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Sunday, May 21, 2006


Happy And Sad At The Same Time

Yesterday in the mail I got two periodicals: the new issue of The Big Takeover and the latest redesign of Spin. While both are ostensibly about music, the two magazines couldn't be more different. The Big Takeover, a biannual put out by veteran rock and roller Jack Rabid, is 232 pages of wall-to-wall copy. The front of the book is loaded with editorials, reviews of live shows and short takes on various artists. The middle of the magazine features in-depth interviews with Franz Ferdinand, the Decemberists, Ivy, New York Dolls, Bob Geldof and others. Many interviews run so long Rabid splits them across issues. The back 85 pages are perhaps the best part of the magazine, filled with hundreds of record reviews by Rabid and a small group of contributing writers. They are obsessed with music, they love it, they know its history and they clearly assume you do too. This magazine makes me very happy.

Spin, on the other hand, is more hideous than ever--I'm not exaggerating at all when I say Spin has enthusiastically transformed itself into People magazine. The redesign is so throughly stupid I almost thought it was an ironic joke. But no, I think the new "Hot/Not" Barometer section is exactly what it looks like. Few articles are longer than a single paragraph, and most of those serve as captions for celebrity photography--Pete Doherty visits son! Meet our new sex columnist! Worst of all are all the "Spin Out" pages throughout the magazine devoted to partying. We're treated to a full spread of Parker Posey's party pictures. A spread of 19-year-old loser club-goers (typical photo: white geek in horn rims and hoodie flashing gang signs) answering the question "What kind of musical instrument would you be?" Six pages of blurbs about heavy metal karaoke bars in Atlanta, dance clubs in San Diego--loaded with pictures of stupid people getting trashed and mugging for the camera. I suppose I'm just not part of Spin's target demographic, which, evidently, is fucking idiots. To say that this would make Bob Guccionne Jr. spin in his grave (were he dead) is an indication of just how awful this is. While it is true that there are now twice as many reviews, the deeper truth is that all but one of the reviews are 2 to 3 sentences in length. The editor-in-chief, Andy Pemberton, says in his Editor's Letter up front, "In preparation for summer, Spin has thrown off the cloak of conformity and donned the leopard-print Speedos of adventure...the all-new Spin is tan, lithe and sinewy...the new Spin is now buff, bold and ready to throw open the doors and go wherever the future leads. I do hope you'll slap on some SPF 45 and come join in the fun".

No, really, he actually wrote that shit and got it published in a national magazine. As for myself, based on this first issue, I hope Pemberton is someday tried for war crimes in the Hague. Spin magazine makes me very sad.

As a former Big Takeover staff member about a decade ago -- and Jack Rabid's personal go-to guy whenever an interview subject mentioned science fiction or comics -- seeing it mentioned here tickles me.

One of my favorite memories is our first interview with Andy Partridge of XTC. The session was about to wrap up, and I slipped in a quick mention of comics references in XTC songs. A fatigued Andy lit up and we proceeded to talk for another hour about Jack Kirby...all of it going onto tape and into the magazine virtually unedited. Jack didn't understand a word we were saying, but said he could tell when someone was really enthusiastic about a subject, and the readers would enjoy it for that alone.

The difference between that and the calculated soullessness of Spin is obvious.
The Big Takeover is like the Linus Van Pelt of music magazines. It gets over on thoughtfullness, sincerity and enthusiasm. The music never seems like a vehicle or prop for the writers to show off their snarky pyrotechnics--a problem which has plagued Pitchfork, despite their writers' obvious interest in the subject matter.

And yeah, pointing out that Spin sucks is kind of like pointing out that bleach makes a poor eye wash. But this new Spin is like bleach eye wash mixed with stale urine. I've always renewed my subscription simply because it's hard to say no to 24 issues for $8.95 or whatever their subscription deal is. The new Spin isn't even worth that.
Yeah, it seems like a poor exchange to send them money and then be made sad in return. When I give someone money I want them to leave me feeling ambivalent at the worst.
Yeah, it seems like a poor exchange to send them money and then be made sad in return. When I give someone money I want them to leave me feeling ambivalent at the worst.
You could do The Big Takeover a good service by using that small sum you would have spent on Spin to buy a couple of back issues. I'll bet the issues from the WRMC years would be fun reading.
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