An Open Letter to Rolling Stone

The October 31, 2002 issue of the venerable music publication Rolling Stone was a special issue dedicated to the subject of “Women in Rock.” Featuring a cover shot of Shakira, Britney Spears, and Mary J. Blige, the issue included over two dozen articles profiling contemporary female “artists” from the world of rock music.

Any such magazine survey inevitably draws a good deal of criticism about which artists were included (or excluded), how much prominence they were given, and what was said about them, prompting letters of complaint from both readers and musicians. Rolling Stone printed several such letters in its 28 November issue, but no the one quoted below, supposedly written by rocker Joan Jett who wrote a disclaimer on her website:

Hi everyone,

We are sorry for the confusion, but Joan Jett did NOT write the open letter to Rolling Stone, rather it was written by Maya Price, a talented performer and writer in New York City, and it was forwarded to us.

I loved the content, but we had nothing to do with writing it.

Thanks for the strong response to it.
——-

Undoubtedly the letter began to make the rounds of the Internet through e-mail forwards.

This letter was written to Rolling Stone after their “women in rock” issue was published, but was not printed by their editors.

An Open Letter to Rolling Stone

I tried to find some cleverly worded way to express my disgust with your “Women in Rock” issue, but what I have to say is really quite simple: You guys are completely retarded.

By RS standards, Rock is no longer a style of music but a trendy costume to be whipped up by expensive stylists and slapped onto the latest pop tart Barbie doll. Give a girl some tight pants and a spiky bracelet and POOF! She ROCKS!

Your poor choice of cover girls and featured artists brings to mind the Sports Illustrated swimsuit editions. There is nothing necessarily wrong with the breast-baring models inside, but we all understand that they have NOTHING TO DO WITH SPORTS – which just might be offensive to women who are interested in sports or who might even be (gasp) real athletes.

Yes, Britney has a talented stylist and yes, somebody gave Shakira a Gun & Roses t-shirt to wear, but THEY ARE NOT NOW OR WILL THEY EVER BE ROCK.

Maybe it’s naïve of me to expect any glimmer of rock’n’roll credibility OR respect for women from a magazine whose cover shot is regularly a naked underweight actress. The thing is, I AM a woman musician with a rock band, and as we all are I am STARVED for any little crumb of recognition that real women might be thrown. So like a sucker I find myself short another five bucks, and pissed enough to write my first letter to an editor.

Avril Lavigne gets some studded accessories from Hot Topic so now she’s “upholding the brazen tradition of teenage outrage”???!! Are you SERIOUS? And could someone please explain to me why people keep insisting on referring to PINK as rock? Wasn’t she doing the white girl hip hop thing a minute ago? Yeah, she performed on the Aerosmith tribute show – big deal; she was on the Janet Jackson tribute show just before that – Whatever’s trendy. WHO CARES? She’s a Spice Girl reject… but I digress.

Jewel and Mandy friggin’ Moore have full page features as Rock Icons. Meanwhile Joan Jett gets one line. ONE LINE. Joan Jett & the Blackhearts, who have never stopped touring. But even in the RS WOMEN IN ROCK issue, a story like that gets ONE SENTENCE on the bottom of the last page of Random Notes. Britney’s Rock credentials? Well, she butchers the song “I Love Rock’n’Roll” on her record, and when asked about it the genius replies “Well, I’ve always loved Pat Benatar.” And SHE is your Rock issue cover girl?? You should be REALLY embarrassed.

Sleater Kinney was the only rock group listed on the cover and they got only half a page. Ashanti, the R&B backup singer who can’t seem to do anything without “featuring Jah Rule,” has two pages. What about the Donnas? The Yeah Yeah Yeahs? The Distillers? A mag like RS has the power to shine important light on groups like these – instead they are afterthoughts, and that valuable spotlight is wasted on the same overexposed pop princesses WHO HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH ROCK.

In your own letter from the editor you have the hypocritical balls to say “rock radio won’t touch female artists, while the pop factory keeps churning out sound-alike clones, and ambitious musicians with something to say find themselves left out in the cold.” The pages that follow those words are a blatant display that Rolling Stone magazine is happily working for the factory now too.

If the issue had been called “Women in Music” or maybe “Some Cute Girls with Top 10 Records out Right Now,” I would have no beef with it. Corny as it may sound, ROCK is something which is still meaningful and even sacred to some of us. Use the word “rock” in bold letters next to a picture of Britney Fucking Spears, and you’re turning your whole publication into a joke – and an offensive joke at that.

Desperately seeking Debbie – Since Blondie’s Time “Women in Rock” Have Mutated Into Something Not Nearly As Fun

The July 5, 2012 issue of the Rolling Stone magazine includes a list of 27 female artists called “Women Who Rock” chosen by the music publication. RS selected six out of the 27 women in the list to compete for a chance to cover Rolling Stone this fall. The magazine is hosting a reader-voted contest to see which rising female artist or female-fronted band will join other distinguished ladies in the music industry on its special “Women Who Rock” issue, due out in September. Among the artists competing are Dev, Rita Ora, and Rye Rye, along with female-fronted acts Karmin, Delta Rae, and Sleeper Agent. The contest was announced earlier this week by the publication.

“The editors at Rolling Stone picked six female fronted-bands and female solo acts to compete for the flip-cover of Rolling Stone’s Women In Rock issue. It’s up to you to choose the winner,” mentions Rolling Stone’s “Women Who Rock” web page.”

The contest will be two rounds long. Round one has already started and will continue on until July 23. Among the six ladies competing for this special opportunity, the public has the opportunity to rate one or all acts and, based upon the quality and quantity of votes, two ladies will move onto the finals. Round two then takes place from August 3 to September 3, where the two finalists will compete in a battle of the bands-style competition, but the public vote still determines the winner. Along with appearing on Rolling Stone’s fold-out cover, the winner will also perform at a private concert for the magazine.

While this contest might seem like an easy win for the more mainstream acts because of a possibly wider fan base, the public also includes Rolling Stone’s readership who will probably be more inclined to support the indie rock bands. Basically, this contest can be anyone’s game. Here’s a little more about the ladies before you decide to rate the group.

According to Rolling Stone, duo Karmin – comprised of engaged couple Amy Heidemann and Nick Noonan – came to prominence after blowing up the Internet with the cover of Chris Brown’s “Look at Me Now” in 2010. Since then, the two landed a coveted performance spot on Saturday Night Live before the release of their debut EP, Hello. Karmin has a recent top 20 hit with the song, “Brokenhearted.”

Singer Dev, on the other hand, already has a number one hit to her name with “Like a G6,” the song that put her on the map with Far East Movement and The Cataracs. With “G6” at number one, Dev was also charting at the time with two other songs, “Bass Down Low” and “Backseat” with the New Boyz. Dev’s solo song, “In the Dark,” would be highest peak yet at number eleven on the singles chart.

Jay-Z’s latest protégé, British singer Rita Ora, is just beginning to make waves on the Billboard singles chart. Her U.S. single, “How We Do (Party),” has been climbing up the charts and is currently sitting at number 62. In the U.K., Ora already has a number one to her name with the Drake-penned, “R.I.P.” The songs are previewing her upcoming debut album, O.R.A.

Indie rapper Rye Rye was the first artist signed to M.I.A.’s record label, N.E.E.T. She was featured on Billboard magazine’s list of “21 under 21.” Her growing clout landed her a small part in 21 Jump Street, for which she also recorded the film’s main theme. Her song, “Never Will Be Mine,” with Swedish pop act Robyn, peaked at number eleven on Billboard’s dance charts.

Sleeper Agent is a six-piece indie rock band. Female vocalist Alex Kandel would be snagging the cover if the band won the top prize. They have drawn comparisons to indie pop band The xx with how Kandel trades off vocals with Sleeper Agent’s Tony Smith. The group played an acclaimed set at the Coachella music festival back in April. Rolling Stone listed Sleeper Agent as a band to watch in 2011.

Folk and rock Band Delta Rae is also a six-piece group. Three siblings and their friends comprise Delta Rae with Brittany Hölljes and Elizabeth Hopkins covering Rolling Stone if the group wins the “Women Who Rock” contest. Seymour Stein, the man who helped found major acts like Madonna and the Ramones, signed the group to a record deal. Delta Rae’s debut record, Carry the Fire, was released earlier this month.

The public can rate their favorite acts now on Rolling Stone.com

Here are some comments by RS readers about the female artists that were selected as well as some of the artists that were not included.

Comments

“This list is woefully incomplete (although the women that are listed are all quite deserving). From the 90’s – how can you guys put Sheryl Crow but not Alanis Morrisette? Yikes. And for all you folks who think Adele is the next incarnation of Jesus Christ in a female body, try to read that quote above and see the level of condescension in it. She is super popular right now, but hardly has had the longevity to make a list like this.”

“WTF? BSpears, Adele. SCrow and I go on and on. This list is anything but ‘Rock’ ”

“No Ann or Nancy Wilson? Chrissy Hynde? You have fucking Missy Elliott and Madonna, who are the very opposite of ‘rocking’, but no Heart or Pretenders? This list is an embarrassment. Written by a man, I’m assuming?”

“Demigod, what a lapsus linguae! C’mmon you’re turning a venerable music publication into a joke!”

“I love the magazine. But Rolling Stone can sure make some shitty lists.”

“More Rolling Stone not knowking what they’re talking about. Good work.”

“Cass Elliot, Grace Slick, and many other torchbearers should be remembered as having the cajones to go their first and being real good at it.”

“Are you kidding me? Where are Cher, Cyndi Lauper, Tina Turner?”

“Alanis Morissette is not on this list is unrespect with the history of music! I really feel bad for a magazine like Rolling Stone do this! ”

“What about Emmylou Harris, Marianne Faithfull, Mama Cass and Mama Michelle?!!?”

“Where are Ann & Nancy Wilson from Heart? They really paved the way for women to be in a true rock band and they could really play and sing! They were way cool back in the day!!!! ”

“How can Adele be there, but…….No Tina Turner!? Complete white-wash. The people who make this list, must have a one-tracked-white mind.”

“Carole King, Bikini Kills, Alannis Morrissette, PJ f**king Harvey, Wanda Jackson??? Never heard of them?! What kind of lame trainee has comitted this teenage-brats-mainstream article???”

“Bono and Courtney Love. Two whores in one picture.”

“Another piss poor job of photo editing on your part. Do you even care what you put up?”

“And where is Chrissie Hynde? Stevie Nicks? Lauryn Hill?”

So, what can we learn from the list with respect to women in rock?

Hit songs peaked on the top 10 on the Billboard as well as top-ten positions on many European charts does matter. And RS is looking for rising female stars – age matters.

Related posts: Blondie Ambition
“Throughout the record, [Debbie] Harry’s singing is marvelous–smooth, sultry and humorous. Her voice is prettier than that of many of today’s divas – more alto, more supple, more full of life. Her work suggests that in the arts, age simply makes one deeper and more accomplished.”

The Artist as Social Entrepeneur – By Ben Irvine

By Ben Irvine | Jun 25, 2012
The Creativity Post

Synopsis
Social progress, like great art, dwells in a sweetspot between political extremes.

“Equality” – I spoke their word as if a wedding vow.
But I was so much older then. I’m younger than that now.

Bob Dylan, from ‘My Back Pages’

When a disgusted audience member yelled out ‘Judas!’ during a concert at the Manchester Free Hall in 1966, the onstage performer, Bob Dylan, was out of favour with just about everybody. It wasn’t always so. Though he had spent his early twenties as an acoustic guitar-strumming singer-songwriter goading the establishment with warnings that “the times they are a changin’” and “your sons and your daughters are beyond your command”, such outspoken lyrics had earned him a legion of ideological young fans and the tag of ‘spokesman of a generation’.

But by the mid-sixties Dylan himself had changed. Denying he was a ‘protest singer’, he had recently acquired an electric guitar and a rock-and-roll backing group, and begun composing new material which was more personal, less overtly political. In the eyes of the folk traditionalists, Dylan had sold-out. On tour, he was repeatedly met by boos, slow-handclaps and mass walkouts, while previously sympathetic journalists criticised his ‘downright bad manners’ and ‘rude and uncooperative behaviour’. They had a point. After being accused of betrayal in Manchester, Dylan snarled back “I don’t believe you, you’re a liar” and instructed his band to “play fuckin’ louder”, before launching into a blistering version of his greatest song ‘Like A Rolling Stone’.

Dylan was a social pioneer as well as a musical genius. In rebelling not just against the powers-that-be but against the popular forces of rebellion, he steered a progressive path between right and left ideologies; one which is increasingly being walked today. On the right is a callous individualism which would allow economic forces to run riot through a graveyard of social values. On the left is a buck-passing statism which would allow a centralised government to mop up the resources it is supposed to reallocate.

As Dylan stood at the microphone, with his marketing men lurking in the wings, and a flock of frowning socialists arrayed in the stalls, perhaps he saw clearly how the mentalities of individualism and statism conspire, like two pendulums cajoling each other into motion. The individualist with his one-upmanship becomes trapped in the conformity of consumerism, condemned to be free to keep up with the Jones’s; the statist preaches the power of the collective yet selfishly delegates to someone else the exercise of its will. Like mania accompanying depression, the extremes of egotism and groupthink come to jointly characterise society.

In other words, Tony Blair’s ‘third way’ got it disastrously wrong. To create a fair society and a thriving economy we must minimise, not maximise, both statism and individualism. This amounts to a political position which is doubly contrary, yet far from nihilistic. Its adherents are social entrepreneurs: movers and shakers who seek to make ethics more economical and the economy more ethical, melding left and right in a way that obviates both. In improving the welfare of their client groups and running projects with integrity and conscientiousness, social enterprises can achieve the aims of a redistributive and regulatory state while minimising the need for one.

David Cameron calls it the ‘Big Society’; Neil Kinnock called it ‘neighbourhood’, ‘community’, ‘brotherhood’, or just plain old ‘society’. Whatever you call it, it is a far cry from the rich man protecting himself from antisocial behaviour by installing bigger bars on his windows, or the socialist achieving similar peace of mind by paying higher taxes and taking refuge in the amnesic properties of a bottle of wine. When a Conservative leader starts sounding like a Labour leader, you know that something significant is happening. A vital truth is rising like the sun over warring camps. The neurotic extremes of individualism and statism are giving way to the down-to-earth placidity of honest enterprises striving to make life better for their surrounding communities, up and down the land.

Of course, people will always want to better themselves, the state will always be required to supply public goods, and these two forces will always be complementary. But to the extent that social entrepreneurs succeed in doing good for themselves by doing good for others, the ideologies of individualism and statism, and their damaging consequences, will fade away. We will cease to use the economy and the state as vehicles for our neuroses.

Dylan is a fine poster-boy for entrepreneurialism, not just because in his early career he dragged himself up by his bootstraps in the biting cold of New York, but because art itself has much in common with social enterprise, and Dylan is one of history’s greatest artists. Paintings, songs, poems, sculptures, plays; the finest examples of all these originate in a mindset which is imbued with the dynamics of social enterprise. Such works hit a sweet spot. In their willingness to lay down a challenge, morally or aesthetically, they steer clear of the pandering groupishness of statism. And in their eagerness to please, console, educate or inspire, they avoid the self-indulgence of individualism; indeed, one of the most beautiful qualities of great art is that it embodies the artist’s selfless and painstaking efforts to understand and present truths in new ways that can help others come to terms with the world and their experience. Leonard Cohen once remarked that his songs are for other people to use.

In contrast, the worst examples of art thrive when right and left ideologies predominate. Creativity veers into frivolity; sympathy veers into derivativeness; conviction is found wanting. Nowhere are these wayward trajectories more obvious than in TV singing competitions, wherein conformity and egotism merge and the result is noisy hysteria. The comedian Bill Hicks’s appeal to musicians – “play from your fuckin’ heart” – has fallen on deaf ears.

It has long been sensed by artists and critics that art is somehow inherently political, yet the idea that art should be ideological has never felt quite right to me. The best art is neither socialist nor indifferent to the needs of others. Rather, it is socially entrepreneurial. It glorifies the artist yet enhances all of our lives and acts as a true force for change. This is the kind of art that society needs more of, yet it’s these kinds of artists whose messages are all too often drowned out. When Dylan rallied his band in Manchester, he knew precisely what he was doing.

About the author:
Ben Irvine is a writer, publisher, campaigner and recovered philosopher. He is editor of the Journal of Modern Wisdom (http://www.modernwisdom.co.uk), a collection of essays which seeks to put wiser ways of living back on the agenda for both academics and members of the public. He also edits Cycle Lifestyle (http://www.cyclelifestyle.co.uk), a free magazine which is currently running the London Cycle Map Campaign, lobbying for a Tube-style map and network for cycling in the UK capital. Ben’s wider interest is in using insights about human nature to promote well-being, mutual understanding and co-operation in society. As well as writing a regular blog for The School of Life, he is an Honorary Associate in the philosophy department at Durham University.