Sting's nose hair. Like a shining beacon in the night, like a hypnotic siren's song lulling you into sweet submission, like the amber waves of grain that line this country's glorious heartland, Sting's nose hair reaches out to you, pulls you in, envelops you.
"Welcome home," the tufts whisper. "Submit yourself to the soul-destroying tyranny of Old-People Music."
Sting's nose hair slyly conducts this gentle mind control from the cover of Tracks, the latest brand-new music rag to stagger into the crowded newsstand fray. But hands off, you foul-mouthed little punk-ass kiddies -- this one's aimed squarely at yer old man. "Music Built to Last," the cover proclaims, meaning that there are no "Joe/Jane Rock Star Saves/Destroys/Regurgitates Rock!" PR absurdities or salacious shots of Jessica Simpson trying to operate a vacuum cleaner.
Tracks has seen the future of rock, and the future of rock is Old-People Music.
"While adults over age 30 make up more than 50 percent of music purchasers in the U.S., there is currently no music magazine dedicated to their tastes and interests," the official Tracks press release sagely notes. "A music magazine for real music fans," adds editor-in-chief Alan Light -- formerly of Vibe and Spin -- in his inaugural editor's note, "meaning fans of real music, looking for something other than what the ultrabright pop outlets are hawking 24/7. Not just the flashy video, the hot remix, the flavor of the moment, but something more substantial."
Let me translate that for you: Norah Jones. The hideously successful jazz chanteuse embodies the Tracks ethos: smooth, inoffensive, sophisticated, old (or at least old-sounding), Grammy-validated and moderately photogenic. Music to get your hair cut by.
Hey, it's a niche. Rolling Stone still jocks the Strokes and chases teen queens around in their underpants. Spin still panders to metrosexual hipsters, Magnet to indier-than-thou record-store zombies, Revolver -- which began life as a Tracks-style classic-rock mag, Jim Morrison leering from its first cover -- to suburban metalheads. It's cooler nowadays to express affinity for the British mags -- Uncut, Q, Mojo -- but they play more to the aging hipster crowd, featuring exhaustive retrospectives on the Clash or the Byrds when they're not fixated on Kylie Minogue's ass.
Tracks, meanwhile, simply zeroes in on the simply aging. So there's professional rock fogy Sting glaring from the cover, jacket collar insouciantly flipped up, with a haggard little beard that makes him look like a Master and Commander extra. In the accompanying Alan Light-penned puff interview, we learn such fascinating tidbits as:
a) For a couple of years there, Sting was really depressed.
b) Sting has houses in Salisbury, London, Tuscany, New York City and Malibu.
c) Sting has planted 100,000 trees.
d) Sting eats little pieces of shit like you for breakfast.
Yes, that last one's made up. There's also the now-standard slate of opinionless CD reviews, featuring the usual rock-crit sacred cows mooning about the usual rock-crit sacred things. Really, now: How much money would you pay to hear Robert Christgau say, "You know, Television's Marquee Moon is overrated wankaphonic guitar-geek crap"? And who filed Edie Brickell in the "rock" section? Paul Simon?
There's also a hideous interview with Robert Plant, praising his "commendably doing-my-own-thang" adventures; a "Ten Best Records You Didn't Hear This Year" rundown that somehow includes overexposed indie darlings the Shins; and an obligatory argument-starting "list" article, this one rattling off the 40 best music DVDs, with no This Is Spin¨al Tap in sight. (Come now.)
Old-People Music aficionados deserve better than this.
Which isn't to say Tracks is valueless -- there's a fine early-years R.E.M. photo album and a splendid why-world-musicians-can't-get-visas screed that manages to avoid getting all Al Franken on our asses. The mag's target audience certainly exists: Miss Norah is the great rock success story of our time, and most of the big-shot arena concerts to hit town this year skewed fogyward -- Simon & Garfunkel, Fleetwood Mac, the Dixie Chicks.
But Tracks suffers thus far from the same quality that infects both its chosen musical style and its youth-obsessed rock-rag competition: a certain watered-down timidity. The Maxim/Blender cabal continues to influence our beloved music magazines, but all we're getting is more cleavage, not more attitude. This mag doesn't have enough of either.
Tracks envisions itself as a mature, sober, humorless read for chin-stroking VH1-watchers who think emo is that annoying red furball on Sesame Street, but after slogging through the first issue, you realize that lovers of Old-People Music deserve the same thing teenyboppers and trendsetters do: attitude, honesty, harshly dealt opinion and a certain flame-throwing flamboyance that most mainstream magazines are too beholden to advertisers to ably deliver. The Sting-and-Norah corner seems like a bizarre place to start the Opinionated Rock Journalism Revolution, but trust us, if yer old man can handle Sting's nose hair, he can handle anything.