The One-Thousandth Cover Of Rolling Stone. Does It Matter Who Is on The Cover Of The Rolling Stone?

May 18, 2006 by
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This week Rolling Stone published its 1000th issue with a 3D cover containing the 154 people who were once on the cover and who it deemed culturally and politically significant since the first issue almost forty years ago.

There are many persons whose visage we would expect to see but don’t and others we see like Pamela Anderson (but no Tommy Lee who happens to be a musician) and Angelina Jolie but no Brad Pitt. Maybe there was a category for pulchritude that we didn’t know about? (Actually there is a centerfold section of scantily clad people deemed to be hot who were once on the cover, most of whom you will not remember others you will)

Of course having your face on the cover of the Rolling Stone is an acknowledgement by the editors of the magazine that you have arrived.

William Clinton and Richard Nixon are on this cover and they had covers of their own in the past. Rolling Stone has always spoken out on political matters and it continues to do so today. A recent issue had a caricature of President Bush on the cover and proclaimed he was the worst president ever. Some readers disputed this and said McKinley was the worst for starting the Spanish American War, which was characterized as a land grab. This choice as first is disputable.

One of the most interesting parts of Rolling Stone is the letters to the editor. Many are prescient, direct and often critical of a stance taken by the magazine editorially or artistically in a preceding issue.
BABY BOOMERS

I have the feeling that Rolling Stone latched onto the baby boomers as they were becoming a force in our society and maintained that readership up until the present time along with some part of new generations as they became of age and interested in pop culture. It is reported that the average reader’s age is approximately thirty. Reading the magazine one has the same feeling that one gets at a Stones concert where a fan in their teens, twenties or thirties is rarely seen and then only with a parent wearing a “t” shirt form an Eighties concert. Currently the magazine claims 1.5 million readers. A ripple in the U.S. population pond of nearly 3OO million people. However there is an attitude, a joie de vivre, about the magazine that gives it a cachet that makes it larger and more important than its readership. It has become an icon itself in our culture and is often refered to in the media as a celebration of the life or pop cuture that it defines. Thus the cover and the magazine have more infuence than the readership numbers would indicate. Perhaps many of the readers are musicians or part of the music business or the media that covers music and pop culture and this makes the magazine resonate with authority.

Thusl the magazine remains relevant as to who are the moment’s movers and shakers in pop culture. The magazine only identifies who has arrived and is not particularly predicative as to who is about to arrive or who will arrive. Of course John Lennon, who was on front page of the fold over throwaway paper that constituted the first edition on November 9th 1967, had long since arrived as a Beatle but not as the iconic John Lennon persona of later years.

Also the magazine does not seem to have recruited writers of the caliber of Tom Wolfe or Hunter Thompson recently. Therefore in that sense the magazine has become more mainstream and less counter cultural just as rock and roll and the Rolling Stones themselves have.

Will the next thousand covers be significant of the magazine’s musical or political acumen? Jessica Alba and Jennifer Lopez were on the cover after the turn of the century while John Lennon was on the first issue and Janis Joplin and Jimmy Hendrix were on early covers. A bad omen? Covers are now more mainstream and perhaps geared to pick up newsstand purchases or attract advertisers. Or perhaps a personage gets a cover due to the artist’s public relations consultants. Lisa Marie Presley was on the cover when her album came out as if she was an artistic force in the music business or likely to be.

I guess the answer to our question is in the 1000th cover, which only contains 154(some on dozens of covers) people important enough in the magazine’s estimation to be on the commemorative cover. A batting average of only 154+ out of a thousand who are still significant pop culture icons according to the magazine. So the magazine has lost a lot of its counter cultural roots and has moved toward the mainstream. Still it seeks to make a statement and the letters to the editor are amusing to read and some of the letter writers are often as salient as the magazine itself. So the cover still matters as to who is currently popular but it is not a 100 percent predictor of who will be a cultural icon in the future. But who can do that anyway? So the cover has come close enough to what it seeks to deliver to matter.

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