I still have this copy of Rolling Stone. I still have several issues of Rolling Stone, all in a neat pile downstairs. I’ve winnowed and pruned this pile over the years and now it’s barely a foot tall. What remains will likely be thrown out by whoever cleans this house out once I’m gone because these are the issues that mattered. And yes, I do go through them now and then.
It was announced yesterday that Rolling Stone magazine was up for sale. Jann Wenner has been publishing the magazine since 1967, when the counter-culture revolution was exploding and change was in the air. Given my age, RS has been a constant for a good part of my life. I’ve often been at odds with it but I kept reading into the 90s. Wenner should have gotten out then, when magazines were still worth something. But no one saw what the digital revolution would do to traditional media and like newspapers, magazines got blind-sided. Now they’ll be lucky to get a tenth of what they would have 20 years ago.
My relationship with Rolling Stone has been somewhat of a love/hate affair. They exposed me to writers like Ralph Gleason, Tom Wolfe, and of course Hunter S. Thompson. They were exceedingly tone deaf in their reviews in the 70s as they clung to 60s aesthetics to review 70s music. The wave of reviewers that came in later managed to correct it but the magazine was still prone to giving five star reviews to mediocre works from aging 60s heroes (a true return to form!). And their top 100/500 lists were always an abomination. I remember the weekend of my brother’s wedding when the debate among the groomsmen was how atrocious the list of the top 100 albums from 1967-1987 was. Let’s just say that none of us were happy with the choices made. Those lists have only gotten worse over time. But the magazine also carried Wenner’s hippie heart on its sleeve when it came to politics and social upheaval, casting a stern eye on Washington shenanigans that marginalized minorities and attempted to scale back social advances. Wenner had a soapbox and he used it damn well.
So who knows what’s going to happen. They might find a buyer who can plunder the archives and keep building on the magazine’s strong digital presence. Or it might whither and blow away, like other magazines have doing in the last decade. The future for magazines isn’t bright. As one of Rolling Stone’s favorite artists would say, you don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.