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Jewish World Review Oct. 25, 2002 / 19 Mar-Cheshvan, 5763

Bill Steigerwald

Bill Steigerwald
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Consumer Reports

Frank Sinatra, Kurt Cobain,
Mad Magazine will never die | Your father still digs Frank Sinatra.

Your son, now a 20-something with a job, had his teenage mind taken over by the music of Kurt Cobain and Nirvana.

And you, an aging Baby Boomer, grew up in a world mercilessly parodied by Mad Magazine.

Sinatra, Cobain and Mad each spoke in a special way to the once-young generations that claimed them for their own. Their glory days might be long gone - as are Frank and Curt. But thanks to the power of our never-say-die Entertainment Industrial Complex, these great and enduring cultural influences are still with us - and (happily) will never go away.

Sinatra - dead since 1998 - is the honored subject of an excellent American Heritage that makes a strong case that he is "our greatest singer - period."

Cobain - who committed suicide in 1994 - is Newsweek's cover boy. And Mad - although its circulation and cultural power have shriveled - is proudly celebrating its 50th straight year of stupidity this month.

Few Sinatra fans of any age will be able to appreciate - or even stomach - Newsweek's story on the founding father of grunge, which is built around an exclusive excerpt of Cobain's new book, "Journals."

Drawn from Cobain's "raw and revealing" handwritten diaries, letters and band memos, "Journals" shows just how self-tortured Cobain was. A heroin addict and psychological mess, he was a disillusioned pop star who sadly lived up to his expressed wish of hoping "to die before I turn into Pete Townshend."

Sinatra, meanwhile, had his own well-catalogued demons and personal downsides, as David Lehman details in a friendly way in his American Heritage article, "Frankophilia."

The piece is filled with dozens of great Sinatra stories and quotes - some funny, some unflattering - plus several mini-lectures on singing and phrasing song lyrics that are hip and knowing in ways few Cobain fans will ever appreciate.

That brings us to Mad, which has been taking cheap shots at American pop culture and politics and everything else since 1952.

Its founder, Bill Gaines, is still dead. It has a token Web site. And it now accepts advertising, which is hard to spot amid the lunacy. But Mad remains the same dumb, sophomoric, self-deprecating spitball of ridicule and parody it always was.

The 50th anniversary issue, among many other things, mocks the movie "Road to Perdition" with "Road to Sedation." It mocks itself unmercifully in its 50-year history timeline. It mocks "Late Night with David Letterman" as part of its new series "Mad Deconstructs TV Talk Shows."

And, in a parody of Maxim's successful formula of using sex and beer to sell magazines, Mad creates seven fake magazine covers for the likes of Outside, Consumer Reports and Scientific American. Martha Stewart Living features its namesake in a thong bikini, while Atlantic's offers new fiction from covergirl Pamela Anderson.

OK, so none of what Mad does is sidesplitting or witty, especially if you are older than 14. Mad is not as good as National Lampoon was. Its won't remind you of old Spy, "The Simpsons" or The Onion. But they and humor outlets of every kind owe a debt to Mad for teaching several generations of young Americans how to make fun of the adult world they find themselves trapped in.

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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