Yeah, Rolling Stone sucks anymore. The covers are a pedophile's delight. The formerly reliable film critic Peter Travers sometimes reads like one of those hacks who wants to see his blurbs used in promotional advertising. Someone, apparently, is returning Dr. Thompson's phone calls.

Rolling Stone isn't all crap. William Greider continues to write thoughtful essays about government while the jabbering pundits obsess over politics. P.J. O'Rourke may not be as intellectually nimble as he used to be, but he's no dummy, either. Bylines by writers like Mim Udovitch occasionally appear. However, to say the magazine doesn't resonate as it used to would be like saying Romania got a trifle annoyed with that Ceausescu character.

So the question is not "How bad is it?" but "How bad will it get?"
I thought Rolling Stone hit its nadir last winter when respected pop music critic Neil Strauss got in bed--platonically, but literally--with Jewel. I don't want to rehash a story that disappeared from newsstands months ago, but suffice it to say Strauss's piece should be taught in J-schools as an example of how journalists can be snowed by their subjects, especially if they're a) waify, b) earnest, and/or c) endowed with big knockers.

RS editors took Strauss off the hook with the May 11 "Essential Recordings of the '90s" issue. (What, did you think they'd wait until the '90s were over to hurry this baby to the printers?) In it Rolling Stone named Kurt Cobain artist of the decade. No big argument here (though Greil Marcus's Cobain essay kinda blew). The ass-burner is the list of "essential recordings" itself.

Any list of this sort--and we're waist-deep in them as the century/millennium drags to a finish--is bound to aggravate as much as enlighten. That's what makes lists of value judgments fun. But Rolling Stone's list is remarkable in the way it chases after the public's tastes rather than tries to lead them. An overwhelming majority of the 150 records selected were radio and music-television hits, if not multiplatinum sellers.

To not recognize unit-moving masterpieces like Nevermind, Achtung Baby, and Enter the Wu-Tang would be to commit the sin of omission. Hell, I'll even give 'em Hanson. But Hootie (Cracked Rear View)? The Spice Girls (Spice)? Manson (Antichrist Superstar)? Two records by the Stones and one by Gramps Jagger solo?

Even when the editors selected a worthy artist, they often picked the wrong album. The Beastie Boys' Check Your Head is far superior to Ill Communication; Green Day's Nimrod dogs Dookie; Dig Me Out, not Call the Doctor, is the Sleater-Kinney disc you want.

Further gutless, Rolling Stone editors didn't assign the records numeric values, as they did when they published the best albums of the '80s list. No. 1 that year, as you may remember, was the somewhat daring choice of the Clash's London Calling.

The professional list makers at Entertainment Weekly may be ludicrous, but at least they have the guts and the gall to take a stand. The May 28 "100 Greatest Moments in Rock" issue actually tries to determine which event was more significant, Hair or This Is Spinal Tap. (The nod goes to the boys with armadillos in their trousers.)

RS Music Editor Joe Levy hedged in his introduction to the list, calling it "essential to understand the '90s." Is the decade so distant that Adam Duritz's sha-la-las and Jakob Dylan's half-highbeams have been forgotten? If we wanted to know what the '90s were like, we'd look at our own record collections (as well as the used bins, where we find plenty of "essential" copies of Cracked Rear View and Dookie).

Given the state of the music biz, Rolling Stone's timidity is especially depressing. Records come out by the dozens every week. Seemingly every commercial radio station is a nostalgia format of some kind. The Internet is a poor sieve for propaganda. We need critics, who have the time and the taste to sort through it all, now more than ever.

That's not the self-preservationist in me talking. (Okay, maybe a little.) It's the guy who is glad someone turned him on to London Calling.

Cleveland resident Robert Lockwood Jr. left Memphis last weekend with a couple of choice souvenirs, and we're not talking about a chunk of Graceland sod. The W.C. Handy Blues Awards were presented May 27 at the Orpheum Theatre. Lockwood won the award for best traditional male blues artist; his I Got to Have Me a Woman won best traditional blues album.

Saturday, June 5, the Akron-based dark pop band Unit 5 reunites at the Highland Theatre. Twenty years ago, Unit 5 was one of the most popular bands in the unlikely new-wave nerve center of Akron. The Somatics open the show.

The Basement celebrates its fifth anniversary with a free show by Modern English Sunday, June 6. Something tells me at least one rendition of "I Melt With You" will be performed.

Beginning June 6, the Alan Greene Band will host a blues jam every Sunday night at Cebar's Euclid Tavern . . . Monday through Saturday, WJMO-AM/1490 is now an all-gospel format . . . Since 107.9 went urban, a few people have asked me about modern rock stations that broadcast on the web. Being the Internet ignoramus that I am, I usually respond with a dumb stare. If you find a good station on the Net, tell Scene and we'll share the knowledge. I can offer this: Even before the format change, keen West Siders have tuned in CIDR-FM/93.9 from Windsor, Ontario. It's a good station with a big signal.

More by David W. Martin


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