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In this excerpt, Rolling Stone publisher Jann Wenner looks back at the magazine's first 30 years and the ways in which it has shaped and reflected the nation's cultural attitudes.
Many of them have willingly turned up time and again: Mick Jagger, with nineteen covers -- some alone and others with the band or Keith -- claims the all-time cover-boy crown. Among the people we have chosen to celebrate, the shrewdest collaborated with us in the creation and refinement of their public images. Many of those powerful images have since grown to define an era. When I started ROLLING STONE in November 1967, the magazine's initial charter was to cover rock & roll music with intelligence and respect. Even then, we knew that the fervor sweeping our generation encompassed more than just music. And so we gradually broadened the charter to include everything the music touched, embraced or informed: politics, movies, television, journalism, sports, Super Bowls, crime, kidnappings, astronauts, gurus, groupies, hippies, Jesus freaks, health clubs, narcs, pimps, drugs and all the other forms of American social behavior, pathological and otherwise.
These events and personalities were captured for the cover of ROLLING STONE by some of the finest photographers of the last three decades. A partial list would include Annie Leibovitz, Mark Seliger, Richard Avedon, Anton Corbijn, Albert Watson, Herb Ritts, Francesco Scavullo, Matt Mahurin and Matthew Rolston. In addition, a great roster of illustrators and cartoonists has conjured and invented for the cover: Matt Groening, Mike Judge, Garry Trudeau, Gottfried Helnwein, Ralph Steadman, Maurice Sendak, Paul Davis, Milton Glaser, Robert Grossman, Daniel Maffia, Andy Warhol and Anita Kunz, among others.
Many of these covers have been controversial, even shocking, so here now is fair warning to those who are offended by flesh. Plenty of flesh has been artfully arranged and displayed beneath our famous logo. ROLLING STONE probably pioneered the trend of nude "star" covers with John Lennon and Yoko Ono's full-body shots in November 1968. At the time, nudity was a political statement, health clubs were for the weird and obsessed, and I had yet to fully appreciate readers' insatiable curiosity about the naked bodies of their heroes and heroines. John and Yoko's self-portraits were taken in their London flat for the front and back covers of their Two Virgins, the album that Apple's distributor issued wrapped in brown paper -- despite John's status as the leader of the Beatles. At the suggestion of ROLLING STONE's cofounder, writer Ralph J. Gleason, I telexed our friend Derek Taylor, the Beatles' publicist and soul mate, in London with an offer to print said pictures in ROLLING STONE. The photo wound up on the cover of our first anniversary issue (RS 22). This was the first sellout issue of ROLLING STONE and the first time we went back to press. Although it may seem tame from today's perspective, the idea of someone so famous and so physically average standing stark naked for all the world to see was quite extraordinary -- shocking to be sure, but above all, deeply revolutionary and deeply moving.
Magazine making is a collaborative art, and I have worked with the most dedicated and talented people in publishing, including editors whose duties included writing the lines of text that tease the newsstand browser into a purchase. If you have the time and the patience to read the tiny lines of type on these collected miniatures, you will find some amusing footnotes to late-twentieth-century history.
"Dial Om for Murder," the headline for an account of criminal behavior in a religious sect, and "He's Hot, He's Sexy and He's Dead," the headline for a story on Jim Morrison's posthumous success, are among my favorites. In these thousands of cover headlines, you'll catch clever literary allusions and puns of all colors and stripes, along with ideas ranging from the naive to the profound. Looking back, most of what we put on the cover remains important, but some of it may seem as pointless, trivial and ephemeral as it gets. In seven hundred-plus covers, you're bound to strike out more than once....
--Jann S. Wenner
Reprinted from ROLLING STONE: THE COMPLETE COVERS, 1967-1997. Published in 1998 by Harry N. Abrams, Inc., Publishers. ROLLING STONE covers © 1998 Straight Arrow Publishers Company, L. P. Copyright © 1998 Rolling Stone Press.