December 2002

Sonia Pereira

magazine whore

Punka: a look at 2 modern music mags

Remember when music mags used to be somewhat cool?

I mean, even just ten years or so ago, there was still a plethora of decent music mags to choose from. Magazines like Rolling Stone and Spin used to feature such luminaries as The B-52's and Belly on their covers. Not to mention that slightly less mainstream mags like Alternative Press regularly covered the likes of Nick Cave, Julian Cope, Robyn Hitchcock, Blur, Billy Bragg, and Peter Murphy. Boy bands they were. But certainly not in the same vein as the ubiquitous Limp Bizkit or The Vines.

No, today's music mags seem to rely on the same old artists day in and day out. Really, how many more inquisitive articles do we need on Eminem (who was even on the cover of a recent New York Times magazine), P Diddy, No Doubt, and the supposedly only important women in music to garner mainstream attention: Shakira, Eve, Britney, Ashanti, Alicia, Norah, Christina...(ech, you get the picture)?

So, it's with great pleasure that I discuss two fairly decent music mags that run the gamut of fairly obscure (without going the route of severe Maximum Rock & Roll obscurity) to the tolerably middle-of-the-road (without getting to the disgusting level of RS homogenization): Magnet and the somewhat new Women Who Rock.

I hadn't picked up a music mag in years until a few months ago when I spotted a huge head shot of Paul Westerberg (former garage rock king and ex-leader of the Minneapolis-based and horribly under-rated band, The Replacements) donning a Magnet cover. When I perused the magazine I wasn't at all looking to discover (or in this case, rediscover) the power of a terrific music mag. Basically, I had already given that dream up. But damn. After a hearty hour or so with Magnet and its smart articles geared towards the "cool" fringes of the music-obsessed (without actually irritating with a pseudo-cool factor), I was hooked.

This particular issue of Magnet (Aug/Sept 2002) was pleasantly loaded with nifty pieces and pictures about my favorite artists. (Not to say these are also your favorites though they might as well be, 'cuz they're the damn coolest.) A spectacular piece on the hardly-ever-mentioned Neko Case (oh, my heart skips a beat just thinking about her twangy croon) mushed vibes with an article on the mascot of mod-pop-swank, the uber-sly Jarvis Cocker of the genius-band, Pulp.

My mouth dropped and my tongue lolled.

I couldn't freakin believe that a magazine printed pieces on three people I love. And that wasn't all. Stuffed inside the great Magnet were also reviews of swell-sounding records I'd never heard of (not even in Bust) and lots of nice ads for indie labels and bands I otherwise might have never been exposed to.

The latest issue of Magnet (Oct/Nov) is also a crazy mix of musical styles for every serious fan of seriously good stuff. For instance, we've got the electronically jaded sound of Ladytron, the lite misery of Aimee Mann, the punk reggae factor of Ari Up, a long article on the"power pop" of the 70's, 80's, and 90's (which includes a nice bit on Big Star), a drawing by strange-man, Daniel Johnston (I giggled when I saw that), and a million other pieces on everything from country to jazz.

Reviews of records by Rilo Kiley, Sahara Hotnights, Mekons, Gore Gore Girls, Sing-Sing, and Jenny Toomey make up for the only beef I have with the mag: not enough features on female artists! And though I don't usually try to marginalize women musicians under the restrictive label of "women's rock," I can see the need for a magazine like Women in Rock considering that out of 36 Magnet issues, only 5 have featured women on their covers (including women who also play in bands but don't front them like Superchunk).

What the hell?

So, I turn to Women Who Rock, a mag exclusively for those interested in women musicians. Though I find (italics) WWR alright for a quickie look at who's who in "women's rock," this mag sadly doesn't quite cut it for me.

WWR tends to focus on the women in music we already know about like Tori Amos, Madonna, Alanis, and Michelle Branch. Sometimes it surprises with nice pieces on The Donnas, Kittie, Beth Orton, Lesley Gore, and Dolly Parton. But for the most part the mag revolves around the sort of crunchy music I've never really been a fan of (Melissa Ferrick, Shawn Colvin, Jewel, Patti Rothberg, you get my drift...). What I want to know is why do "women's magazines" often assume women like to listen to Suzanne Vega, Tracy Chapman, and Natalie Merchant? To say it's disappointing that a women's music magazine still buys into the idea that acoustic guitars and chicks equals mass appeal is an understatement.

What we really need is a magazine sort of like Venus but more mainstream and can be found at the local Dairy Mart next to Spin and RS. You know, something spicy to grab on a road trip that features bands like Candypants, Catatonia, Kenickie, Trinket, April March, The Friggs, Thee Headgoatees, The Muffs, and oldies like Big Mama Thorton and Bessie Smith.

My proposed title?

It's About F***in' Time!