Actually, let me amend that statement: I hated Rolling Stone when I stopped reading it and cancelled my subscription around seven years ago. By that point, the magazine I grew up worshipping had become a complete joke, devoting covers to acne-scrubbed teenyboppers with a projected eight-month career trajectory and meting out credibility-eradicating five-star reviews to lousy Mick Jagger solo records. I hated the magazine so much that I went on a borderline-psychotic quest to get my money back from the subscription clearing house. After roughly 13 phone calls, I received a check for something like $3.04...and gosh, that sure kept my pockets teeming with Jolly Ranchers for days.
Since then, I've only bought the issues with Springsteen on the cover - and even their historical sucking up to Bruce seems to have lost its flair. You have to understand: I loved and relied upon this magazine. They sorted the wheat (Chrissie Hynde) from the chaff (Martha Davis) with unfailing efficiency, and worked feature and investigative angles that its lesser competitors wouldn't stumble upon for months. William Greider's national affairs columns increased my smartitudinousness; Kurt Loder's reviews kept me far, far away from Johnny Hates Jazz and their ilk. For a kid aspiring to some minor plateau of taste and intelligence, Rolling Stone had it all.
And so it was that I warily revisited my old flame for this space. What I found in the July 28 issue surprised me, given the behind-the-curve dreck for which I'd braced myself: Rolling Stone once again has a pulse. The how-I-got-away-with-it feature on currency counterfeiter Art Williams Jr. might be one of the most revealing and entertaining stories I've read in any mag this year, while Austin Scaggs pulls off the nifty trick of getting Dave Grohl to talk about his relationship with Kurt Cobain in a way that's neither exploitative nor cloying. And while political writer Tim Dickinson ain't no Bill Greider, his piece on how the Bush administration has PBS in its crosshairs does a terrific job of laying out exactly what's at stake.
The issue's mainstream entertainment coverage is a bit spottier. A revisionist take on Gilbert Gottfried (who is, contrary to popular myth, funny) hits the spot, as does Rob Sheffield's sharp "Pop Life" mini-essay on "Being Bobby Brown." As for the cover story on the hey-everybody-look-how-clever-we-are! dyad of Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn, it trumps a similar piece in a recent Entertainment Weekly, although equating the pair with the Belushi/Aykroyd tandem is akin to likening Bryan Adams to John Fogerty. It's worth noting that the two publications ran almost identical "Wedding Crashers" cover photos, although EW beat Rolling Stone to newsstands by a week or so.
Where the July 28 issue sags is, sadly, in its music coverage. The by-the-numbers Live 8 report fails to include two essential words ("it" and "sucked") and the pointless "Rock and Roll" section item on Coldplay exists solely so that the mag can highlight the hotter-than-a-hot-pocket band's name on its cover.
"Random Notes," once populated by happily and unflinchingly smart-assed blurbs, now comes across as a considerably less interesting version of Page Six ("Avril, Pink: Hitching!"). Along these lines, the "Instant Expert" box that accompanies a Q&A with Chris Cornell offers irrelevant nuggets like "he met his wife, Vicky, in Paris, in 2003." Throw in a few headlines like "Bice Weds" - yup, the earnest "American Idol" dude, in all his soul-patched glory - and it's pretty clear that Rolling Stone's tenure as the preeminent American music magazine has long since been revoked.
Overall, I guess Rolling Stone has upped its game in recent months. That said, I doubt I'll reconnect with it on a regular basis. Entertainment Weekly boasts considerably savvier pop-culture coverage and more plugged-in reviews, while any number of venues (The Week, first and foremost) sate my thirst for Greider-ish commentary. It's a shame, really: Rolling Stone used to matter. Now it's just another magazine.