Much like Papa

Last week I decided to have a read of Rolling Stone. I’d love to say it was on a whim, but Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert were on the cover. Go, Packers!

I’ve not read the whole magazine before, although I’ve devoured columns by Lester Bangs and Hunter S Thompson (back before he was rubbish) and been reasonably impressed by the standard they seemed to set: a kind of helter-skelter tumble through social and political issues, with a liberal or at any rate libertarian bent, and two fingers to the axis of what seems to pass for Republican politics, both these days and those: reactionary, anti-diversity, anti-feminist, anti-equality in general, except in a simplistic instinctive feel for debunked trickledownery.

It was certainly an entertaining window on the industry that ought to provide that very thing. The American music scene is completely crazy, as always: grunge is still going, in isolated pockets like ebola; the eternal disappointment Christina Aguilera rubs shoulders with Jay-Z, Aerosmith, the CBGB Club, Bruce Springsteen, The Dixie Chicks and Kurt Cobain (who apparently continues, like Princess Di, to be blond, dead and universally adored); and My Chemical Romance make it sound like a lot of people enjoying their unintentionally hilarious emopera somehow embues them with a new seriousness of purpose. And the obituaries contain a statistically unusual number of lung-cancer cases.

Mostly you get the idea of the geographically, politically, demographically heterogeneous States being one big ol’ melting-pot (as opposed to a vast number of shards and broken chunks, rubbing agonisingly together, fundamentally unwilling to be fused, yet sometimes generating pure tones) which is probably more than anything a result of RS having to sell itself to all these people and be fairly upbeat. The politics is a little tame compared to that found in The Nation and probably even the NYT, with an article that’s sort of climate change for beginners. And the exposé of Silicon Valley’s new generation of finest is probably most tellingly summarized by the fact that most geeks won’t have heard of them.

But most interesting is the appearances of rather sheepish once-were-stars, or UK stars hoping to keep it all quiet. Eric Clapton is trying to sell us a guitar. Not one of his, but a really good copy! Springsteen as I mention above is trying to sell his remasters because he presumably needs some cash. But, most embarrassingly of all, Badly Drawn Boy has this issue’s style page. Like Western actors going to Japan to advertise any old tripe—embodied in Bob Harris’ shilling for Santory Whisky in Lost in Translation—BDB hasn’t so much lost his credibility as made me completely boggle, wrongfooted me with his item-by-item dissection of his non-wardrobe: when you find out that the vanguard of shabby-chic is “always on the search for the best pair of jeans,” what’s left to say?

Maybe it’s not BDB that’s knocked me for six. Maybe it’s American culture in general. Try as I might to glean any information from RS that might help my understanding of that crazy, hippy, right-wing, educated, hick alien planet out there to the west, the last thing these views have given me is a perspective.

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