Whims, as we all know, are the sort of things that lead previously sane men to build rocket-powered roller-skates in their garages and take deadly rides into flaming oblivion. This week, a near-fatal whim struck me. I decided to go to a local bookstore and buy every single music magazine I could get my immaculately manicured hands on. I subscribe to a couple of music magazines and buy a few others occasionally, but this week I was determined to get a snapshot of as broad a segment of the music press as I could for under a hundred bucks, because what am I, made of money?
The horror.All in all, I picked up ten magazines representing a wide base of styles and genres. Well, by “wide base of styles and genres” I mean “eight boring white-people rock and roll magazines, one hip hop magazine, and one that seems to be some sort of a death metal magazine.” Here’s the full list: Rolling Stone, Spin, NME, Magnet, Pit, The Source, Q, Uncut, Alternative Press, and Filter.
If you’re an astute follower of music journalism, you probably recognize and hold a deep contempt for at least five of those. The problem is that we can’t all be expected to subscribe to every single one of those magazines. To most people, it would be prohibitively expensive (not me though, since I am, in fact, made of money). Even to those who could afford it, who could find the time in this fast-paced modern world of ours to sit down and read anything? Let’s be honest: how many of us even know how to read? Yeah, that’s what I thought. I’m talking to you, shame-faced illiterate man having Something Awful read aloud to him by a computerized screen-reader voice.
It seems like too much effort for too little reward to write a detailed analysis of what makes all these magazines tick. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I’m perfectly capable of doing so. It would be entirely within my means to use my decades of formal training in critical theory to deconstruct the shit out of these things until you didn’t know what’s what. I just don’t think you’d understand it. So, since this is a website and all, I might as well just write brief, pithy summaries of each magazine and assign each one some arbitrary and oversimplified score based on nothing in particular. Since this might wind up being a bit on the long side, I’m going to do five this week and five next time. Let’s begin:
One of the oldest and most venerable of American music magazines. So, basically, I had to pick up Rolling Stone, or else people would keep e-mailing me and saying “nice music magazine reviews, but where the hell is Rolling Stone?”
Their Opinion of Themselves: The culturally relevant music magazine; the magazine that has transcended its rock origins to become one of the nation’s most respected journalistic enterprises; home of revolutionary thought and serious criticism; the magazine that shaped the course of rock and roll and youth culture and blah blah blah.
Public Opinion of Them: The music magazine that’s been coasting on its own grotesquely inflated sense of relevance for pretty much as long as anyone can remember; the music magazine that you vaguely remember being somehow important but which always seems to have Christina Aguilera licking a donkey on the cover.
Cultural Importance: When many of us think of music journalism, we think of passages like “Hurtling across the Mojave Desert, half-blind from the sun and half-crazy from the delectable Afghan hash, I exchanged a portentous glance with the beautiful man-monster who calls himself Gary Cherone. ‘This is real,’ I thought. ‘This is now. This is Extreme.” Rolling Stone practically invented this bullshit.
This Month’s Cover Story: The recently obsolete face of John Kerry stares at us plaintively from the November issue’s cover; although his face appears on the cover as a reminder for the kids to get out there and vote (for Kerry), the past week’s events have transformed the photograph into a depressing reminder of what might have been. Thanks a lot, Rolling Stone. Your subscribers, many of whom are busy trying to forget who the president is, now have to tear the cover off of this issue to avoid falling into a deep liberal funk.
Other Features of Note: An excerpt from Tom Wolfe’s upcoming novel, which is told from the perspective of a female college student; as such, it’s peppered with an aging man’s hilarious interpretation of young people talking: “Whaaaazzup, dude?” “Whoa! Skooz!” Hearing your grandpa talk jive just never gets old.
Interesting Music News: The bassist of Buffalo Springfield died, which is sad, I guess. I mean, I never particularly noticed the bass playing in Buffalo Springfield songs, but he was there, and that’s what counts.
Review System: Everything gets three or three and a half stars. If it’s a reissue, it’s probably going to get five stars, even if they gave it three stars when it first came out. Out of 27 reviews, 20 had either three or three and a half stars. Meaning that they were either “good” or somewhere between “good” and “excellent.” Jesus Christ, Rolling Stone, grow a pair. We’re not going to think any less of you if you give the new Simple Plan record one star instead of three stars. In fact, we would absolutely love it if you gave it one star. Tear some shit apart! You people are supposed to be professionals, and yet you honestly expect us to believe that you consider The Donnas “good”?
Nadir: Putting Duran Duran’s new album “Astronaut” at the top of their “Hot List.” If there’s anything that ought to be at the absolute bottom of any rational human being’s “Hot List,” it’s a new Duran Duran album.
Rolling Stone gets three stars, even though we all secretly know it’s a piece of shit.
The other American music magazine. The second fiddle. I pretty much had to buy this one too, or its absence would be conspicuous. Then, the day after I bought it, I got one in the mail. I forgot that I had a subscription. That’s how exciting Spin is.
Their Opinion of Themselves: The hip and edgy alternative to Rolling Stone.
Public Opinion of Them: Rolling Stone with a baseball card in its spokes.
Cultural Importance: Didn’t Bob Guccione, publisher of Penthouse, start Spin? Well, at least Spin never tried to make pee fetishism mainstream.
This Month’s Cover Story: Even more depressing than John Kerry: Green Day. I thought they were part of our nation’s sordid and best-forgotten history, but they’re back with a new rock opera called American Idiot. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the term “rock opera,” it’s just like a regular opera except slightly less appealing to young people. Even more disturbing than this is Spin’s liberal use of the term “elder statesmen” throughout the Green Day piece. Again, I think an explanation of a music journalism term is warranted: “elder statesmen” means “band who’s clung to their fame for slightly longer than the rest of their worthless contemporaries.” Music journalists say that when they know that the band they’re writing about doesn’t actually have any relevance, but they still have to make them sound important in the interest of justifying a cover story.
Other Features of Note: A feature on the “New Folk Eccentrics” like Devandra Banhart, Sufjan Stevens and Animal Collective. You know, the kind of shit that girls are always burning you CDs of. The ones that end up in your “CDs of charming folk music that some girl burned for me but that I’m never, ever in a million years going to listen to” pile. Early on, the article advises us: “…just because they dig acoustic instruments and sing about rabbits, spiders, and bean sprouts, that’s no reason to call them hippies.” Yeah, well fuck that, I’m calling them hippies.
Interesting Music News: Jack Osbourne has turned 19. Remember what you were doing at 19? You were probably bored, lonely, working a shitty job, taking mind-numbing classes at a community college, and occasionally working up the presence of mind to joylessly masturbate. Jack Osbourne, at 19, is an internationally recognizable reality TV icon who lives in fabulous wealth and hangs around with gorgeous women. Guess what? Even despite this, you were way, way cooler than he is. At least, no matter who you are, you can still wake up in the morning, look at yourself in the mirror, and say “I am not half as much of a twat as Jack Osbourne.”
Review System: Some sort of deeply flawed and inverted form of a school grading system, from A to F. I only say that it’s deeply flawed and inverted because Good Charlotte’s new album somehow wound up with a B minus. Maybe it’s some sort of ironic statement about the decline in the quality of public education.
Nadir: They used the same disgusting photograph of Jimmy Eat World as Rolling Stone did in their review, so I had to look at those pasty motherfuckers twice
Spin gets a C minus. They might have swung up for a B if not for Chuck Klosterman writing about his fucking iPod even though he very well fucking knows that he shouldn’t be and does so with an elaborate justification of why he chose to write about his fucking iPod.
NME (New Musical Express)
The NME is a weekly music rag from England. England used to have two major weeklies, the NME and Melody Maker, who always had a friendly rivalry. Melody Maker went under a few years ago, and was incorporated into NME. I don’t know why you need to know that, but there it is. Perhaps I’m just disarming complaints from people who hadn’t realized that Melody Maker was no more, who might otherwise e-mail me and complain about its absence from the list. Perhaps I’m paranoid and insane.
Their Opinion of Themselves: These cats have never been shy about proclaiming themselves “the world’s greatest music magazine.”
Public Opinion of Them: Pretentious, bombastic British tabloid about bands that America will never care about.
Cultural Importance: They’d have you believe that they are single-handedly responsible for discovering every single band that has ever gone on to do anything even remotely good. To some extent, the jerks might be right: they’ve been around since about 1820 and since it’s a weekly paper, they have to come up with four times as much crap to write every month. Therefore, they will do features on any band that so much as trips over a guitar in a darkened room, often proclaiming them to be the saviors of rock and roll and the greatest thing since The Smiths and the one band that you MUST see before you die. They’re wrong ninety-nine percent of the time, but they never fail to gloat like the drunken bastards they are whenever some band they wrote about first breaks into the mainstream. Answer me this, NME: what the fuck happened to Terris or Marion or any of the other shitty bands you proclaimed to be the successors to Joy Division? Yeah, I bet you thought I’d forgotten about them, like everyone else. They operate on the same principle as psychics: they rely on the fact that you’ll remember when they’re right and forget when they’re wrong. Our best defense is to write them letters every week asking them why Terris never made it big, in order to embarrass them into more responsible journalism.
Cover Story: Oh, apparently the guy from the Libertines is still stumbling around in a drunken haze, like he’s been doing on the cover of NME for the last two years straight. What a jolly surprise. This time he’s in a band called Babyshambles, which is maybe the worst band name I’ve ever heard. I guess I can’t blame him, since “Hootie and the Blowfish” was already taken.
Other Features of Note: NME is convinced that all of their readers have elaborate shrines to NME covering their walls; therefore, each issue must contain at least a few Tiger Beat-style glossy pullout photographs of hot bands. This week’s glossy photos are of live performances by such historical heavy hitters as The Jam, Nirvana, The White Stripes, The Ramones, and… Razorlight? Oh yeah, wait a minute, this is NME and they’re not-too-subtly trying to canonize some shitty band of nobodies by placing them alongside The Ramones and The Jam. Do they think we’re stupid? Yes.
Interesting Music News: “An ORGY of burgers, HOTEL PORN, and Harry Potter-baiting: it can only mean NME is ON TOUR with punk-pop boyband McFLY” Yeah, that headline just about sums up the trashy rag that NME has become. Oh, and this is the last time you’re ever going to hear about McFly.
Review System: Every week, NME reviews not only the albums but the singles, which is a major advantage of having a weekly music paper. Unlike Rolling Stone, they’re actually not afraid to pepper their reviews with a little variety; on a one-to-ten scale, the albums this week go as high as nine (Frank Black) and as low as zero (Good Charlotte). You know what, I think I’ll stop making fun of NME now, because at least these jerks had enough presence of mind to give Good Charlotte a zero.
Nadir: You already read the part about the McFly headline, right?
NME gets a five out of ten. Ten points for giving Good Charlotte a zero, five points docked for still being a sensationalist tabloid rag.
Well, this is apparently some sort of indie magazine. I think I’ve bought it before, but not within recent memory. I bought this one because I wanted to have another magazine to bring the total up to ten, and it was either this or Maxim’s retarded excuse for a music magazine, “Blender.”
Their Opinion of Themselves: On the cover, it says “Real Music Alternatives.” Based on their content, I think they’re fairly sure that they’re the ones who really know about music and everyone else has it wrong. I don’t care whether or not they’re right!
Public Opinion of Them: Magnet?
Cultural Importance: Who else is going to put Tom Waits on the cover every time he coughs (and judging by his voice, he coughs a lot)?
Cover Story: Tom Waits. Apparently he coughed. More specifically, he coughed out a new album. I didn’t bother reading the cover story or listening to the record, but let’s assume it’s a lugubrious, alcohol-fueled collection of raspy ballads about working-class characters. Is that a fair assumption? Please, somebody who’s heard it, e-mail me and tell me that Tom Waits’s new record is NOT a lugubrious, alcohol-fueled collection of raspy ballads about working-class characters. Wouldn’t that be a kick in the pants? What if it were a collection of lighthearted pop songs sung in Waits’s heretofore unheard wispy falsetto that he keeps locked away in that thorny gulch that he calls a throat for special occasions?
Other Features of Note: Ever wondered what happened to some band you’ve never heard of? Well, twenty years after nobody bought their record, Magnet is here to tell you that the lead singer has settled down with a family and is now working on a little collection of acoustic numbers that’ll be coming out on Podunk Records whenever they work out a distribution deal that goes past the back of a van. Please keep in mind that this band that you’ve never heard of is the most important and seminal band of their time. At least, it’s in the best interests of the interviewer to pretend that they were.
Interesting Music News: It's indie music. "Interesting" doesn't enter into it.
Review System: Goddamn, they don’t even give them stars or anything. They expect us to actually read that shit. What is this, the Nineteenth Century?
Nadir: Giving indie musicians a forum to talk about important issues. Angus Andrew of Liars suggests that we “force American television networks to only show news made from a foreigner’s perspective.” Pragmatists to the end, these musicians.
See, Magnet doesn’t use stars or numbers or grades or anything in their reviews, so what the fuck am I supposed to do here? You can’t fight City Hall, Magnet. Real music magazines give out reviews with stars. Even if it’s pointless, arbitrary, and damaging to music journalism as a whole, that’s just how it’s done. Shape up or ship out!
I bought this one because it seems to be an ultra-cheap death metal magazine. There are a bunch of scowling guys in ridiculous makeup on the cover, and flipping through it I noticed albums with names like “Incrust – Baptized in Unholy Gore.” Good for a cheap laugh? Definitely.
Their Opinion of Themselves: I guess they think they’re not hilarious.
Public Opinion of Them: I would assume that most of us would disagree. They’re hilarious.
Cultural Importance: If culture were walking down the street at night and Pit magazine were walking toward it, culture would probably cross the street. Although maybe if culture had a few friends with it, it would laugh at Pit magazine and maybe beat it up. Pit magazine probably wouldn’t take it too hard, because Pit magazine only dresses like a scary devil man to ward off the people who used to beat it up in high school. I would imagine that Pit Magazine is pretty used to beatings.
Cover Story: Cradle of Filth? Are these guys serious? They look serious, I guess. But come on.
Other Features of Note: There is, for some reason, an exceedingly poorly-written review of a Transformers game for the PlayStation 2. Why? Because people who listen to death metal are gigantic fucking nerds, and gigantic fucking nerds are also interested in video games about Transformers. Aside from this, the main attraction of Pit Magazine is flipping through it to look at the advertisements for black metal bands. You wouldn’t believe some of the hilarious names these retards come up with.
Interesting Music News: Birdflesh is reissuing their "Alive Autopsy" CD! Holy shit!
Review System: You know what, I’m just going to let Pit Magazine speak for itself on this one: “Lair of the Minotaur is a side-project of the guys from 7000 Dying Rats and Pelican. If you are into the tunes of guys like The Christpunchers, Rwake, Cult of Luna, and Earthride then this is your shit.” Yeah, that’s right, The Christpunchers.
Nadir: I guess the nadir is just the fact that anyone is serious enough about this bullshit to make a magazine about it.
Of all the magazines I’ve talked about this week, I think Pit is the one I’d recommend most highly. If you love death metal, then I’m just going to assume that you’d be interested in this magazine; if you have no standards when it comes to music, chances are you don’t care if your music magazines are shitty either. However, if you don’t know anything about death metal, you absolutely must buy this magazine. It’s some of the funniest stuff you’ll ever see. I might even order a record by Necrotic Disgorgement, because if the music is half as goofy as the magazine, it’s bound to be a rollercoaster of laughs.
Stay tuned for the next column, in which I will tackle all the magazines I listed but didn't write about yet. In the meantime, here is a hilarious e-mail I got from a conservative watchdog group. This doesn't have anything to do with Something Awful; this was sent to me because I also DJ a radio show. A radio show upon which I've never played Skinny Puppy:
To: David Thorpe ([email protected])
From: American Patriot ([email protected])
In the past few months a band by the name of Skinny Puppy has slandered Bush. At several of their concerts over the Summer they have simulated an assassination of the president. On their current Fall tour they simulated a beheading similar to the ones happening in Iraq. When the vocalist pulls off their hoods he reveals the terrorists to be Bush and Cheney. This is unacceptable and I encourage you not to play their latest record, The Greater Wrong of the Right, that has been indicated by their record label as being played on your station. Conservatives are currently a majority of the populace now and we have voted into power a majority in every level of government. The people of this country have the power as evident by our boycott of the Reagan miniseries, the Superbowl, and the Dixie Chicks. If you still choose to play their music we have the ability to put financial pressure on your station through boycotts. Please remove Skinny Puppy from rotation or we will have no choice but to boycott your station.
- Daryl Mason
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