Whatever Happened To Magazines?
When I was younger, magazines influenced me massively. Obviously. I've written for magazines, and these days, I make pictures for magazines.
From the age of six, seven, into adulthood, I had comics, magazines delivered to my house every week. I poured over them and frequently they told me what I needed to know. I hoarded them.*
While visiting England recently, I grabbed a bunch of magazines that have been waiting patiently for me at my parent's house for, oh, more than thirty years now. I stuffed them in my travel bag, brought them back to Austin with me. They prompted a question: whatever happened to magazines?
Two magazines, several copies of which came back with me: Blitz and The Face. Two sides of the same coin. Name me a current magazine in the US that's aimed at the 16-30 age demographic and accurately engages with, and describes, contemporary culture. You can't, because it doesn't exist. In England, you can make a case for Dazed and Confused, maybe. iD is almost entirely devoted to fashion. Yes, The Face exists today, but it's a different magazine, owned and published by an entirely different company. The logo is about the only thing that's the same.
Blitz. In May 1987, novelist Martin Amis appeared on the cover. A writer! On the cover! He's talking about his latest book, sure. So yes, story subjects were still flogging stuff back then too. But it was a story. It wasn't 'content' or purely promotional. The writer was Paul Morley, smart, experimental, almost dangerous in his approach to writing (also, from Stockport/Manchester). The article is about existentialism and the nuclear threat.
In the same issue, there's a story on the rising suicide rate amongst American teenagers. Try selling that!
There's a lengthy excerpt from the autobiography of James Brown. It's a lot of text. Small print. You have to concentrate to read it.
An article on John Pilger, a hardened journalist known for his work covering conflicts and war zones. It's not a space-filling story. It's a piece to make you think, maybe even consider your place in the world. Meanwhile, look at the portrait.
In the age of Photoshop, when anything is possible, it's refreshing to be reminded of the way analog photographs were stretched to breaking point in the service of creating a unique image. See Nashville spread, below.
Also (same year, different issue), this stunning treatment of Bobby Womack by Robbie Barton.
Dark, potentially sensationalistic stories, are given grown-up treatment. See 'Sleaze' a story on sex workers in London.
And then there's this survey of contemporary American fiction. It was around this time that I started reading Raymond Carver, Richard Ford, now recognized as 20th century masters, but then little known. Articles like this led me to them. I remember buying Slaves of New York, and possibly through this very article I discovered Blood and Guts in High School by Kathy Acker, which was then - and quite possibly remains - about as edgy as anything approaching mainstream fiction gets.
Perhaps some element of this remains in publications like Esquire and GQ. But I don't think so. It's a different demographic, one that caters to those with disposable income, not those intent on exploring brave new worlds. They're definitely filled with more 'content,' with familiar, tired features trotted out annually. And then of course, there's the interweb...
The internet is not the printed page. You don't 'hoard' it; it's entirely disposable. I'm going to spend some time digging through these old magazines, in search of lost time; in search of inspiration. Sometimes you have to go backwards to move forwards.
* In 2001 I left LA for NYC and sublet my apartment off Beverly Blvd near La Brea. There was an empty space where a wall bed used to be, and I stacked all the stuff I wasn't taking with me in there, shut it behind closed doors. Several years worth of The Face; about five years of Harper's Bazaar from the beginning of the Liz Tilberis era; loads of Interview; LA Style; Flaunt. As a collection, it'd be worth a fair bit now. A couple of years in, my sub-leaser dumped it. All of it. Everything I had in there. He didn't even tell me. I suppose the printed page is disposable too, just like the internet.