Rolling Stone/McChrystal

I’m schlepping around Madrid, riding the underground in pursuit of the Reina Sofia, and when we finally arrive we find out we’ve gotten bad information, the museum is closed.

That’s the frustration of travel where you don’t know the language.  You can’t drill down and get accurate information.  You make mistakes. Kind of like the U.S. in Afghanistan.

Confronting our choices, we decided to venture up to the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, where we sat down at the outdoor cafe and ordered a late lunch.  That’s where I read Frank Rich’s article.

Mobile phones in Europe are a conundrum.  You can buy a SIM card and make cheap calls, but then you don’t get your e-mail.  So, you change your plan to use your BlackBerry, swearing you’ll keep the dollar a minute calls to a minimum, and then find out you’ve got no Internet access because in this one area, the U.S. is superior.  Yes, you can get 3G on Verizon almost anywhere in the country, but in Europe, I was stymied, a phone call to tech support told me I had to downgrade to 2G for access, thank god this proffered solution worked.

So I’m functioning on GPRS, on EDGE to those familiar with the first iteration of the iPhone, and as my connection struggles like a dialup modem in the days of yore, I eventually download all of Frank Rich’s column.

Yes, that Frank Rich.  The reviled theatre critic who has reinvented himself as political seer by being different from the rest of the talking heads.  The household names get on TV and shout at other, amplifying their positions, but offering no insight.  Mr. Rich is all about the analysis, like an umpire at a tennis match giving his take a week after the contest, having had time to think about it.  He’s required reading, not only for me, but so many others, despite the lack of a marketing campaign.  You see, excellence surfaces.

And I’m reading Mr. Rich’s column on the tiny screen and I find out "Rolling Stone" has brought down McChrystal.

Huh?  What is it, 1972?

Mr. Rich goes on to say that everybody in the mainstream media is busy making friends, playing for access, and won’t ask the hard questions, or won’t publish the answers, they want to go to dinner with the household names.  Reading the column gets one excited, like there’s hope for the rest of us, not only the left wingers but even the Tea Party, that somehow the man on the street can have meaning, can influence the outcome.

"Rolling Stone".  Isn’t that the magazine that survived the excision of its fold but not its transition to glossy?  If you want to know about music, don’t bother, "Rolling Stone" is lost, not sure whether to be "Mojo" or "Q", focus on the ancient or the new and evanescent, and therefore resides in a no-man’s land that is ignored by so many.

So what does RS do?

Go where the action is, and do a bang-up job.

Matt Taibbi.  He was the turning point.  Labeling Goldman Sachs "a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity".

The mainstream was giving Wall Street a pass.  Saying it wasn’t the bankers’ fault.  Mr. Taibbi was having none of that.  Financial reform? Send a check to Matt Taibbi and "Rolling Stone", not your local Congressman.

And now comes Michael Hastings’ depiction of General McChrystal.

Don’t stop with Frank Rich, don’t focus on the backlash, go straight to the source, read the "Rolling Stone" article.  It’s like hearing a great record.

McChrystal is three-dimensional.  More of a rock star than Katy Perry or any of the other nitwits.  He doesn’t care if you went to MIT or have blue hair, he’s focused on results.  GaGa?  Who gives a shit what you’re wearing, it’s all about the music (and we did you see you fall at Heathrow, who could walk in those ridiculous boots: Lady Gaga Falls Hard).  But McChrystal is flawed.  And his judgment is skewed.  Even though he’s famous for getting his hands dirty, for going into the field, he’s so conflicted, so fearful of reprimands that he’s crippling his own mission, requiring soldiers to function with one hand tied behind their backs.

This story’s got no filter.  It’s like a movie, albeit real.  Drop the outsider into the heat of battle and get a report.  One that the government won’t give you, one that those back in New York don’t know and would be afraid to tell if they did.

Suddenly, "Rolling Stone" is more powerful than the "New York Times", certainly Fox News, which does almost no reporting itself.  Suddenly, the talking heads on TV are a joke.  Because "Rolling Stone" followed the ethos of rock and roll, which is to question authority and refuse to follow the sheep.

You wonder why today’s acts can’t sell a ticket?  Because they’re just like the television talking heads, playing a game, providing entertainment, not a truly visceral experience.  Once upon a time, rock mattered.  Now it’s a marketing front.

And the record labels are fighting an unwinnable war.  Saying if we just eviscerate P2P trading all the problems will be solved, happy days will be here again.  That’s denying the infinite choices of not only music, but entertainment itself.  What they want is a land where radio and TV rule and music is expensive.  In what world is that possible?  Maybe in the twentieth century, but not today.

And Live Nation believes if it just overpays for talent, it can get people into the building and sell them overpriced beer and tchotchkes, after ripping them off for service fees and parking.  But this only works if the main attraction truly shines.  We never liked the dinging for dollars in the past, we just endured it to have access to the talent.  We don’t want to see these phonies anymore.

"Rolling Stone" has rehabilitated itself.  And it did it through writing, its core mission, not via financial restructuring or a new marketing plan.

The music business will thrive again when the focus is on music.

But fat cats don’t like that, it’s unpredictable and hard to control.

But now the means of production and distribution are in the hands of the proletariat.  It might be incomprehensible at the moment, but we’re in an amazing era.  One in which musicians are on the road to triumph.  Labels say you need their money, promoters say you need their buildings, but if you’ve got the music, everybody lines up to feed at your trough, the public, the promoters and the labels, in that order. There’s a direct connection between performer and audience.  The middleman is oftentimes superfluous, he’s never had less power.

You can have 10,000 Twitter followers, sign throngs up to an unwanted e-mail blast, but nothing has the power of a great song, created from your personal mind-set, evidencing a vision of what’s going on that’s unsullied by commercialism, any desire to play the game.  Don’t you see, the game is for losers!  Winners play by their own rules.  Which is why we loved the Beatles and the Stones and Pink Floyd and everybody else now touring on fumes.  We wanted to remember, but now we’re eager to forget.  Because after the selling out, the getting in bed with the Fortune 500, the essence, what attracted us to begin with, has been lost.

Gentlemen (and ladies!), start your engines!  Practice your instruments!  Fire up your computers!  Lay down something so special we can’t help but want it.  Doesn’t matter if it’s on CD or MP3, vinyl or USB stick.  Doesn’t matter if you’ve got to pay for it or you can get it for free.  What matters is it contains truth.

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