Jewish World Review April 19, 2004 / 29 Nissan, 5764
A moving, if skewed, tribute to rock
So far so very good for Rolling Stone's celebration of rock 'n' roll's 50th birthday.
"The Immortals," the first of three special commemorative issues the magazine will produce this year, is chiefly devoted to ranking and idolizing the 50 greatest rock artists of all time.
It employs a great gimmick getting some of today's top rock stars to write tributes to the biggest icons of rock 'n' roll, a devilish musical genre Rolling Stone says began on July 5, 1954, when 19-year-old truck driver Elvis Presley recorded "That's All Right" at Sun Studio in Memphis.
While Rolling Stone's choices are hard to argue with, they clearly reflect the taste of the retirement village of nearly all-male musicians, record makers and senile rock critics Rolling Stone recruited to "scientifically" select them.
The Beatles, Bob Dylan, Presley, the Stones, Chuck Berry, Jimi Hendrix, James Brown, Little Richard, Aretha Franklin and Ray Charles are No. 1 through 10. It's a boys club: Only three other women Madonna (36), Janice Joplin (46) and Patti Smith (47) make the team. Public Enemy (44) and Run-DMC (48) are rap's only reps.
The list is not quibble-proof: Where's Chrissie Hynde? But much of the writing by today's rock mortals is quite good and even thoughtful, proving that rockin' lifestyles don't automatically lead to brain damage.
Thus we get Elvis Costello remembering how hearing the Beatles changed his life at age 9. Bono heretically saying Elvis Presley's Vegas period "is underrated." And Tom Petty explaining why the Byrds were America's first credible answer to the British invasion.
Maybe it was a mistake to have sweet John Mayer write about the genius of Hendrix. But who better to tell the bittersweet story of Little Richard's pioneering craziness than Richard himself?
Kurt Cobain, the multi-troubled genius who killed himself 10 years ago and left the rest of us with his wife, Courtney Love, is among the icons illustrated on Rolling Stone's cover.
Cobain doesn't get his own immortal ranking. He's included with his band Nirvana at No. 27, where guitarist Vernon Reid puts Cobain with Hendrix and Prince (No. 28) as pivotal stars "who changed the course of where the music went."
Meanwhile, along with the debut of an annoyingly self-indulgent "column" by the insufferable Dave Eggers, Spin devotes most of its April issue to praising, revering and remembering Saint Kurt, his band, his music and the cultural movement he helped to launch.
Beware: If you are already older than rock 'n' roll, you'll probably OD on the grunge.
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JWR contributor Bill Steigerwald is an associate editor and columnist at the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Comment by clicking here.
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© 2002, Bill Steigerwald