Introduction to Our 1000th Issue
By Jann S. Wenner
RS1000/1001: May 18, 2006 - June 1, 2006
At the beginning, we had no idea what we were doing or what the cover was really about. The fact that we had John Lennon on the very first cover was serendipity. We had a publicity photo from his role in the anti-war film How “I Won the War.” That photo, we now realize, speaks so clearly to the paths of culture and politics that came to define Rolling Stone.
In those first few years, we were thinking as much about getting to the printer on time as making a statement. There was no starmaking machinery like we know today, and we certainly weren’t thinking about sales. After a few years, we learned that the newsier, hotter, sexier covers were the key to selling the magazine on newsstands. We then resisted this wisdom for many years.
In 1970, with the arrival of Annie Leibovitz, an art student in San Francisco, the cover of Rolling Stone went from spontaneous to specially crafted. Her fourth cover came after joining me on a trip to New York to do the famous “Lennon Remembers” interviews, and it’s the first cover you’ll see in this issue devoted to our 100 greatest. Lennon early on realized the importance of Rolling Stone, and his participation did much to define the magazine. Without any doubt, hands down, the greatest cover we’ve ever done is Annie’s portrait of John and Yoko taken on the eve of his death. In this issue’s beautiful essay about that photograph, Scott Spencer calls it the Pieta of our times, a brilliant analogy. And last year, the American Society of Magazine Editors named it the best cover on any magazine published in the last forty years. Amen.
In ten years as our chief photographer, Annie shot an astounding 142 covers. Her remarkable body of work continues to influence the art of photography, and what Rolling Stone and its cover have become. Since then, we’ve had the opportunity regularly to work with the greatest photographers of our time. And while our cover has been dominated by photography, we’ve also had the opportunity to work with great illustrators, among them Dr. Hunter S. Thompson’s collaborator Ralph Steadman and Robert Grossman, who’s been drawing Rolling Stone covers from 1972 right up to our last issue, No. 999, “The Worst President in History?”
The covers in this issue were chosen based on aesthetic criteria: the quality of the image, its uniqueness and how forcefully it communicates. On that basis, there are probably another hundred more that could have been included. These were not chosen because they sold the most issues, though some of our all-time best sellers are featured, from Bart Simpson to Elvis. We had plenty of choices. The Beatles, together or individually, have been on our cover more than thirty times; the Rolling Stones, in various configurations, twenty-three. Bob Dylan has appeared thirteen times (note to self: more Dylan!), Bruce Springsteen a dozen, Jimi Hendrix ten, Madonna ten.
To mark 1,000 issues, we wanted to create a cover both extraordinary and celebratory. In searching for ideas, we discovered that technology for 3-D printing had come a long way and had never been used for a magazine cover as ambitious and mass-market as this one. It took two months to manufacture, and more than 2 million were made. “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” which came out in 1967, the same year as Rolling Stone, was an album that changed our world forever. The 3-D idea, and a homage to the Beatles, seemed just right.
If you’re a shrewd reader, you’ll notice the Rolling Stone logo has changed over the years. Rick Griffin, a surfer-illustrator-cartoonist famous for his posters around the San Francisco scene, designed the original. In April 1976, Roger Black, a typographer by training, took over as art director, and our tenth-anniversary cover, in December 1977, marked the end of the hand-drawn version and the initiation of a bolder, smoothed-out typeface. Five years later, at the behest of Mick Jagger - who told me late one night that “you’ve made it too clean” - we added back some elements from the original to create the iconic logo that graces our cover to this day. So thanks, Mick, for the tip.
Covers are also about headlines. Most people’s favorite appeared on a 1981 Jim Morrison cover: HE’S Hot, HE’S Sexy And HE’S Dead. But I’ve always been partial to the cover line that accompanied an unclothed photo of teen idol David Cassidy in 1972: Naked Lunch Box. Fair warning: If you don’t like flesh, go no further - there’s a lot of it draped on these covers. The clothes-free cover is another thing pioneered by John and Yoko when we published the “Two Virgins” picture in 1968. And no discussion of the cover is complete without a shout-out to Dr. Hook’s “The Cover of the Rolling Stone” (written by Shel Silverstein). Every time I hear that song, I get “the thrill that’ll gitcha when you get your pitcha on the cover of the Rolling Stone.”
For me, it’s been a gas reading the stories behind the covers in this issue, shooting the breeze about all the fun we’ve had along the way. In many of the pieces, my name comes up, and I’ve gotten some pretty nice props here, but as many big decisions as I’ve made over the years as the editor of Rolling Stone, the magazine stands, in all of its glory, as a collaborative effort. I want to thank the editors, writers, designers and staffers who have passed through our various doors - from a two-story brick building in San Francisco’s warehouse district to a skyscraper in Manhattan. And also the artists who have, and continue to, collaborate with us, sitting for long interviews and photo shoots in an effort to reveal things true about themselves, their work and our world. They’ve inspired us and given us so many of our values and so much of our joy.
Our mission to deliver “all the news that fits” has taken us from Haight-Ashbury to the Oval Office. You, our readers, have come along for the journey, cheering us on with your love letters and advice. Our subjects have been the architects of their times - presidents and poets, the outsiders and insiders with their shoulders to the wheel and their pictures beneath the logo. Over the years we have devoted ourselves to this task with all the passion, energy and talent that we had to give, and I believe that nobody has done it better.
April 23rd, 2006, New York City