s about it..oh yeah, maybe Barnes and Noble a little bit. I used to almost salivate back in the 80’s/90’s when I’d go into a Waldenbooks or B. Dalton.

  4. harley the manificent says:

    haven’t read rolling stone in decades. Why?
    Music is dead. Where’s the new talent that should be replacing
    the classic music crowd.
    Look at sprint…outside some country singers…it’s mostly classic
    rock (journey/who/springsteen) acts filling the seats.
    Nothing new is happening…although they did at one time have some
    really super political writers and they did some incredible features.
    They could have survived…but they just wrote and published nothing
    that people cared to read.
    Now we have tv and the internet to get that information.
    So next Thursday I will be at “THE BOSS” concert at sprint watching
    true talent for the probably 30th time I’ve seen him.
    The culture of our society is dying.
    What will we do after American Idol goes off the air? For as many critics
    that show had it did produce some really good talent that has been successful
    in the music industry.
    Sad story but one that could have been possibly avoided.
    But Harley continues with his great writings on major blogs. And his
    long string of successful picks in sports and politics continues.
    Hillary wins it all…..Trump is falling apart now that its down to him
    and the 90% of the republican party while his sidekick mr. Stone predicts
    mayhem/riots/and fights at the repub convention in Cleveland. Should
    be a funsummer for the rethugs. Their knives are sharpened and ready
    to stab anyone in sight in the back! hahahahahahaha! I LOVE IT!

    • Frank says:

      Music isn’t dead. It’s just that you’re pretty much gonna have to find it yourself. Radio is not your friend anymore.

      • harley the manificent says:

        you’re probably right but it’s hard to find new music from
        artists with talent on the radio/or internet.

  5. JP says:

    One interesting factoid: All those classic rock acts, that are all we have left of rock today that can fill an arena? RS hated them. Unless they had a deep disturbing back story, RS considered them lame. Heart, The Eagles, Van Halen, Led Zeppelin, Journey, Kansas, Boston, Styx, AC/DC, Metallica… go back and read the reviews. RS HATED them. Anyone that just wasn’t trying to be a tortured artist with a political axe to grind, any act that just tried to write good tunes and please big audiences – RS said they sucked. Every new album got 1 or 2 stars out of 5. Foreigner, Def Leppard, Rush, Black Sabbath, REO, BOC, Ozzy, just look at anyone that didn’t get into the Hall of Fame until way, way after they should have and you get an idea of what RS thinks is important in music. It’s not the music!

    Why? They are journalists. What are they gonna say about Tom Scholz writing “More than a Feeling” or Rush writing “Tom Sawyer?” No, they need someone interesting, a front man with a drug habit, communist leanings, suicidal tendencies, lyrics about his depressions and addictions, maybe a weird skanky girlfriend. Now we got an article!

  6. Gal says:

    I had to look for a second time who wrote this article. I was shocked it wasn’t Hearne with yet another article about how every newspaper and/or entertainment publication sucks.

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