The year is 1969, and Rolling Stone gets a letter from Chagrin Falls, Ohio: "I prefer to tell my children about our decaying morality today in my own way ... Do not, and I mean do not, send Rolling Stone to my daughter. She and her younger sister are very embarrassed and disappointed in your publication. Keep it underground and bury it. Never, and I mean never, send that thing to this address again. Trash! Trash! Trash!"
Letters like these, two years after the first flimsy issue, must have told Rolling Stone it was on the right track. The Chagrin Falls letter and other historic correspondence appear in the last and best of four 20th-anniversary issues published this year, a thick album (dated Nov. 5-Dec. 10) of memorable photographs and poignant reminiscences.
The images, especially those by Annie Leibovitz and Richard Avedon, will stir memories even outside the Rolling Stone fold. The retrospective voices of the Rolling Stone era remind us how long ago it was, and how little time it takes to make an antique.
Walter Cronkite, on being informed by CBS News of Elvis Presley's death: "They said, 'We're thinking of leading the program with it' and I said, 'Leading the program with it? Good God, you must be crazy.' "
George McGovern, on the Reagan administration: "... You have to face the fact that people like Jeane Kirkpatrick and Patrick Buchanan and Richard Perle -- to me, the most dangerous psychopaths in the country -- have been calling the shots for the last six years. At one time these people were called right-wing kooks."
Ralph Nader, on his early days as a reformist lawyer in Washington: "I would call up the senatorial offices. And they would say, 'Who are you with?' And I got so tired of this, 'cause always you had to be with someone, you could never just be you ... I was once at an outdoor pay phone, and there was a dog yapping, so when they said, 'Who are you with?' I picked the dog up and said, 'I'm with this dog.' And the dog, right on cue, went 'Arf! Arf!' I heard a click at the other end."
Tom Wolfe: "Do you want to know the truth? Ninety-five percent of the young people in the United States in the Sixties didn't give a damn about Vietnam."
Daniel Ellsberg, on the psychiatric treatment that tempted Nixon's underlings to burglarize his doctor's offices: "Well, I got a lot for my money. The treatment cost me all my savings, but considering what it did to Nixon, it was a bargain."
Hunter S. Thompson, on the '60s: "It enabled me to begin what's turned out to be, like twenty-five years without a job and twenty-three years with no sleep."
Hunter S. Thompson, on the '80s: "I believe that Ed Meese -- being a person without any honor ... should be locked in a large concrete basement with an elk. And the elk should be ram-fed full of acid before he's put in there."
Deadly Sins Revisited When Harper's magazine approached prominent advertising agencies to develop campaigns promoting the seven deadly sins, nine agencies were too skittish to play the game. The seven willing players then were asked to choose their sin, and reportedly all of them picked lust.
Harper's was making the rules, though, so only TBWA Advertising got the chance to compose the slogan: "Any Sin That's Enabled Us to Survive Centuries of War, Death, Pestilence and Famine Can't Be Called Deadly. Lust -- Where Would We Be Without It?"
Among the best responses to this inspired idea (in the "Forum" section of the November issue) are J. Walter Thompson's sloth campaign -- "If the Original Sin Had Been Sloth, We'd Still Be in Paradise" and the Martin Agency's choice of Santa Claus to serve as pitchman for greed. Another good one, NW Ayer's ad for envy, goes like this: "What luck! All the other agencies got the 'plum' deadly sins ... But what do we get stuck with? ENVY! Boy, talk about deadly!"
Beyond the Boys in the Band "The story of American life over the past two decades is often, for better and for worse, the story of the homosexualization of America." So says Frank Rich, New York Times drama critic, in the November Esquire. "The gay and the straight have become so wedded that it's often impossible to figure out which is which. Most people now know that the pretty male waiter wearing earrings may not be gay, while the nice man in pinstripes at the bank could be."
Rich's perspective is forgivably Manhattanocentric, and such phrases as "the homosexualization of America" seem designed to feed Esquire's appetite for grandiose formulations. But the essay that ensues makes fewer claims and more sense.
Beginning with the 1968 Broadway period piece "The Boys in the Band," which featured homosexuals openly but portrayed them as "doomed to barren emotional lives," Rich traces the evolution of their portrayal to mass audiences. In the 1970s, he contends, androgyny became the cutting edge of popular fashion (David Bowie, Mick Jagger, ambidextrous frolicking at Studio 54).
By 1981, homosexuality was prosaic enough to dominate an episode of "Dynasty" and Calvin Klein was selling underwear to yuppies by using homoerotic images. Of "Top Gun," Rich writes, "when gay eroticism is assimilated into the highest grossing, most patriotically pro-Establishment movie of the year, the homosexualization of American culture can be said to have come a long way, baby."
All the way, finally, to AIDS and its most famous casualty, Rock Hudson, once the playboy incarnate. Rich recalls that in the 1959 hit "Pillow Talk," there's a scene in which Hudson tries to trick Doris Day into believing he is gay. "Everything that happened on screen was a lie," Rich contends. "Not only was a homosexual impersonating a heterosexual but the 'heterosexual' was in turn caricaturing a 'homosexual' ..."
A smart enough observation, but when he turns to ponder AIDS itself and its place in his theory, Rich is left mute.