The exhibition on the 50 years of Rolling Stone Magazine at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is a sign of how journalism can build identity and a strong relationship with its readers as music stars do with their audience.
Text and photos by Enrique Núñez Mussa, Chile.
(Originally published on Global Spotlight Vol. 10, Issue III, 2017)
The sun trespasses the buildings of San Francisco and pours through the window. The hands hitting the keys receive the warmth of the sun’s rays. It is a regular day at the office, but a regular day in this office is like a party anywhere else or at least that is what they wants us to believe.
This office will become a museum exhibition 50 years later, but Jann, the man with messy hair, jeans, and boots who is writing inside those rays, doesn’t know it yet. He might intuit it, he is aspiring big. The letter he is writing is directed to Mick Jagger, he has already received one from the frontman of the Rolling Stones that reads: “Dear Jann: In return for my consent to allow you to register the name Rolling Stone what do you offer as far as cover stories, special small ad rates and summer clothes coverage”.
Jann Wenner founded the magazine in 1967 and was defined by him as: “Rolling Stone is not just about music, but also about the things and attitudes that the music embraces. We’ve been working quite hard on it and we hope you can dig it. To describe it any further would be difficult without sounding like bullshit, and bullshit is like gathering moss”. That definition and the epistolary interactions with the voice behind “Paint it Black” and “Satisfaction” are part of the exhibition on the 50 years of Rolling Stone Magazine at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
The exhibit that recreates the first office also shows documents as the handwritten messages from Gonzo pioneer and journalist Hunter S. Thompson, a collection of the most memorable magazine covers, pictures from the first days, pieces of edited articles, the notes on the interview Wenner did with president Barack Obama and objects such as the recorder used by the now-film director Cameron Crowe, who presented the golden age of the magazine in his movie Almost Famous.
The magazine was able to turn a typing machine into a rock and roll object as an electric guitar. It made journalism something as cool as The Beatles, The Sex Pistols and Jimi Hendrix, broadening narrative structures. Writers and photographers were able to develop their own voices, trying different registers. They could attempt diverse repertories and styles, bringing quality from an outsider’s perspective as the political photos of Annie Leibowitz.
After going through the halls of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame looking at the different ages of popular music, I think at one level the reason to make worthy to exhibit a t-shirt or an old record is from the more visceral perspective of the emotions raised from that song, the same way as an article that surprises you.
There is also a response to their current societies through an embrace or a rebellious response to previous generations, Rolling Stone Magazine did break with traditional journalism and several times honored the best in good literature. That creates a point of view and a style that goes beyond an individual artist or band, it defines an age, as a collection of individual articles mixed with photography and design. It ended up defining a brand and an attitude toward society, creating an identity readers could relate to engage with the world.
The final scene of the movie The Power of Rock, directed by Jonathan Demme and presented in the Hall museum, ends with Tom Petty, Steve Winwood, Jeff Lynne, and Prince playing "While my guitar gently weeps", written by George Harrison, is heart-beating and breaking when Prince plays a solo in which he moves his fingers as fast over the strings as you could imagine the fingers of Jann Wenner over the typewriter. The composer from Minneapolis closes his eyes and lets the chords flow as the music cries without lyric, it weeps, it is real and relevant and emotional, and it becomes history, as a letter to Mick Jagger that would help define the future of journalism.