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Rolling Stone magazine celebrates its 40th anniversary

Jim Farber
New York Daily News (MCT)

The echoes of the boomer generation reached a new crescendo Friday as Rolling Stone published an issue celebrating 40 loud years of life.

So long a run surprises no one more than owner/founder Jann Wenner. "I had no vision for what the magazine would become," he says. "It was just a slow build."

The climb began back on Nov. 9, 1967, with an issue that splashed John Lennon on its cover. Other magazines had tried to nail the sounds and sights of the boomer generation's rise to power before, including Crawdaddy, which preceded Rolling Stone in the marketplace by more than a year. But only Wenner's publication found the right tone and image for the era.

Everything from Annie Leibovitz's iconic photographs to the probing writings of critics like Paul Nelson and Greil Marcus reflected the shifting values of the emerging culture. As staid and established as the magazine has become since it moved from San Francisco to New York at the end of the `70s, before that it glided on pop culture's cutting edge with unerring grace.

Early on, Rolling Stone became what Wenner calls "a tribal telegraph. We were the ones covering one of the biggest stories of the 20th century - the baby boomers and the emergence of rock `n' roll and technology - from the inside. We were it."

If the magazine is no longer quite "it" - as no print magazine can be in the age of the Internet - Rolling Stone has still managed to shake off enough of the moss of time to remain culturally on-point and commercially potent. According to Wenner, that's because "popular culture is ever-changing and renewing. So long as you cover the beat, it's going to continue to be fresh."

Yet to mark the mag's anniversary, there's enough looking back to give some readers whiplash. The new issue, titled "Where We've Been," offers new interviews with all the biggest rock war-horses of the `60s and `70s, from Dylan to Paul McCartney to Mick Jagger. Wenner argues "these artists are still putting out some of their best work. Dylan just put out a brilliant album, and the Stones are still the world's best performing act."

Come this summer, Rolling Stone will offer more rear-view ruminations, starting with a second anniversary issue that commemorates 40 years since the Summer of Love. A DVD box set arrives in September, featuring the first digital archive of everything ever published in the magazine. That will be chased on Nov. 2 by a third anniversary issue that looks to the future to examine "Where We're Going."

If Rolling Stone has to remain committed to the future of pop to retain its audience, Wenner isn't self-conscious about declaring the boomers as the defining influence, and reference point, for everything that happens today. "The changes (this generation) made to society are permanent," he says, "even if there are some reversals during the Bush administration."

As a result, Wenner says, certain core aspects of the magazine's philosophy will never change. "We have a sensibility that stands," he says. "We have very liberal politics, in terms of social justice and sexual freedom and the idea that peace is better than war."

"Peace and love," he says. "What's wrong with that?"

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