The Editors of US Magazine
Rolling Stone Press
The generation gap, it seems, is shrinking. A little, not only in mathematical terms but in theoretical terms. What little we have in common is represented only in tradition. Whether it’s jazz music, existentialist literature, or professional wrestling, the spotlight is generally thrown most brightest on those rare few who can take the style, the technique, the awe-inspiring perfection of craft, and run it through with a modern sensibility, like Charlie Christian chords played through a Nels Cline foot pedal. The result is, at its best, flawless, and in some rarer cases is absolutely essential to grasping the heart of its era.
Odds are you won’t find many people saying these things about US magazine. They’ve always been a solid but unspectacular publication, something we’ve come to depend on for a few pictures per months of really cool and glamorous celebrities, doted upon with the kind of fanatic Nazi zeal that you wonder if these “journalists” are there to write a story or bathe the subject’s feet. The two eventually, inevitably, become indistinguishable, and ultimately you start trying to guess the author’s commission. This is the dark side of celebrity journalism, this side that faces the sun and the flashbulbs. But we like that side, because so-called “real” journalism is so goddamn boring. Okay, what? Saddam Hussein is threatening to throw the U.N. inspectors out? Again? Clinton’s having a sex/influence/campaign finance scandal, what, again? Another deposition? A basketball player got arrested, again? And finally, no one cares anymore, besides the pundists and the hacks who cover this shit, and the rest of us are watching Titanic. And so we like US magazine’s brand of journalism. Big smiles and little words.
They aren’t the only culprits, but we mention them because this is about their new book. It’s about Winona Ryder, who does have that timeless quality I talked about earlier. This is definitely the best production to date by the US people. They’ve made several coffee-table books in the past few years, most of which no one can remember the name of — Men Before Ten, I think, was one of them. Good-looking up-and-coming early-rising gen-x studs doing their morning rituals. Ideal for the female masturbation crowd, but a failure in theory and practice. And then there was the other book, the one with Drew Barrymore on the cover, wearing boxing gloves. A Barnes and Noble staple, these books, and yet I am inclined to believe that the only people who buy these books or the magazines are the celebrities featured in them. They use them in their press kits. We look through it at the bookstore or the newsstand, but almost never buy one unless there’s someone on the cover you really like.
So you say, anyways. We all have our guilty pleasures, and often they are the same. For example, I bought the much-debated Courtney Love issue, sight unseen, because I knew that, however extreme the dearth of usable information, I can count on a couple of cool pictures of “the New Courtney,” a frequent topic of discussion among those who have no nothing better to do with their time. And then I bought the Winona Ryder issue (which came out shortly before the book), which was hyped in the magazine — indeed, the same thing done by Rolling Stone for its Women in Rock issue and book (and hopefully they’ll have the Breeders and the Slits in the book, get me a freebie and I’ll find out). which is fine. US has its place, a place that few of us will confess to… book bags and glove-compartments, to be read in seclusion. You can’t admit it. Ethan Hawke et al have contributed to fund mind-controlling propaganda that glorifies their names and images, and you bought it! Yes, and so did I. But it’s cool, because Winona Ryder is an excellent book, and worth every cent.
Journalism at its most stripped-down and elemental is craven idolatry and rah-rahs for arbitrary ethics. It’s a swirling vortex of hype and chatter. We’ve gone from “give me Liberty or give me Death!” to “Nipples are out — and it’s in for 1998!” As Hunter Thompson once said, a photograph of the top ten journalists in America at any given moment is a monument to human ugliness. And ugly people aren’t welcome in showbiz, unless they’re character actors. I don’t know. For all their sins, I’ve never really considered US to be complicit. And neither do they. They consider it part of their mission “to get closer.” Real close. I guess Winona Ryder isn’t ticklish.
But one thing you can say for them is that they take a lot of care in creating their product. It’s very well put-together, with tons of Winona-themed quotes to segue between the text, which consists largely of previously published reviews and articles from US and Rolling Stone, all pertaining to the best and most adored actress of her generation. She is an icon, the cruiser-weight champ, a thespian Rey Misterio, Jr. Yes, perhaps her dramatic acrobatics seem like more than they are because of the lack of really good actors within her age group, but consider the ease with which she goes from co-star to co-star, never losing her poise or dropping her end, no matter how good or how inept her colleagues. She’s a good worker, as they say, and she’s really over in the public consciousness. She was almost able to make Dave Pirner of Soul Asylum look presentable to the President, despite the fact that he looks like a hillbilly acid freak. She did this through sheer force of personality, with an effortless persuasiveness that has won her awards and earned her millions of dollars over a career that, out of nowhere, is in it’s second decade. The US/Rolling Stone machine contains probably the strongest group of writers in that genre, and they let their top gun, David Wild, write the introduction. Wild is emblematic of the company style: amiable but extremely sharp on whatever subject he’s tackling (his television column in RS is probably the best one in America). His “I Know You Ryder” reads like a valentine, like something Truman Capote could have written about Audrey Hepburn thirty years ago. Peter Travers provides a very thorough filmography, to bookend the affair. Each of her major movies is documented as it was when it happened.
Over the course of the book, one thing that becomes evident is that her career has progressed almost exactly as she planned it. Her control, her mastery is so complete, that the earth and its people are rendered spectators as Ryder goes along and does whatever she feels like doing, and does it better than most.