Music Press Gets Pushed

Magazine Blends into Oblivion

By Rob Patterson

The death knell for the music magazine is growing louder. Its latest peal of the funeral bell came when Blender magazine stopped publishing this spring (though it still has an online presence).

I’ve written for many of the leading and now-gone music magazines since I started out in music and entertainment business in 1976. The fact that so many have fallen by the wayside is one reason why I have expanded my journalism and writing into other realms.

But what got me started writing was growing up reading classic rock music mags like Rolling Stone (which I’ve never written for though did write for its Record Guides in the 1970s), Creem and Crawdaddy (the last two of which I wrote for before they died as print entities, though both have reemerged online in recent years). I didn’t write for Blender but I did subscribe because I liked what it did.

Blender was, yes, a bit trendy and liked to feature hot and sexy female artists on its cover in provocative dress and poses. Hey—sex sells, we all know that (and I like sex—the current buzz term of “sex positive” does apply to me—though I am not a big fan of how it has become a crass and cheap commodity in modern American culture). But behind the cover, Blender was smart, fun, often snarky, and didn’t take its subjects too seriously in the feature well. And then in its review section, it did address the music with a certain seriousness, publishing cogent and well-written reviews, albeit with a stance that still said underneath it all that this is just entertainment, ergo the writing should be entertaining as well.

That’s what I expect of a great music magazine: An attitude that says, hey, this isn’t rocket science or great literature. It’s pop music, and it’s fun and sometimes silly and even shallow—and yes, at other times serious stuff that deserves respect—and let’s not get too ponderous about it. Yet at the same time, yes, there are aesthetic standards that do apply when we assess it all in reviews. Blender managed to do that and stay on the contemporary edge, and it will be missed.

I no longer read Rolling Stone for the music, as its music coverage become largely a tool of the record industry other than the reviews by my longtime friend and peer David Fricke. But I do still read it — and respect it — for its fiercely leftist and fearless political coverage.

And Spin magazine, which usurped Rolling Stone as the last word on rock and popular music in the early ’80s, was looking awfully slim on ads in the most recent issue I saw. It too may not be long for this world.

The accepted wisdom is that the music blogosphere is where pop music coverage is headed. And though blogs like Pitchfork and a few others have their merits, we are losing the rock magazine tradition of smart and entertaining feature articles on musical acts as well as criticism that holds music to certain standards. Too many music blogs are about chasing the latest buzz and not covering what’s going on in music with that almost yin/yang mix of youthful and irreverent fun in the features and mature and intelligent assessments in the criticism that separates the shit from the Shinola.

Ergo someone like myself who read obsessively about rock and pop since my early teen years has few places to turn, both to read as well as write. I still regularly pick up the English magazine Mojo, which focuses in its major features as much if not more on the classic acts that deserve ongoing interest as the newer artists making music worth their attention.

And as a writer and reader, I am placing my chips on Blurt, which arose from the fine music magazine Harp that also went down a few years back (and which I wrote for. I also now write for Blurt, but “pro bono,” as the section editor calls it when I do reviews, and for far less than most everything else I write for a living when I do features). It started as an online publication and this spring decided to buck the trend and put out a quarterly print edition.

The times they are a-changin’. But I’d like to believe that the print music magazine as well as magazines and newspapers in general can still have viability beyond the Internet. I still like to get away from my computer and sit on the couch and at the dinner table or lay in bed before I sleep and read something where I can turn still turn actual pages. Yet as I said a couple columns back, I may just be old fashioned, and as for what the future will bring, well, we shall just have to see …

Rob Patterson is a music and entertainment writer in Austin, Texas. Email

See also Rob Patterson's "Populist Picks."

From The Progressive Populist, June 1, 2009

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