Rolling Stone at 50: A bittersweet legacy

Going behind the scenes at the magazine that shaped and defined generations

Published November 13, 2017 6:59PM (EST)

 (Getty/Duane Prokop)
(Getty/Duane Prokop)

Intentional or not, the title of the new documentary, “Rolling Stone: Stories from the Edge,” which is now airing on HBO, references a central tension that simmered between the lines throughout the 50-year history of the magazine that has been at the forefront of American music, culture and political coverage.

Co-founder and editor Jann Wenner’s magazine started on the fringes but as it grew in popularity and prowess, that edginess increasingly inched toward the center and, for some, became dull at times.

“Rolling Stone: Stories from the Edge” doesn’t shy away from that tension and in fact digs deep into it, but the film, which was coproduced by the magazine and directed by Oscar winner Alex Gibney ("Taxi to the Dark Side"), and Blair Foster, is primarily a celebration, not just of the publication but also of its subjects. Foster and Gibney sat down with me on "Salon Talks" recently to talk about how they developed a film on the cultural force that shaped music, politics and pop culture.

“It’s not a history of the magazine,” Foster says. “It’s a history of the last 50 years through the eyes of the magazine and that’s what was driving the project at all times.”

Foster and Gibney spoke about how they culled a massive trove of material. “We knew there were some stories we had to tell,” Gibney said. “And also this tension in the magazine between becoming a part of the publishing establishment.”

Those must-cover subjects include the magazine’s close coverage of Bruce Springsteen, John Lennon and several presidential political campaigns, as well as its disastrous story about rape at the University of Virginia, which damaged the magazine’s reputation when it was revealed to be largely false, thanks to an unreliable source. Speaking of dents to the magazine’s reputation, Wenner was accused last week of promising writing assignment rewards for sex 12 years ago.

Watch the video above to find out why Gibney acknowledges that this 50th anniversary tribute comes at “a bitter sweet moment,” when the magazine is being sold and after its clearly progressive political slant has been trounced by the ascendency of Donald Trump.

And, watch the  full "Salon Talks" conversation on Facebook to hear more about the writers behind the stories that played a huge role in shaping the publication.

Tune in to SalonTV's live shows, "Salon Talks" and "Salon Stage," daily at noon ET / 9 a.m. PT and 4 p.m. ET / 1 p.m. PT, streaming live on Salon and on Facebook.

By Tom Roston

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