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Sonic Boom: Ruminations on Rock Journalism, Jim Greer and Spin Magazine’s 25th Anniversary

On Spin's 25th birthday, Mike remembers the magazine that shaped his life

The December 1991 issue of Spin Magazine, which changed Mike's life forever.

My first issue of Spin Magazine was the December 1991 issue, the “Year in Music” issue. I bought it because I was at Penn Station, waiting for my train, looking for something to read, something besides Metal Maniacs and Metal Edge and Metal Hammer (all of which I also bought). I bought it because Jane’s Addiction frontman Perry Farrell was on the cover, and I liked Jane’s Addiction, and because the issue included some other new bands I liked—Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden—and I was hoping for recommendations of more new bands I might like, and…I dunno. Like I said, I was looking for something to read.

From that point, I did not miss a single issue of Spin Magazine for more than a decade.


That December 1991 issue became something of a Rosetta Stone for me, something of a roadmap, a blueprint on which to base the structure of my life. That issue featured the magazine’s 20 best albums of the year, and by February of 1992, I owned all but two of those albums. In some ways, this represented a fairly substantial aesthetic shift for me. As I said, I already listened to bands like Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Soundgarden, so I didn’t have to adjust my habits to accommodate them, but for me—a 17-year-old long since indoctrinated into a rigid heavy-metal orthodoxy—acts like P.M. Dawn, Pet Shop Boys and Massive Attack represented something entirely new, something challenging and alien and exciting.

Everything about Spin felt inviting to me, as if the magazine itself represented a new, better life. In its tone there was an intelligence and attitude to which I found myself aspiring. It was stylish, artistic, elite. Everything covered in its glossy pages was at the cutting edge of hip culture. The bulk of this was obviously music, but what Spin offered was bigger than music: It was life with music at its center.

Prior to Spin, I did not ever, not once, read a periodical and notice the bylines accompanying the articles. Understand, Metal Maniacs was a great magazine—insofar as it covered extreme metal bands that no other publication would touch—but its writers were totally anonymous to me. The people who wrote for Spin, however, had voices and identities that were as interesting as the artists and trends about which they were writing. They were arrogant and funny and smart and cool. I came to know and follow their voices, their tastes, their styles, their names.

My favorite writer at Spin was Jim Greer. Among a stable of superstar rock journalists, Greer was Spin’s most enthusiastic, most sarcastic, most iconic. He was not necessarily the most gifted writer or the most respected critic, but he was the voice of Spin Magazine, the voice that I came to recognize and identify with. In 1993, he wrote a glowing, graceful review of a self-titled album by a new group called Red House Painters, and that review introduced me to a band that would forever change my life. In 1994, Greer wrote a monthly feature called “A Year in the Life of Rock ’N’ Roll,” wherein he crossed the country—going from Graceland to Seattle to Ohio to wherever—writing about rock from the ground, as it happened. At some point, he got engaged to Pixies bassist/vocalist Kim Deal, and then he joined a band himself, playing bass for Ohio indie rock outfit Guided By Voices.

By then, I was studying English at NYU, with an eye on writing novels, but I met with my advisor to change my major: to journalism. As I saw it, if you could write about rock music and travel across the country and make a living and marry Kim Deal and play bass in Guided By Voices… I did not explain this thought process to my advisor, but that was exactly what I was thinking. I mean, it sounded like a pretty good gig to me, and I didn’t have any other viable plans, so why not?

Spin’s descent into irrelevance came slowly, almost unnoticeably. Somewhere along the line, Greer disappeared from its pages—and countless others, too, because that’s what happens at magazines aimed at college kids—and alternative rock lost its mystery, its cachet. Then, of course, the Web got bigger, and with it, so too did music blogs and daily music websites, and monthly music journalism became less influential and more reactionary. And Spin—once my definition of cool, once the thing to which I looked for direction—was pointless and bland and directionless.

A few months ago, Spin posted all its back issues on Google Books—meaning every old issue of Spin was suddenly available online, in its original form, its original pages. When I found this bounty, I gorged, going back to the early ’90s, the mid ’90s, reading those old stories and reviews and sidebars, looking at those old illustrations and photographs and advertisements, remembering exactly where I was at those moments.

This time, though, the writing seemed less exciting, more awkward. Sentences that once felt so eloquent, so pointed, just felt…forced. It occurred to me that most of those writers were younger when they wrote those sentences than I am now. They were kids. It was a different time.

As I (virtually) flipped through that December 1991 issue, I found a story I didn’t remember, called “People You Should (But Won’t Be Able To) Avoid If You Want To Be A Rock ’N’ Roll Star,” by David Quantick. Among those people, claimed Quantick, were journalists, whom he described as “a race of men and women who exist solely to bitch about the famous, to consume as many licit and illicit stimulants as possible, to travel to exotic and exciting locations at other people’s expense, and to become as famous as possible with the least possible effort.”

As I read those words, it really hit me how significantly rock journalism had changed.

Spin's 25th Anniversary issue, a must-read for those who were there then (and those who wish they were).

This month, Spin released its 25th anniversary issue: “The 100 Moments That Rocked Our World.” It’s the first issue of Spin I’ve purchased in…two years? I can’t remember. It’s really hit-or-miss these days. But this one was worth it—it’s a feast for anyone who, like me, grew up with the magazine, because those 100 moments aren’t the biggest moments in rock—because we know all that already, because who cares—they’re the moments that shaped Spin. And to read about them today, with all this context and perspective and wisdom and remorse, is impossibly fascinating.

And one of the stories—moment No. 043—is called “We’re With the Band,” by Jim Greer. It’s the first time I’ve seen his byline in…a decade? God, I have no idea. It’s been forever. Anyway, in it, Greer discusses his time at the magazine, his failed engagement to Kim Deal, his side job playing bass in Guided By Voices, and his dismissal from Spin—things about which I had always guessed and wondered, but never known for sure. I read it rapturously, voraciously, as if it had been written for me personally: a conclusion to a career that inspired mine. In his closing paragraph, Greer writes, “It was a fucking blast, and I was lucky as hell.” And I wasn’t there—I mean I wasn’t there with Kim Deal and Guided By Voices, with the stimulants and the exotic, exciting locations—but I feel like I know exactly how he feels. And, you know, that’s exactly how I feel, too.

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