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"On The Cover Of The Rolling Stone"

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"On the Cover of the Rolling Stone"

“We take all kinds of pills that give us all kind of thrills, But the thrill we've never known, Is the thrill that'll getcha when you get your picture, On the cover of the Rolling Stone.”

Most rock fans, and readers of popular culture periodicals, will recall the scene in Cameron Croweʼs, “Almost Famous,” when the fictitious band, Sweetwater, celebrated their ascending rock God status as validated by appearing on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine. They drank and hugged and chanted out the words to this Dr. Hook ditty.

Of course, that film was set in 1973.

Most people are very well aware that it was around this time that Rolling Stone began the long, slow descent from iconic cultural (or perhaps countercultural) relevance to itʼs current standing as purveyor of modern day pablum. Any artist who has ever been featured in itʼs pages is excused for having a conveniently self-referential memory lapse, and having written bylined articles for the publication, I know whereof I speak.

And there is no denying the sense of accomplishment the first time you receive a phone call from Rolling Stone. My first was in 2004 when I was asked to review Jimmy Buffet at Fenway Park. When Buffett himself asked between sets if I was, “the kid from Rolling Stone,” I know my chest puffed out a bit. On that night and I few others I was indeed, “the kid from Rolling Stone,” and for any freelance writer thatʼs a rush.

But, even then, I knew I was not dealing in the rarified atmosphere once occupied by the likes of Lester Bangs and Hunter Thompson. It was made very clear to me that this was not “rock criticism” but more journalism in the traditional sense. In other words, get the facts right, dress them up a bit (but not too gaudily) and donʼt make any waves. The icing on the cake was that when the issue hit newsstands they misspelled my name.

Maybe that should have been the first nudge of how easily dismissed any issue of any magazine can be.

But I was still proud, and to some extent still am. I have written under ten bylined pieces for Rolling Stone but the experience was ultimately validating. When I think of that experience my comparison is always that I might not have had a long career in the big leagues but at least I got there and took my hacks. It was an experience that opened a few doors (weʼll see how that goes moving forward locally) and itʼs a part of my career, you can see it even now in the byline below this piece.

My point, however, is that these things go away fast. In fact, they only remain present as long as you allow them to play a part in your life. The uproar over this horribly chosen cover shot admittedly raises eyebrows (and perhaps when publishing a magazine in our current climate, eyebrow raising is considered a victory). It seems to me that of the other features mentioned on the cover there were at least two that would have fit more conventionally with what Rolling Stone is imagined to be.

By my estimation, the legendary Willie Nelson has graced the cover of Rolling Stone exactly once, way back in 1978 (in a finely written piece by Chet Filippo, I might add). Seems a deserving enough cover boy. Gary Clark, Jr., on the other hand, has been receiving consistently positive and expansive coverage for a few years now, the kind one might imagine would culminate in a “Sweetwater” style cover coronation.

But neither one would have gotten folks talking the way the planned cover for the next issue has.

I have always believed that in America itʼs often easier to shout than to think, and believe me, I have been guilty of this a preposterous number of times in situations as varied as you can imagine. However, a good amount of this shouting brought me back to the phenomenon we witnessed earlier this year when certain citizens of the Commonwealth felt compelled to “boo” a hearse. Thereʼs a head scratcher if I ever encountered one.

Another great American ethos is to, “Hit ʻem where they hurt,” in this case in the wallet by canceling subscriptions. Thatʼs fair play and for those so inclined, I applaud you. I applaud even more vigorously the decision by Tedeschi stores to not display or sell the offensive issue. Thatʼs a shot that Wenner Media will likely actually feel, and is a rarity in that it makes both good community and fiscal sense.

But in this age of countless choices, when a magazine such as Rolling Stone feels inclined to sleazily drag itself into the national discourse with a shocking cover image, you always have another option. Simply turn away.

As far as I know, Hustler magazine still publishes. Doesnʼt affect me because I donʼt pay attention. If you want to look hard enough you can find plenty of offensive content on magazine shelves, on the internet, on cable television. And you can always turn the page or leave the website or turn the channel. Perhaps in this case being “Boston Strong” simply means being strong enough to turn your back on something in such poor taste, that seems quite obviously conceived to gain attention through controversy.

And itʼs not as though there arenʼt still plenty of positive and constructive places to turn. Just this morning, my wife was one of 7,500 runners who filled the field for the Boston Athletic Association (same folks who give us the Marathon) Half-Marathon in October. All spots were gone in 45 minutes. That seems a helluvaʻ lot more worthy of attention than a magazine cover, and just as easy to pay attention to. I highly doubt itʼll garner any attention, but it should.

So, you could always do that.

Or, you could write down your thoughts and never even mention by name the types of miscreants who have gained refocused attention through a magazine's poor choice. Thatʼs what I just did.

-July 19, 2013-

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