Music is one of the most powerful and mysterious forces in the world. It evokes countless emotions and indescribable feelings. The moments when one is lost amidst the sea of harmonies and colors is absolutely priceless; such audible beauty has bonded humans together over the centuries. It is reasonable to say that music possesses a supernatural quality that will never be captured in words. However, there exist many elements of music we can describe, such as pitch, interval, and so on. Even in narrowing it down to parameters we can depict in words, music is still composed of many complex and complicated intricacies.
It tears me apart when those who know nothing about music believe that they are a true authority on the subject.
I personally know someone who degrades the beloved texture of music: my uncle. But I find it hard to blame him because there is an underlying entity that drives his insanity. It is a nearly unstoppable force, one that gathers momentum as it goes. This imperial giant has recruited thousands to its side. It is none other than Rolling Stone.
Rolling Stone is revered as one of America’s greatest music magazines. Its reviews are regarded as the true test for any artist. If the Stone gives a thumbs up, one lucky musician can look forward to a fruitful career. But a bad review can annihilate years of hard work in an instant.
In conversation with some of my friends, they bring up Rolling Stone’s articles as the basis for their musical opinions. They fend me off with “well Rolling Stone said their album wasn’t that great and that they are an immature band.”
Or just the opposite, “Rolling Stone said they are going to be the next big rock band.” I have had many others recite the Rolling Stone’s comments to me with complete confidence in its expert authority. They stand firm, as if there is no force on this planet stronger than that of Rolling Stone’s words.
As previously stated, my uncle falls under this category. Quite often I would wonder why he thought himself an expert, but one day I saw the problem: it was Rolling Stone. He thought if he read enough, he too could become a master of musical knowledge. “Rolling Stone” had fooled him. What makes it such an authority on music? Is it the “experts” writing for it? What about the editors; are they the source? These questions burned inside me, so I decided to answer them by delving in to Rolling Stone’s core.
Upon inspection, I was surprised to discover that Rolling Stone was an extremely well-done periodical. There are various sections of interest to music fans, such as album reviews, previews, artist interviews and historical articles about older music. The writing is exceptionally well-done and approaches the subject in a casual yet professional manner. It avoids rattling off facts or track names and makes the article feel more like a description from a good friend. Rolling Stone breathes relaxation in to its readers and refrains from using elevated or arrogant language. To say the least, I was taken aback. Although I had a newfound respect and appreciation for Rolling Stone, my questions hung in the air like a stale fart. I needed to know if Rolling Stone was the authority people made it out to be, so I did some more research.
I found that Jann Wenner, the editor of Rolling Stone, does not have a degree in music and does not play an instrument. Will Dana, the managing editor, also lacks a degree in music or any notable performance skills. Following suit, executive editor Joe Levy turns up empty handed.
These executives are the brains of Rolling Stone magazine, yet they have amassed no musical expertise: expert is defined as “a person who has a comprehensive and authoritative knowledge of or skill in a particular area.” Comprehensive and authoritative knowledge is gained through learning, and learning takes place at educational institutions.
None of these editors graduated from any school with a degree in music. The other half of the definition is “skill in a particular area. Skill is achieved by practice and performance.” There are no performances to date from any one of these executives, nor is there any mention of them playing instruments. Expert is clearly not the right word to describe them.
Some may say that those leadership positions are held by businessmen rather than musicians to ensure the magazine’s survival. They would argue that the experts are located elsewhere in the staff. To appease these people, I explored the other available jobs at Rolling Stone. I discovered that the only position with the word “music” in it is music critic.
What is a critic? Critic is defined as “a person who expresses an unfavorable opinion of something.” I know it is cliché, but everyone is a critic. A two-year-old child expresses an unfavorable opinion by crying about food s/he does not like. Any regular John or Jane Doe can sit down and express his or her unfavorable opinion of something. Some of Rolling Stone’s music critics may have degrees in music or play instruments, but to be a critic is to give opinions, and any knowledge they have is nullified because of their positions as critics.
Could there be musicians on staff at Rolling Stone? Absolutely not. Any semi-talented and knowledgeable musician would do something else with his or her abilities. They would teach, perform, write, own a studio, manage a music shop, run a music business, give private lessons or contribute to the musical world with their marketable skills. The critics who write for Rolling Stone are untalented bums who only wish they could handle an instrument or comprehend the depths of music.
In their course pack, Music Theory I, Dr. Rozin and Dr. Rimple of West Chester University state that there are ten parameters of music: register and interval, timbre, rhythm, meter, dynamic level, scale-degree function, consonance and dissonance, registral span and density. How many times are these musical foundations mentioned in a Rolling Stone review? By simple examination of Rolling Stone’s articles it is obvious that someone outside of the music world writes them. Musicians would not degrade themselves by becoming critics; they would be musicians.
If music experts or musicians are not employed to work for Rolling Stone, then who is? Music fans are hired. They enjoy music, but have no legitimate ties to it.
I can describe the majority of the workers at Rolling Stone. They are white, middle-aged men who do not want to see their favorite bands die out. It is a huge problem that the staff likes the same bands. There is no diversity within the magazine. They praise AC/DC, The Beatles, Bob Dylan and other related artists to try and keep them alive, but in doing so they neglect many genres of music and leave out some of the best musicians to date just because they do not fit their “white guy” style.
Bluntly, the magazine is not an all-inclusive work. It only promotes a narrow stream of music. There are no in-depth articles or reviews about ska, jazz, country, hardcore, rap, punk, screamo, pop-punk, alternative, thrash, death metal or independent artists such as Sufjan Steven. It should come as no surprise that people who share similar interests will form groups and discuss their opinions on that topic. And no one can say that when they do this it is wrong, but Rolling Stone is supposed to be a music magazine (music being a broad term) and it fails to include all of the music available.
The best illustration of this non-existent diversity is the special collectors issue published with a list of “The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.” In the top ten there are four Beatles albums. That is two-fifths of the top ten. Out of thousands of albums released over the years, it is absurd that one band occupies two-fifths of the top ten.
As if that is not bad enough, the first 100 lists Bob Dylan with five albums, The Beatles with eight, The Rolling Stones have three,
Led Zepplin with four and Neil Young, Pink Floyd, Elvis Presley, Aretha Franklin, Miles Davis, Prince, Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, The Clash, Bruce Springsteen, The Jimi Hendrix Experience and James Brown all with two albums.
Forty-four of the first 100 slots are taken up by repeats. Rolling Stone’s list is pure promotion of one belief system. The ocean of music is so vast that a true list would have virtually no artist repeats.
Rolling Stone should never have made that list. Besides leaving out entire styles of music, they ignore the fact that it is ridiculous to compare music from different eras. The influences, styles, equipment, technology, tastes and education of artists over the years has evolved greatly.
How can you measure up one man with an acoustic guitar to a metal band with four keyboard synthesizers? Digital sound today is nothing like an old acoustic guitar. It is a matter of apples and oranges. The capabilities artists have today far outreach those of such as Elvis or John Coltrane. One man can record entire tracks by himself and be a true one man band. A singer today can rely on drum machines and pre-recorded accompaniments, but in the 20s you were out of luck if there was no band.
Rolling Stone is not run by musicians. It does not employ them and any honest musician would be performing, teaching or advocating music in a better way.
Instead, it is made up of middle-aged men who share the same musical ideologies and glorify their idols rather than cover the vast expanse of music. Its reviews and articles have no place in the world as “expert opinion” because none of its staff graduated with a degree in music or have legitimately played an instrument.
The uneducated public blindly accepts the statements the periodical makes as fact, and the critics assert their beliefs upon them as “correct.” Rolling Stone is an outlet for white males to try and convert others to their way of thinking.
Does Rolling Stone have a lot of issues? I would say so. Is one more important than the other? I would say no. What do I think about Rolling Stone? I would say that Rolling Stone has no solid grounds on which to publish any “Greatest” lists. and that it is a biased magazine that fails to represent all genres of music. Then again, that is just one critic’s opinion.
Jay Moss is a first-year student majoring in music composition. He can be reached a JM659791@wcupa.edu.