Now that Rolling Stone is celebrating three decades on the newsstand, which magazine will step up to be the R.S. for those who don't trust publications over 30?
For nearly a decade, Details has been trying to tap the young adult market, with mixed results. Earlier this year the unisex glossy was dressed up like a Cosmo for men, its cover announcing sex tips inside and an all-time low newsstand price of $1.
The November issue, however, marks the magazine's quick turnaround: It's a vision of Details' early-'90s glory years wrapped in a smart design. The layout is intimate and almost integrated with advertising--prompting some critics to charge that the magazine is publishing "advertorial" copy. But the new organization seems to work. The music section has been pushed upfront, and the juicy features are back (this issue recounts the tale of a young Texas cop who tried to put a contract out on Dallas Cowboys receiver Michael Irvin).
After months of downtown Manhattan attitude (snooty irony that may not play in Peoria), Details seems closer to its bread and butter--music writing and reportage on youth culture.
Like Vanity Fair--which was rocked by the loss of editor Tina Brown but now is back on top--Details seems finally to have recovered from the flight several years ago of James Truman, one of its founding editors who become editorial director of parent company Conde Nast. Details has a new editor, Michael J. Caruso, a reorganized masthead and several new contributors. Maybe now it will live up to its calling, to become the glossy of a new generation.
The November issue of Vanity Fair profiles a generation of world leaders--shining bright on the newsstand with an Annie Leibovitz photograph of President Clinton and Vice President Al Gore. The magazine itself is in top form, perhaps better than ever.
There's a sympathetic Elton John profile by Leslie Bennetts that makes readers want to hug the man who co-wrote and performed the best-selling single of all time, "Candle in the Wind '97." Former Los Angeles magazine Editor Robert Sam Anson spins a fascinating tale of Seymour Hersh's sometimes quixotic attempts to dig up the ultimate dirt on the Kennedys. And Edward Klein writes about the family battles over the $3-billion fortune of 12-year-old Athina Onassis Roussel, heir to the Onassis shipping empire. With Graydon Carter in the editor's chair, who needs Tina Brown?
Actually, Brown is busy making some waves of her own as editor of the New Yorker, whose combined Oct. 20 and 27 issue explores the future and our obsession with the millennium. As always, the magazine is chock-full of great writing and good reads, including pieces on new directions in law enforcement and "the return of Karl Marx" (John Cassidy writes that comrade Karl had wise thoughts when it came to the downside of capitalism and a go-go world in which corporations rule).
San Francisco finally has a namesake magazine, introduced in October and subtitled Focus on the Bay Area. It has evolved from San Francisco Focus magazine, with a new emphasis on Bay Area leaders, celebrities and thinkers, new ideas, style, culture and food. The maiden issue leads with a cover story on the mysterious death of millionaire heiress Margaret Lesher. In a world glutted with tourism-oriented city magazines, this one's a refreshingly intelligent glossy.
San Francisco, in fact, is a mecca for good magazines. SOMA (Left Coast Culture) is a preciously designed glossy that aspires to be to the West Coast what Paper magazine is to New York. Named for San Francisco's mecca of hip, the area south of Market Street, SOMA has a mature, sober vibe to its pages--the feeling of stepping into an art gallery and not wanting to touch anything. Stories focus on pop culture (October's issue includes a feature on "Temp Anarchy! Guerrilla Warfare in the American Workplace"), although the magazine's forte appears to be world-class fashion layouts.
Farther south, Surfer magazine has been excellent under the helm of editor Steve Hawk, a journalist by profession who happens to be an excellent surfer (he challenged the man-eating waves of Pillar Point in Half Moon Bay last winter). Perhaps the magazine doesn't get its proper respect because it's a magazine about, well, surfing. But Surfer examines the surfer's life like no other publication, exploring the culture, politics and aesthetics of this sport of kings.
The January issue (issues are dated months ahead as a result of competition with other magazines to be first) features a debate between environmentalist Donna Frye and Republican Rep. Brian Bilbray, both of San Diego. Frye examines the surfing politician's House voting record and accuses him of neglecting the coastline. There also is a fascinating travel story about surfing the "world's longest wave"--a tidal swell that charges up the Amazon River every full moon.
* D. James Romero will survey magazines every four weeks. Next week: book reviews by Times readers.