Whatever happened to the magazines we had loved?


The columnist regards Rolling Stone as one of his ‘two all-time unmissable magazines’ – the other one is Vanity Fair. — AFP photo

FOR many of us growing up in the 1950s and 1960s, there were very few sources of recreation, pastimes, hobbies and interests to occupy our leisure hours after we were done with school, studies, extra-curricular activities and homework.

Most of the time, we would have to help out in the housework – I could only speak for myself, but it would usually involve tidying up one’s own room, making up one’s bed as well as cleaning up after using the conveniences of bathroom, toilet, kitchen and dining room and obviously, helping with sweeping and vacuuming the living spaces of hall, living and recreational areas.

We had kept pets too – dogs, cats, aquarium and pond fishes, and extensive gardens with plants, fruit trees and even potted flowers and orchids.

So you would have a pretty good idea that there would not be much free personal ‘me time’ left after all these chores!

During my own free time after all the homework and extra study were all done with, my teenage years’ hobbies would include listening to my records and the radio, reading books and magazines, and taking in the occasional movies in the cinemas (there were not any television until after 1964, and colour television only after 1979).

I was an avid and voracious reader – I would read anything I could get my hands on, even sales brochures, catalogues and handbooks and manuals of any kind. I was one of those who would devour the magazines left on displays at doctors and dentists clinics and waiting rooms everywhere.

I was fortunate to also have uncles and aunties who would pass me hand-me-down books and magazines after they had finished with them.

I would spend my pocket money (or my own hard-earned money, as I had by age 17 started having my own income by writing a regular weekly column for a local English broadsheet ‘The Vanguard’, which was run by the Leong family, of whom Desmond was my editor – we have remained good friends, 56 years on) on magazines, of subjects that I loved reading about – news on the entertainment front of music, movies and books of all kinds.

Adult topics was fast becoming our prime interest among my close circle of teenage boys too, and by the time we hit puberty at 13, we had already got our hands on our first copies of Hugh Hefner’s ‘Playboy’ magazine, as well as what was then termed ‘yellow literature’ of Beeline adult fiction books and a well-worn copy of DH Lawrence’s ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’.

We had quickly discovered that magazines were the preferred medium, as there was the double attraction of short titillating stories coupled with beautifully photographed shots of heavenly bodies!

It proved to be extra bonuses for us that certain parts of such magazines, for example the ‘Playboy Forum’, and the regular Interview sections were such great reads as well – prime fodder for the brain as well as the other more erogenous parts!

Mr Hefner was proving very educational to our absorbent minds!

Prior to the launch of Bob Guccione’s ‘Penthouse’ magazine in March 1965, all the adult magazines of the period were pretty mild and tame.

Only with Penthouse had come along much racier content and the end of the air-brushed photographs of the models’ ‘appearances’, which had meant a complete demystification of the female nude form!

It was the start of the boom years of the adult magazine revolution that was to last till the advent of the Internet, which would eventually lead to the doom and disaster of the publishing industry as a whole.

We have had more than five decades of the boom years of the magazine and publishing industry. I can personally look back and count on my fingers and roll off my tongue the names of the magazines that I have read, loved and treasured from around the late 1950s till their death knell in the 2010s.

Which are the ones I had loved the most? The ones I had probably spent so much money on over the years that I could easily use all that loot to trade in my current Kia for a better saloon car today with the savings!

Over this past half-century, which were the magazines that I had enjoyed most, the ones I had looked forward to with unabated delight every single month to hold in my hands, sit back, relax and read them from cover to cover?

My two all-time unmissable magazines have to be ‘Rolling Stone’ and ‘Vanity Fair’; both primarily focused heavily on celebrity culture, the popular arts of movies, music and publishing with fashion – and politics thrown in for good measure. They tend to be more high-brow and snotty, yet can be both trashy and very pulpish when they need to be.

The only thing they were not was boring.

The best years – the prime time for Rolling Stone was when original founder and editor Jann Wenner was at the helm. Similarly for Vanity Fair was when Tina Brown and her successor Graydon Carter were editors.

Both magazines have now seen better days and to be frank, these days I seldom pick up a copy.

With Rolling Stone, I would read every single film and record review – I would have my favourite reviewers whose critiques would motivate me to go watch or buy their recommendations.

Their feature articles would be great in-depth reporting, which would usually posit both points of views especially when it came to either a controversial topic or a prominent personality.

Vanity Fair itself is ‘The Glossy Magazine of the A-listers, In-Crowd, Beautiful People and Fashionistas and High-Flying Adoreds of the World’! To be on its cover and to be mentioned inside the magazine (even if it was bad gossip) was the ‘ultimate’ name-dropping for the wannabes and the ‘arriveds’ in the big wide world of celebrity culture.

But at least their contributors write well, they attract and manage to keep the best writers, influencers and ‘big names of publishing’ and amidst the new world of the Internet, they have managed to still hold on to their cult status, which says something about their aura and stamina.

I cannot hold back and miss out the ‘naughty bits’ and have to also list down those ‘unmentionable’ magazines which, over the years, gave this growing young man so many rewarding hours poring through its glossy pages, absorbed in the wonder of the photographers’ skills in staging such provocative angles with shots that had challenged their models’ agility and feminine wiles – and at the same time, reading about well-conducted interviews of famous writers and celebrities as well as gleaning new knowledge on how to tell the differences between certain wines, spirits and cheeses and also following news of politics and other trends from Europe and America.

Yes – all these and more, we were able to read from issues of magazines with titles like ‘Playboy’, ‘Penthouse’, ‘Mayfair’, ‘Men Only’, ‘Forum’, ‘Sexology’ and ‘Psychology’.

Cheap they were not, contraband they mostly were.

For specialist subjects like records, music and equipment I had loved ‘New Musical Express’ (NME), ‘Melody Maker’, ‘Pop Weekly’, ‘Uncut’, ‘Stereo Review’ and ‘Elvis Monthly’.

For films, they were ‘Photoplay’, ‘Premiere’, ‘Empire’ and ‘Sight & Sound’.

In the 1980s, I used to regularly buy ‘Cosmopolitan’ for my wife, and would randomly browse through articles in them.

Yes, I am a feminist!

The greatest difference between books and magazines is their durability and their ‘collectivity’.

Of course, we cannot all be like that British magazine collector in England whose collection of magazines (50 years’ worth of mostly adult mags) was up for auction recently and a value of 40,000 pounds sterling (equivalent to RM223,000) was estimated by the auctioneers!

As for me, a reader and collector and someone who had loved and enjoyed reading all my life – just for the sheer love for information, all that money I had expensed over the past 60 years were funds that I believed to have been well spent and was worth it all.

A lot of it was just for pure entertainment value; most of it was educational and informative and in return, what was gained was a wealth of knowledge, some wisdom and a lot of instruction which, over time and money plus thousands of enjoyable hours, had reaped.

And if given the same chance and opportunity now, I would do it all over again!

I would like to conclude with this famous quote on reading: “A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. The man who never reads only one.”

Happy reading everyone!