Saturday, March 18, 2006

Rolling Stone China

I have to say Lijiang has my favorite Internet "bar" in China, not because it's got like 200 kids in here playing video games and doing Internet chat at all hours of the day because they all have that, but because you have to walk up a dark, back-alley fire escape to get in. Totally awesome! And free tea in paper cups too.

...Rolling Stone launched a China edition at the beginning of March, something I've been wanting to comment on for a while but haven't had time to. Given that Rolling Stone - What, King Kong on the cover means selling out? - is many millions of frequent flyer miles from the radical alternative mouthpiece it was in the 60s, China doesn't seem such a weird fit. After all, any venture that's 100% gold-plated commercial Beijing seems to be fine with. But the mag is selling itself in an interesting way. What surprised me the most was that the issue has a piece called "Mavericks Renegades Trouble Makers" that leads off with a page and a half by Michael Moore, then goes on to profile a dozen or so (American) mavericks like Hunter S. Thompson, Cindy Sheehan, Kanye West, George Clooney (?), Fiona Apple (?)...ok, so they're not all that radical, but you get the picture. For foreign content, which makes up at least 60%, there's also a long interview with Bono and a 12-page spread on the history of Rolling Stone covers.

In the Forward, the editor, Hao Fang (郝舫) makes it pretty clear that - I'd say the image - they're trying to tap into is the radical 60s Rolling Stone; the commercial-music-era Eminem-covered Rolling Stone is not mentioned. After wallowing in the Rolling Stone "legend" with his opening paragraph, Hao Fang goes on:

Rolling Stone's legend proves that any magazine of distinction is the
perfect distillation of an individual dream. When this dream is shared by a
sufficient number of people, success is sure to follow. In the mad rush of
today's China, everyone harbors dreams, and Rolling Stone will definitely not
ignore the hopes that inspired them. But more often, we will bear witness to the
wonder of these dreams coming true, share the joy and woe of that mad rush, and
urge on those who may be feeling shades of exhaustion by lighting the way
forward through with the beacons of dream creators who've come before and
by bringing new dreamers to center stage before the entire world. We believe
that the transformations in entertainment, culture, and lifestyle in today's
China, and especially those who are bringing about these transformations, are
worth noticing, watching and defending in the same way that Rolling Stone has
previously done with Lennon or Dylan.

Who might the John Lennons and Bob Dylans of the new China be? The cover boy for issue #1 is the oversafe choice of father of Chinese rock Cui Jian, and there is a long article about him that I've been assured by several Beijing rockers says nothing new. There's also an interview with Mu Zimei, the journalist who became famous for blogging about her sex life - like two years ago. Other local content includes a list of where Jay rips off - oh, sorry, gets inspiration for - beats in 10 of his well-known chart toppers. And there's an article on famous Chinese who blog, an essay (by Yan Jun) on how MP3s are changing music, a profile on a Japanese hip hop producer, and an interview with Blixa Bargeld - who's that? - a former guitarist for Nick Cave who now lives in Beijing and has something to do with architecture.

Some kid, I forget in which city but it was while I was on tour with the Swedish Vegan punks, came up to me asking if I'd heard of Blixa Bargeld, with that quavery intonation that implies, "He's famous, right?" Of course I was like, "Who the hell are you talking about?" But the point is, kids here are so starved for information that they will assume anything they read about in Rolling Stone, or any foreign band they see in a club, or any random foreign thing they get half a grip on - is famous.

When I asked Hunter Hai about the new Rolling Stone - which had no major Chinese content I hadn't heard of 2 years ago, and I'm not that in the know - he just shrugged and said, "What do you expect? It's not a fan zine."

One girl I talked to, Shen Jing, who's in a girl punk band called Hang On The Box (which recently got kind of famous because one of their band mates said she wanted to fuck Maralyn Manson, which made Manson like her band, and it was all good for PR but the verdict on their music is still so so...) had a lot of confidence in Hao Fang, who is a senior music critic, universally respected, in his 40s I think, and generally considered above the friend-favoritism that generally plagues music writing in China. So I should have a quote here, right? "I think he'll be very good." Yeah, I'm pretty sure she said exactly that.

And one more thing. Hao Fang also wrote the Curt Cobain biography - the Chinese one of course - which was a very important wave of the wave of Nirvana adoration that swept China in 1996-7 and influenced virtually every band of that era.

Now, I also hear a nasty rumor that Hao Fang (and Yan Jun, and several other influential rock critics) were pressured by Beijing authorities to write things (I'm not sure exactly what) denouncing Pangu after the band fled into exile two years ago after playing a concert for Taiwanese independence in Taiwan. Interesting, no?

As for the 60s veneration, this is the same shit as Wane the college senior writing her thesis on American protest rock. In China you can publish the most radical American writers you can find, and even use them to feed anti-US sentiment, but don't even think about it when it comes to internal Chinese issues. So the big question - for Rolling Stone, Google, and everyone other well-meaning content provider in China - is whether vastly increased access to information and a new critical spirit will eventually help the Chinese read between the CCP lines, or whether the new bourgios literati will just make the deal with the devil go for self interest and self-censorship? I would guess that good will win out in the long run, but I can't help but seeing a lot of the latter for now.

Anyway, Hao Fang ends his little prelude with a faintly nationalistic tone. He had just spent a paragraph talking about the great writers of Rolling Stone Past - he specifically names Hunter S. Thompson, Lester Bangs, Annie Leibovitz, and Greil Marcus - before writing, in the next paragraph:
"These legends actually echo the unlimited possibilities of todays age of
interactive networks and the age of China."

Hao Fang concludes:
"From this day forward, we are likewise sending out a call to our own readers.
Let us here in the East have no regrets in creating a legend for this era."


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