Do you remember when MTV used to play videos? Seriously, who wasn’t a fan of the Top of the Hour Rocket Launch, an eye-catching visual that mixed footage from the Apollo 11 take-off with a stop-action astronaut planting a flag on the moon, the iconic MTV logo emblazoned on it. VJs like Martha Quinn and Downtown Julie Brown would then offer a sneak peek at the hour’s upcoming videos and music news; after that, as the New Wave synthesizers swelled and the Casio beats kicked in, it was as if you had accompanied that spaceman to a warehouse rave on the moon.
If I was a music journalist, that’s how I’d describe MTV’s opening segment in those golden years. Of course, anyone who has pop culture on their radar knows that MTV is a shell of its former self, a gratuitously spring-break like channel devoted to such Reality TV fodder as Teen Wolf, Buckwild and Jersey Shore (did I really just use the words Jersey Shore in an article?). As a source for music, MTV is obsolete.
Rolling Stone has suffered a similar fate, albeit the magazine’s bi-weekly pages are still filled with music news, album and song reviews, and culturally significant articles like The 10 Messiest Band Break-Ups and 20 Love Song We Never Want to Hear Again (yes, that’s disdain you hear). What makes Rolling Stone’s trajectory similar to MTV’s is that the magazine used to be culturally significant. In fact, it was a lightening rod of politics, liberal attitudes and counter-culture, as that’s what happens when a magazine is founded in San Francisco in 1967. Even when the magazine’s writers weren’t writing about rock and roll, Rolling Stone was rock and roll. It was magazine as rebel, and unlike James Dean, it had a cause.
The list of critics, music journalists and article writers who’ve penned for Rolling Stone is impressive. Everyone from Lester Bangs and Cameron Crowe to Patti Smith and Hunter S. Thompson wrote for the magazine, the ’70s being its golden years for hot-button topics and political coverage. “The Inside Story,” written in 1975 by journalists Howard Kohn and David Weir and appearing in Issue 198, is still the music magazine’s most famous scoop; it details the bizarre tale of Patty Hearst and the Symbionese Liberation Army.
By the late ’80s and ’90s, however, Rolling Stone had become just another entertainment magazine, more concerned with celebrity gossip than either music or timely social topics. With the scathing work of Michael Hastings and Mat Taibbi, it got some of its mojo back in the late 2000s as these guys took on the financial meltdown, fraud, and the corrupt culture of senior American military in Afghanistan.
So what’s the state of music journalism today? It’s hard to say. Is it a shrinking niche? Do modern writers fail to embody the rock and roll spirit? Will it eventually go the way of vinyl or the music video?
Is the warehouse rave on the moon gone forever?
Damon H is a freelance writer available on WriterAccess, a marketplace where clients and expert writers connect for assignments.