The Rolling Stone Cover
Why This Music Mag Should Stick to What it Knows
In 2008 I applied for an internship program abroad through my college Boston University. I was a magazine journalism major. I had no idea what that meant beyond the fact that I knew that I liked to write and some people — even a few outside of my immediate family — thought I was pretty good at it. I also knew I wanted to get the hell out of Boston for a few months and an abroad program in Australia sounded like just the ticket.
When I got off of the plane — across the world — I was immediately shuttled to BU’s small satellite campus in downtown Sydney to meet with my student advisor. I waited, slumped over with jet lag, with the other students in the program asking them about which internship they’d been awarded. No one knew, but they all seemed to be vying for the same spot — a chance to write for Rolling Stone Australia. I soon learned — from those more well-informed than I — that sometimes RS didn’t even accept an intern from the program because they were so picky. I was admittedly surprised five minutes later when my advisor said I was awarded the position (barring an interview, of course). Me? They actually liked my stupid writing samples?
I skipped back to the university dorm — the jet lag had whisked away — as my peers snarled congratulations. I commenced reading every copy of Rolling Stone Australia I could find. Some of the bands they wrote about I knew, but others were totally foreign to me, so I did what I always did when a new band was put in front of me: I listened.
Music has always been a passion of mine. While I can’t play it, when I hear it, it moves me. I was excited about the prospect of sharing my talent (writing) with their talent (music). Finally, I thought, I could become a part of an art-form I respected so much.
Without much sleep, I walked in a pencil skirt and semi-high heels through Sydney’s Redfern district (think the Meat Packing district before it became chic or the Mission district before the Google bus stopped on every corner) to my interview the following day. I was sweating and nervous and tired of car horns and whistles coming my way from the general male population in the area. When I finally arrived at the address, I found myself standing in front of what looked like a deserted warehouse. I knocked on the garage door. Soon, a bubbly Spaniard in jeans and a rugby tee greeted me. “Oy! Maeghan,” he looked me up and down. “Right. Come with me.”
Clearly, I had overdressed.
We sat down and talked music and writing. We laughed. I forgot about all of the “studying” I had done the night before and was just myself. When I left, he shook my hand and said:“See you tomorrow. And…ditch the fucking skirt.” I wasn’t expecting such candor, but was happy to oblige. I’m more of a jeans and tee-shirt kind of girl anyway.
I was asked to review a Dandy Worhols album the minute I walked into the office the following day. I thought it was just a writing exercise, but I was soon informed that the review would be published in the next issue and that I had a call with Dandy’s frontman Courtney Taylor-Taylor that afternoon.
I wasn’t sure what made me an expert music critic, but I learned that wasn’t the point. I was given an opportunity to spark a conversation through my interpretation of what I heard and saw. I was able, through patience and practice, to articulate for musicians in words what they could so masterfully do with sound.
On slow days, I often sat in the corner of the warehouse flipping through past editions, studying the covers, taking a time machine through rock and roll history. The people on these covers were pop icons — music idols. I was awe-struck.
I left my time at Rolling Stone glad that I wasn’t forced to stuff envelopes and deliver coffee (don’t worry, I did that later), but also really proud that I was able to contribute to the longest standing international edition of Rolling Stone. In fact, the year after I was there, Jan Wenner was interviewed by an Australian publisher about the down-under version of his publication and had this to say:
Year after year, Rolling Stone Australia has made me proud. They have executed the Rolling Stone mission with style, intelligence and energy. My hat is off to everyone who has contributed to this success over the years and I look forward to even greater years to come.
I was still hooked on writing and music when I left Sydney, but I also came back to Boston hooked on journalism. My writing career has crossed many channels since 2008 — from fashion writing for Boston Magazine to tech reporting for Inc. Throughout my writing career, though, I’ve always been proud to share that I got my start with Rolling Stone.
I get what the RS editorial team was going for by featuring the Boston Bomber on the cover of its latest issue. They were trying to get attention.
Guess what? It worked — they got mine — I’m finally writing my first Medium post.
However, it was a tasteless effort. What happened to the days when bands rejoiced over their cover selection? While I was in Australia, we opted to feature Kings of Leon on our cover one month — the rock group reacted as if they’d won the lottery when we told them. The cover of Rolling Stone is a big fucking deal for musicians. And, while there have also been political figures along with TV personalities and actors on previous covers, the general understanding is that Rolling Stone is a music magazine.
Whether or not the actual article on Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is well reported or a good piece of investigative journalism is beyond the point for me here — he’s now been idolized with the likes of Keith Richards and Kurt Cobain. Both of whom, by the way, have exhibited some questionable social behavior, but they still made music! This guy blew up a bomb in a city that I love, hurt and killed innocent people, and forced my friends and family into hiding for days as he ran from the police.
Shame on you, Rolling Stone, for getting yourself media coverage in a sleazy way. Didn’t you learn your lesson when Charles Manson ungracefully graced your cover 40 years ago?
You do music. Let TIME decide if Tsarnaev belongs on the cover of their magazine. Stick to the stuff you used to be good at, the stuff people made movies about (yes, I’ve seen Almost Famous and, no, my internship wasn’t like that), the stuff that moves people: the art of music.