Life in the Stone Age 2

The person who is interested in Mick mainly because he thinks that Mick is cool is the perfect person to run a magazine devoted to serious fandom. But he is a potential liability at a magazine devoted to serious criticism. Wenner was not a devotee of the authentic, not even a hypocritical one. He was a hustler; he believed in show biz, and he saw, for instance, nothing unethical about altering a review to please a record company he hoped to have as an advertiser. “We’re gonna be better than Billboards is the sort of thing he would say to encourage his staff when morale was low. Morale was not thereby improved. For the people who produced Wenner’s magazine took the sixties much more seriously than Wenner did. It wasn’t merely that, like many editors, Wenner demonstrated a rude indif¬ference to the rhythms of magazine production, commissioning new covers at the last minute and that sort of thing. It was that he didn’t seem to grasp the world-historical significance of the movement that his magazine was spearheading. “Here we were,” Jon Carroll, a former staffer, said, “believing we were involved in the greatest cul-tural revolution since the sack of Rome. And he was running around with starlets. We thought that Jann was the most trivial sort of fool.”
Draper’s view, in his book on the magazine, is an only slightly less inflated version of Carroll’s view. “Quite correctly,” he writes of the early years, “the employees of Rolling Stone magazine saw them¬selves as leaders and tastemakers—the best minds of their genera¬tion.” Rolling Stone covered the whole of the youth culture, though it generally steered clear, at Wenner’s insistence, of radical politics. (“Get back,” Wenner pleaded with his editors in 1970, after the shootings at Kent State inspired them to try to “detrivialize” the magazine, “get back to where we once belonged.”) But the back¬bone of the magazine always was its music criticism, and its special achievement was that it provided an arena for the development of the lyrical, pedantic, and hyperbolic writing about popular music that is part of the sixties’ literary legacy. Rolling Stone wasn’t the only place where this style of criticism flourished, but it was the biggest. Rolling Stone institutionalized the genre.
This is what Draper responds to in the magazine, and where his sympathies as a historian lie. His principal sources are from the edi¬torial side of the magazine, because that is his principal interest. He writes at some length about the editorial staff ’s travails, but he gives a perfunctory account, as though he found it too distasteful to inves¬tigate, of, for example, the business staff’s “Marketing through Mu¬sic” campaign—a newsletter for “Marketing, Advertising, and Music Executives,” circulated in the mid-eighties, that encouraged corpo¬rate sponsorship of rock concerts and the use of rock stars and rock songs in advertising. The business deals are mentioned in his book, but they are generally treated from the outside, and always as inimi¬cal to the true spirit of the magazine. From the point of view of social history, though, “Marketing through Music” is the interesting part of the story. For rock music, like every other mass-market commodity, is about making money. Everyone who writes about popular music knows that before Sam Phillips, the proprietor of Sun Records, recorded Elvis Presley in 1954, he used to go around saying, “If I could find a white man who had the Negro sound, I could make a million dollars.” But Elvis himself is somehow imagined to have had little to do with this sort of gross commercial calculation, and when Albert Goldman’s biography of Elvis appeared in 1981 and de¬scribed Presley as a musically incurious and manipulative pop star, the rock critical establishment descended on Goldman in wrath.
All rock stars want to make money, for the same reasons every¬one else in a liberal society wants to make money: more toys and more autonomy. Bill Wyman, when he went off to become the Rolling Stones’ bass player, told his mother that he’d only have to wear his hair long for a few years, and he’d get a nice house and a car out of it at the end. Even the Doors, quintessential late-sixties performers who thought they were making an Important Musical Statement, began when Jim Morrison ran into Ray Manzarek, who became the group’s keyboard player, and recited some poetry he’d written. “I said that’s it,” Manzarek later explained. “It seemed as though, if we got a group together, we could make a million dol¬lars.” Ray, meet Sam.
Pop stars aren’t simply selling a sound; they’re selling an image, and one reason the stars of the sixties made such an effective appeal to middle-class taste is that their images went, so to speak, all the way through. Their stage personalities were understood to be con¬tinuous with their offstage personalities—an impression enhanced by the fact that, in a departure from Tin Pan Alley tradition, most sixties performers wrote their own material. But the images, too, were carefully managed. The Beatles, for example, were the chil¬dren of working-class families: they were what the average subur¬ban teenager would consider tough characters. Their breakthrough into mainstream popular music came when their manager, Brian Epstein, transformed them into four cheeky but lovable lads, an im¬age that delighted the suburban middle class. The Rolling Stones, apart from Wyman, were much more middle-class. Mick Jagger attended (on scholarship) the London School of Economics; his girlfriend Marianne Faithfull, herself a pop performer, was the daughter of a professor of Renaissance literature. Brian Jones’s fa¬ther was an aeronautical engineer, and Jones, who founded the band, had what was virtually an intellectual’s interest in music. He wrote articles for Jazz News, for instance, something one cannot imagine a Beatle doing. But when it became the Stones’ turn to en¬ter the mainstream, the lovable image was already being used in a way that looked unbeatable. So (as Wyman quite matter-of-factly describes it in his memoir, Stone Alone) their manager, Andrew Oldham, cast them as rude boys, which delighted middle-class teenagers in a different and even more thrilling way.

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