- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 22, 2002

Alas, more bad news: "Rolling Stone, Struggling for Readers, Names Briton as Editor." So wrote the New York Times in announcing the latest British invasion, this one to be spearheaded by 37-year-old Ed Needham, the editor of FHM, a raunchy British "laddie" magazine. His mission? To save the not-exactly-venerable chronicler of (and contributor to) the American counterculture. But even if Mr. Needham manages to close the door on exiting advertisers and boost newsstand sales of Jann Wenner's flagship publication, he'll probably do so presiding over a retooled and virtually unrecognizable magazine.

That means, of course, that those ostentatiously long Hunter Thompson and Hunter Thompson-esque exposes are history. As for all other articles with quasi-literary pretensions? Rejection letters are in the mail. It's probably too much to expect a change in the sort of drug-boosterism that inspires pot-friendly travel tips, non-judgmental post-mortems on overdosed rockers, and hysterical posturings against the drug war. And it's certainly too much to expect first aid for all those language-mutilating music reviews. (See current issue for albums with "unapologetically inscrutable rhymes," "woofer-tearing sonic terrorism," and "the God-given touch of a man meant to spin vinyl.")

Instead, look for a laddie sensibility the pop world as seen through the bathroom and the boudoir and lots of "extreme" pictures. After all, as the New York Times deadpans, "Many editors have concluded that the words in magazines are often beside the point." Ouch. But given Rolling Stone's key role in the socialization of an array of antisocial behaviors (drug overdose as occupational hazard), it's hard to muster much nostalgia for this fading brand name.

Still, part of what plagues Rolling Stone plagues all American letters: a diminishing attention span that renders, for example, general-interest magazines generally uninteresting to the masses that once made them household accessories. These days, the once-expansive genre has shrunken to fit not much more than the scanties of such loutish men's titles as Maxim and the celebrity chatter of a People or a Rosie. Stagnating sales have even driven good ol' Reader's Digest to resort to the editorial equivalent of botox as it undergoes a celebrity-driven makeover. Mr. Wenner may go on about the pitfalls of a crowded media field, but the problem is that magazines as we've know them have become something of an antiquarian's hobby.

That's not the only problem. Rolling Stone is heading for the rockpile of obsolescence because the rise of rock culture has made it obsolete. That is, if, once upon a time, Rolling Stone was considered the primo source of the "alternative culture," the magazine is now just another alternative in the establishment that emerged from that youth movement, now grown old if not up. That means that Rolling Stone no longer rises on the margins; it finds itself deeply submerged (drowning, practically) in the modern-day mainstream. Looks like it's just another victim of its own success.


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