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Tucson Weekly Soundbites

By Stephen Seigel

JUNE 28, 1999:  I've got my share of vices, but you want to know what the most costly, time-consuming one is? I'm a complete magazine junkie. I'll read just about anything I can get my grimy little paws on, but I spend the majority of my (considerably sized) nose embedded in the pages of music rags. Just as my record-buying habit surpassed its "collector" status to fall into the realm of "blathering, obsessive, broke idiot collector" status, my magazine consumption has gotten completely out of hand.

In addition to subscribing to several, I buy an average of five magazines a week. And the truth is, a lot of times I'm not even sure why I bother. Most of 'em just flat-out suck. I used to subscribe to Rolling Stone, 'til they started putting flavor-of-the-day movie stars on the cover even more often than the lame-ass, middle-of-the-road pop stars they favored years into the we-know-we-suck-so-we-might-as-well-really-start-suckin' period of the mag. (Jennifer Aniston on the cover twice in one year? Are you kidding me? Even People wouldn't pull that shit, and they come out every week--twice as many opportunities to suck!) Spin, once the perfect antidote to RS' staleness when it hit the stands in the mid-'80s with coverage of the then-new "college rock" scene, lost its way once the genre was mass-marketed as "alternative." These days they're but a younger, smugger version of Rolling Stone, the likes of which I'm sure they were aiming to destruct when they originally set out.

Cleveland's Alternative Press had a decent run there for a couple of years as an up-to-the-minute chronicle for the indier-than-thou set; now they seem to have settled into a groove catering to teenage boys who don't realize that Orgy didn't actually write "Blue Monday." CMJ (College Music Journal) New Music Monthly brought a lot to the table initially: an ingenious (lack of) ratings system for its reviews; instead of the standard four or five star or 1 to 10 scale, they simply print an R.I.Y.L. (recommended if you like) list of bands, a tactic since co-opted by AP as well as several online retailers ("Click here for other bands in this genre"). They highlight what they consider to be the month's six best releases in a section functionally titled "Best New Music." And best of all, the mag comes with an audio companion: a CD that has highlight tracks from the artists featured in that issue.

The downside is that CMJ also appears to be on somewhat of a downslide. While it used to take pride in featuring artists both in the magazine and on the CD that had previously gone unheard, lately the roster of artists covered in its pages has become more and more familiar to the casual music consumer (likely a bottom line decision to increase its readership). It's also never been one to really delve into long and meaty articles on anyone, preferring instead to explore the vast possibilities of brevity in its coverage. That said, it's still one of the better bargains out there, at only $5.99 an issue.

Which brings us to the fact that, yes, there actually are a few decent music magazines left out there. The best one is Mojo, a UK import that is pricey at about $8, but worth it. Rather than offering a quickie "What have you been doing since your last album?" interview, Mojo exhaustively covers virtually every subject it tackles, a rarity in the American rags. In addition, Mojo scores big points by covering both new and (often somewhat obscure) classic rock. To underscore both points, witness the 15-page spread on the Grateful Dead, or the five pages spent on both the new Pavement record and the Captain Beefheart box set.

The late, lamented Option was a bi-monthly that was remarkable in both its scope of coverage (avant-garde jazz placed next to electronica placed next to indie rock) and the sheer volume of album reviews contained in each issue. Its obvious successor is Magnet, a bi-monthly remarkable in both its scope of coverage...you know the rest. Whereas Magnet isn't quite as eclectic in its coverage (especially the reviews section, which sticks mostly to indie rock & pop), it offers nice little bonuses like a musician-illustrated cover page in its reviews section. And though many of its articles are brief, they are almost always meticulously researched and well-written. (In the spirit of full disclosure, the Weekly's own Fred Mills is associate editor of Magnet). My only complaint is that the two months between issues can seem like a lifetime.

Same goes for Puncture, a bi-monthly out of Portland, Oregon, which picks up where the old Alternative Press left off. In other words, it's an indispensable document of all things indie. After a brief hiatus in its publishing schedule, the magazine now seems to be back on track and on schedule. A new issue should be hitting the stands any day now. And finally, yet another bi-monthly: No Depression, while limited in its scope, exhaustively covers the alternative country scene perhaps better than any magazine so specialized covers anything. And while often such narrowly focused magazines can seem to get by on shoddy journalism ("But, we're the only ones even bothering to cover this stuff..."), No Depression is both lovingly and eloquently written, a testament to its writers' devotion to the scene covered.

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