Wednesday, February 12, 2003

Hippies, Nostalgia, Etc.: I have been (very mildly) taken to task about my characterization of Ben Fong-Torres as a nostalgic ex-hippie (in this post). I suppose some clarification is in order.

Ben Fong-Torres is the former news editor of Rolling Stone magazine. In response to that, many of you young'ns are saying, "And?" Well, you have to understand that back in the late 60s and through the 70s, Rolling Stone was very different from the slick, high-style glossy it is today.

One of my hobby horses is the way in which high-quality, vital prose, especially journalism, is key to any activity coming to the forefront of popular culture. Rolling Stone did this for Rock and Roll music back in those years. To this day I can remember some of the stories I read back then, specifically I remember coverage of a Rolling Stones tour that captured the drug and groupie hedonism of that time, and I remember reading some intense early coverage of the London punk rock scene and how it flew so defiantly in the face of the cocaine and disco scene (which included my high school). It was also where I first read Hunter S. Thompson. Truly great stuff. (Do I sound nostalgic?)

Rolling Stone still tries to stay relevant - they gave P.J. O'Rourke a regular job, so they can't be all bad - but now it's loaded down with skin, fashion and spring break trendiness. MTV in print, and that's not a compliment. Yes, they try to be more edgy than, say, Teen People, but in the context of the superficiality of the magazine, anything weighty seems like a calculated attempt to impress.

For example, remember this post (can't find the original story, sorry), wherein we find Joan Jett was dissed with a mere mention whereas Britney and Mandy got all the coverage in a Women in Rock issue of some sort. Well, in the latest issue, we get a mea culpa, and they print the open letter complaint I quoted from in that post. I'd guess some focus group results indicated it was time to show they were hip after all so they took the opportunity. This is me being cynical. The point is that this is not what that magazine was like in the time Ben was there.

Anyway, Ben left Rolling Stone in 1980 (do any of you even remember 1980?) and has been intimately involved in music media ever since. Check out his web site for details. Most recently he was involved in a now defunct venture called MyPlay. MyPlay offered on-line storage lockers for your music files - the idea being you can access to your music collection from anywhere you can get to the internet. Visiting your friends and want them to hear that great CD you just bought? MyPlay to the rescue. OK, that may not sound like much, but it has a very powerful idea behind it.

You see, I don't want to own any CDs, or any DVDs, or any magazines, or any sorts of media. That's just clutter. What I want is to have access to the content when I want it from anywhere - home, office, car, Motel 6, and so forth. If broadband and wireless connections were ubiquitous, a service like MyPlay would be invaluable. Sadly, that's still years off. And then there DMCA to worry about...ugh.

The clarification I've been staggering towards is that Ben Fong-Torres has spent most of the duration of my life as a driving force in music media and is still standing and working and creating and flourishing in spite of the dire state of the contemporary music industry.

Which is what I meant by 'nostalgic ex-hippie'.