Friday, October 11, 2002


by Wayne Robins

Playboy dumbs down? No, stop, you're kidding me! But I've been an intermittent reader since my dad began subscribing in 1959. The first naked female butt I ever saw was that of Brigitte Bardot in a Playboy pictorial: Talk about being spoiled. But from that time and through the 1960's, one could say without defensiveness or sarcasm that one read Playboy for the articles and interviews, even the jokes and comics. The pictures were a bonus. My aging curve could be plotted by noting that 1960's Playmate Janet Pilgrim was once (and for many years) my quintessential older woman; now the artificially-endowed girls appear to me partly as clean-cut kiddie porn, partly like seeing snapshots of someone's really cute children or grandchildren.

For decades, it seems, the music page of Playboy was the biggest waste of brainpower since Lyndon Johnson's cabinet meetings on Vietnam. You had top writers--Bob Christgau, Dave Marsh, Nelson George and a few others--writing one and two sentence "reviews" with none of their individual style or critical rigor--for what must have been astronomical per-word payouts.

The last few months have seen some new names on the music pages, and a cross-check with the magazine's masthead reveals that these are people with other jobs on the magazine. Bylines in the November 2002 issue (with Kristy Swanson, the original Buffy, in the buff) are Anaheed Alani, Jason Buhrmester, Leopold Froehlich, Tim Mohr and Alison Prato. They are listed on the masthead, as, respectively, assistant copy editor, associate editor, assistant managing editor, junior editor and associate editor.

I'm sure these people are quite capable, perhaps even outstanding at their day jobs at Playboy, though their music writing reflects the disdain shown by too many publishers these days: That it's something that any kid (under 30) can toss off. That my be true, but few toss it off with much sensibility or style, and the Playboy Five have none. "If you buy only one rock release this year, make it this one," Prato gushes over Queens of the Stone Age. Buhrmester seems fixated on rock's stone age, as he makes facetious yet apparently serious comparisons to "the lean style of the early Stones" in a review of Spoon, and claims that Bright Eyes' Conor Oberst is "moving past adolescent rage and into Dylanesque verse." Mohr on Ladytron: "The Bulgarian babe on vocals doesn't hurt, either."

It's Buhrmester, associate editor in the modern living section, who hits bottom. Here is his entire review of "The Rising": "Bruce Springsteen's new CD was worth the wait. The Boss is in a dark mood, but he's made a strong collection of gritty songs." Only the most rank amateur still refers to Springsteen as "The Boss." And why is "The Boss" in a dark mood? Might've had something to do with nearly 3,000 people murdered by suicidal savages on 9/11/01. But it also could be because he broke a guitar string: Buhrmester doesn't say. And "a strong collection of gritty songs" is a double non sequitur. Google's news spider and robot headline writer could've come up with more compelling prose. It's the kind of writing one used to do in junior high school, when one didn't do one's homework, had no clue about the content of the topic being written about, so one tried to fake it with the vaguest generalizations that could apply to anything.

(c) 2002 by Wayne Robins. All rights reserved. Comments:

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