When I was a kid growing up on Long Island, a culturally barren land where no minds can grow, Rolling Stone was my lifeline to a hip world I could only imagine.
At the time I discovered it, The Beatles were still together, people bowed down to every utterance by Bob Dylan (many still do, granted) and Rolling Stone was ensconced in San Francisco, telling me all the news that fit about Altamont, President Nixon, the Rolling Stones 1972 STP Tour, Patty Hearst and much more.
The happiest days of my month were the two when Rolling Stone arrived in the mail. Rolling Stone stood for quality journalism and an original way of publishing a magazine.
Gradually, rock and roll became co-opted by the establishment. Hunter Thompson became a parody of his own excesses. And Rolling Stone moved to New York and lost much of its renegade flair.
Oh, you might argue that, with its controversial cover depiction of the Boston bomber, Rolling Stone still possesses the power to shock us and make us think about and debate the vitality of the magazine.
The difference between then and now is that Rolling Stone is now merely exploiting our thirst for news, information and analysis by showing the young bomber in a cover portrayal that does look like what the critics contend: a rock star.
It doesn’t matter that the story, by the excellent journalist and author Janet Reitman, is penetrating and not at all flattering.Specifically, The Cover doesn’t offend me because it is shocking. It offends me because it is a gratuitous stab at creating a controversy — and selling lots of magazines.
Hell, yes, Rolling Stone has the right to publish this cover. Again, this is not about the First Amendment. It is about a magazine calculatedly tugging on our emotions to provoke us into talking about it (and the strategy has worked brilliantly; by the way, this is the second time this week I’m writing about The Cover).
Rolling Stone has never really gotten over the death of rock and roll as a counter-culture force for good in society. There isn’t any mystery or excitement in hearing a Beatles or Dylan song used to sell some product.
When I was young and impressionable, Rolling Stone captivated me with its style, strong reporting and irreverent writing. Now, I’m older and slightly less impressionable, and Rolling Stone makes me cringe for going after such low-hamging fruit. The real shame may also be that Janet Reitman’s story will become an afterthought now. It should have led this discussion, not a cover that exploits people who gaze at it.
And Rolling Stone? Its editors must be laughing all the way to the bank over this hubbub. They’ll interpret the commotion as a sign that their magazine still has relevance (because it can stir up such a fuss). I wish they could feel the same pride over a job well done, through ingenuity and creativity.
But they have unlocked a great fortune in pissing people off, haven’t they?
I suppose that we’ll have to content ourselves with continuing to debate the merits of The Cover until the next issue arrives. As I wrote on Facebook a few days ago, I wonder if it will depict George Zimmerman — and how.