Stairiker: SPIN magazine makes final rotation in print

Columnist Kevin Stairiker looks at the fall of SPIN magazine.

Kevin Stairiker

Kevin StairikerI had already gotten used to the schedule: every couple of months, I would go home and find a strange looking magazine on the kitchen table waiting for me. It was larger than most magazines and the paper quality was unusually good. I assumed it was to make up for the lack of substance in the stories rather than to appeal to a quickly vanishing readership. Regardless, I arrived home to find a very tan and pissed off-looking image of Sean Penn on the table awaiting my curiosity. The strange photo graced the latest edition of Esquire, and inside the plastic packaging was a “Dear Subscriber” letter.

Contained within was a very clear and concise explanation that SPIN magazine’s October issue, the one with a nautically-themed Azealia Banks on the cover, was the last issue and henceforth SPIN would be an online-only entity. I expected to be at least a little bit disappointed, but I remained unmoved. The magazine’s legacy arguably diminished bit-by-bit during its 27 years, but for a time, SPIN was the most readily accessible gateway into important music of almost every make and model.

Of course, I am terribly biased. When I was younger and slightly more impressionable than I am now, all I wanted to do was write for SPIN. I held a singular focus on the idea of being selected to work at what was once a sizably established institution built up to write about music. It wasn’t Rolling Stone, held together by long-dead ideals and dad rock. It was the next best thing.

The “Almost Famous” dream of being young and writing about the bands I loved appeared totally plausible because of the sheer amount of publications that existed solely, in my mind alone, to back up that idea. I, like SPIN and the rest of traditional publications, could never have predicted the number of music blogs that would sprout up in the years that followed. SPIN has a website, of course, but even that is no match for the Pitchforks and Stereogums of the Internet.

That is not even to account for the thousands of smaller music blogs run by individuals, each a single blade of grass growing rapidly on the grave of print music magazines like SPIN and Paste. Whether that death is a good thing or not is still being decided, but for now, this is where we are.

Amongst music publications, SPIN tried valiantly to hit the sweet spot of musical omnivorousness. It never steeped itself in bands too little-known or overrated so that any person buying a copy off of a newsstand — when those were real live things — would at least know something and not be completely turned off. Unfortunately, appealing to everyone is impossible, so SPIN can be partially forgiven for pimping bands like Everclear and Mötley Crüe during its run.

My favorite thing about SPIN was that every page was a different invitation to become enamored with another band or artist. Acts like TV On The Radio, Kid Cudi and Janelle Monae were totally foreign concepts to this columnist before reading about them in SPIN once upon a time.

The heyday of the magazine was the 1990s, at the time when “rock music” was being redefined by upstarts like little-known three-piece Nirvana. Flipping through the covers from that time period, it’s clear that SPIN found its niche quickly, profiling Stone Temple Pilots, Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins and Pearl Jam all in a row at the end of 1993. After grunge died in the greenhouse, SPIN struggled to redefine its identity and began a trend of latching on to whatever mid-level artist with credibility could help sell magazines each passing month.

“I arrived home to find a very tan and pissed off –looking image of Sean Penn on the table awaiting my curiosity.”

The end of SPIN is not the end of the world, but it is surely the end of some sort of era. While I am not old enough to have enjoyed the magazine in its prime, all of SPIN’s archives from 1985-2012 are up for free browsing on Google Books.

Paging through them is sort of like being on the least exciting or important archeological dig that can be imagined. It’s a valuable resource for looking back at the beginning issues of the magazine when people like the Beastie Boys or Talking Heads were on the cover hawking new strange music that hadn’t been heard before and there were no less than five cigarette ads between the two covers.

So raise your glass — or newspaper — to SPIN magazine. It was always spectacularly imperfect by design, but it tried hard enough for so long that it can’t be looked at as anything but a successful experiment, and one that will probably never occur again.

Six People/Groups Putting Out Albums This Year That Will Probably Be Great:
  • David Bowie
  • Justin Timberlake
  • Yeah Yeah Yeahs
  • A$AP Rocky
  • Queens of the Stone Age
  • The Knife

Kevin Stairiker can be reached at

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