Rock Scene, whose tagline evolved over time from “Alternative to the Alternatives” to “Rock Glamour World,” was published monthly from March 1973 (David Bowie, Alice Cooper, Rod Stewart, Van Morrison and T-Rex’s Marc Bolan on the cover), to January 1982 (featuring the Proto-New Wave British Invasion of U2, the Jam, XTC, the Specials, Phil Collins, and unrelated but naturally angelic pictures of Debbie Harry). It was — not to be over-dramatic — a very important brick in the wall of rock ’n’ roll music. And now all 54 issues are available for viewing online, thanks to fan and collector Ryan Richardson.
The magazine began with lofty goals: editor Richard Robinson wrote in issue #2 (Roxy Music, Bette Midler, and ‘rock electronics’ on the cover): “There have been so many barriers, so much intolerance built-up by the people who listen to the music over the past few years. Some folks are busy putting down one form of music to hold up another. Others have put themselves in the position where they think that to be hip about the music means to be negative about the music … The constant sense that successful music that you don’t like is somehow a threat to what you do like.” That’s rather how Rock Scene went about things — with an air of egalitarianism (one subscription ad promised “No opinionated blitherings!”), always partying, always on-the-scene. After a couple years, around issue #24, they switched to a format of almost all photographs from legendary photographer Bob Gruen, pictures that became instrumental in the formation of the rock myth. It suited them better anyways; you get the sense that they really just wanted to go to shows and party their asses off.
A read through the magazine’s run reveals the editors’ insatiable appetite for: Aerosmith, Bryan Ferry, KISS, David Bowie, Patti Smith and her Band (their guitarist was Rock Scene Associate Editor Lenny Kaye), Alice Cooper, Peter Gabriel, the Rolling Stones, Debbie Harry, the Ramones, Iggy Pop. Most of these groups were never more than a month away from a photo spread or a profile: “Robert Plant reads his mail,” “Rolling Stones love lunch,” “The Ramones in Vegas.” Their music coverage was comprehensive, yet uncritical.
Rock Scene got weird, or at least it got weird in retrospect. Exclamatory, glamorous spreads of the Dead Boys are an unsettling experience for anyone who grew up listening to “Sonic Reducer,” and seeing Brian Eno posing in full regalia in front of a McDonald’s will likely burn your eyeballs for hours. Weirdness became the point, though, as Rock Scene shifted its focus from editorial to purely visual rock collages. Richard Robinson and Lenny Kaye put it best, in their final editorial from issue #51:
“There is certainly no perfection here, most especially in our stress on the Photo rather than the Word, but in a sense, we think of Rock Scene not just for today, but for ten years after, a record of people and places that will never be juxtaposed in just this way again. A scrapbook, if you prefer, marking our fads and foibles, the one-hit wonders pressed up against those who endure. The clubs, the groups, the faces that fade or survive. And one of those survivors is Rock Scene.”
Check out some covers and issues of Rock Scene:
Thanks to Ryan Richardson, who provided the cover images and maintains the Rock Scene archives.