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Rolling Stone USA - April 16, 2018

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RAE SREMMURD | NATHANIEL RATELIFF | JARED LETO
Issue 1311/1312
April 19-May 3, 2018
HOW RUSSIA
INFILTRATED
THE NRA
SPECIAL REPORT
THE
FACEBOOK
MENACE
A Hard Look at
Zuckerberg's
Dangerous Empire
BY MATT TAIBBI
DWAYNE'S
WORLD
The Pain and Passion
That Fuel the Rock
distilled cooler
for a smoother,
cleaner taste
DIFFERENT
BY DESIGN
RS1311/1312
“All the
News
That Fits”
“I always knew
I had a strong
voice,” says
Nathaniel Ratelif.
“Now what I’m
doing is really
me.” Page 38
F E AT UR E S
26
38
11
18
Russia and the NRA
Nathaniel Rateliff
Rae Sremmurd
Inside the Russian campaign
to infiltrate the gun lobby
and help elect Trump.
The long, booze-soaked road
of a bar-band hero.
After going quadrupleplatinum, the Black Beatles
wrecked a Ferrari, bought
pet monkeys and made a
wild triple album.
Robert Grossman,
1940-2018
By Tim Dickinson
32
JAMES MINCHIN III
RO CK & ROL L
Dwayne Johnson
By David Fricke
42
Facebook Menace
The pain and the passion
that fuel Hollywood’s most
dependable good guy.
The social media giant has
swallowed the free press,
become a spying operation
and undermined democracy.
By Josh Eells
By Matt Taibbi
A p r i l 1 9 -M a y 3 , 2 018
The legendary Rolling
Stone illustrator had one
goal during his half-century
career: to ridicule everyone.
ON THE COVER Dwayne Johnson
photographed in Simi Valley,
California, March 9th, by Mark Seliger.
Grooming by Rachel Solow. Makeup by Merc
Arceneaux. Styling by Ilaria Urbinati at the
Wall Group. Shirt by Wrangler. Jeans by Levi’s.
DEPA R T MEN TS
Letters ........6
Playlist ........8
RollingStone.com
Records .....51
Movies ...... 54
| R ol l i n g S t o n e |
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CULTURE
MUSIC
THE BLADES
OF GLORY
YOUR 4/20
USER’S MANUAL
COACHELLA
WITH BEY
In our New Classics series, we
talk to Olympic skater Adam
Rippon about how he’s using
his newfound fame.
From a Cheech and Chong
interview to an exhaustive map
of U.S. weed laws – here’s your
guide for observing April 20th.
We venture out to the annual
desert party for a report on
the first full Beyoncé show
since 2016, and more.
POLITICS
ROLLING STONE MUSIC NOW
PODCAST: DEREK SMALLS
MATT TAIBBI
The Spinal Tap bassist recently joined host
Brian Hiatt to discuss exploding drummers, the
band’s breakup, Brexit, erectile dysfunction
and much more. Rolling Stone Music Now airs
live on SiriusXM’s Volume channel Fridays
at 1 p.m. ET. Download and subscribe on
iTunes or your podcast provider.
CULTURE
ALL THIS AND MORE AT
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ROB SHEFFIELD
RollingStone.com/sheffield
MOVIES
PETER TRAVERS
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ROCK & ROLL
DAVID FRICKE
RollingStone.com/fricke
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SPORTS
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ORIGINAL SOUNDTRACK – AVAILABLE APRIL 6 FROM RCA / LEGACY RECORDINGS
Correspondence
Climate Catastrophe
In RS 1308, Jef Goodell examined how extreme weather
conditions and rising sea levels could continue to displace
millions of Americans and reshape the country [“American Exodus”]. Readers responded.
t h i s i s a b i pa r t i s a n
issue, and it needs solutions
that transcend politics. Solutions are out there; a carbon fee and dividend is one
of them. But we have to ask
for it, and support it, and be
willing to change how
we think about powering our world, or we’ll
be forced to change our
definition of livable.
Wakanda Forever
i h av e t o won de r how
many hearts beat faster when
readers first saw this cover featuring Chadwick Boseman
[“The Black Panther Revolution,” RS 1308]. What an exquisitely beautiful man.
Christine Vidovich
San Pedro, CA
Coreen Steinbach
Pompey, N Y
ch a dw ick bose m a n is
well-learned and studied. I
greatly appreciate his contribution to our culture. What he
brought to Black Panther has
been nothing but transformative to African people around
the globe.
Taalib Saber
Greenbelt, MD
with “fruitvale station”
and now the massive success of
Black Panther, Ryan Coogler is
showing everyone why he is one
of the best young directors in
Hollywood. He has a very bright
future ahead of him.
Jeff Swanson
Everett, WA
“bl ack pa n ther” w ill be
the Star Wars for today’s black
youth. They’ll want to explore,
play and inhabit the world of
Wakanda, soaking up every bit
of the culture they can squeeze
out of magazines, comics, the
movie and more.
Mark Langston
Via the Internet
6 | R ol l i n g S t o n e |
r ather th a n a rgue
about cause-and-effect, we
should concentrate on limiting population growth and
developing lifestyles powered
by clean energy. I hope future
generations can maintain a
Love Letters
& Advice
that’s different [“The Weird and
Wild Crusade for Clean Pot,” RS
1308]. We need to end the prohibition of marijuana in the United States, the sooner the better.
We are eagerly awaiting the
arrival of clean cannabis tested
by accredited laboratories.
Matthew Abel
Via the Internet
after 40 years of growing cannabis 100 percent organically, I’ve learned it takes
the legalization of marijuana
to get people concerned about
the pesticides that growers have
been using. The marketplace
still doesn’t care about being
poisoned so long as the product is marketed with the latest
brand name.
Greenfarmer
Via the Internet
w ith the onset of
climate change, we
blame industry and governments. Yet it’s the ever-growing masses who are
clamoring for more while
f locking to metropolitan
areas that are already overcrowded and dealing with
failing infrastructures. The
bottom line is that people
are the problem. We have two
polar-opposite groups who
won’t give up any ground.
neither democr ats nor
Republicans are willing to
take heat for controls on excess consumption that would
reverse emissions. Democracy is the worst model to tackle this crisis.
Still Rockin’, via the Internet
Rapha, via the Internet
quality of life that makes the
struggle worthwhile.
Dan Creamer
Sandpoint, ID
Long Live Logic
i must give logic credit
for caring about people who are
suffering, and not getting into
discussions about the current
president [Q&A, RS 1308]. It
is refreshing to hear a performer talking about his connection
with fans, and not spewing love
or hate for politicians.
Mitch
Via the Internet
In Funk We Trust
Bad Reception
m usic shou l d be a bou t
freedom of expression, and
sharing the message and the
experience with friends [“Artists to Fans: Lose the Phones!”
RS 1308]. So many people are
thrilled to see videos of concerts I attend, especially when
the artist will never perform
in their country. Just know the
venue, know what’s appropriate.
LeelaST
Via the Internet
it’s sad that artists can’t
just say “Please put your phone
away” and have people willing-
RollingStone.com
ly oblige. We shouldn’t have to
resort to measures like Yondr
pouches. It’s good in theory, but
a true pain in the ass.
Robert Joseffer
Coral Springs, FL
phones have ruined concerts. I have been seated with
people in the front row who
spend the entire night watching the stage through their darn
phone. Learn to live a little.
TLYG, via the Internet
Weed Warriors
c a n n a bi s n e v e r k i l l e d
anyone, but pesticides – well,
i wouldn’t mind having a
Clinton in the White House
again. Only I’d prefer George
[The Last Word, RS 1308]. He’d
make one funky president, and
I mean that as a compliment.
Ron Jennings
Taos, NM
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A p r i l 1 9 -M a y 3 , 2 018
MY LIST
2. Amen
Dunes
“Believe”
You can hear some Syd
Barrett in the creepy
yet captivating music
of Amen Dunes (a.k.a.
singer-songwriter Damon
McMahon). This dark ballad is sweet, scary stuf.
3. Willie
Nelson
“Me and You”
Pearl Jam’s first new song in five years
is a bare-knuckled anti-Trump anthem.
“You know you’re sick,” Eddie Vedder
shouts over growling guitars. It’s the kind
of arena-size rage not enough bands are
going for these days. Welcome back, guys.
4. Illuminati Hotties
“Paying Off the Happiness”
“I could probably use a fourth job,”
these L.A. punks muse, greeting the
college-debt blues with the surfy
charm of classic Go-Go’s. The result is
power pop with a cool dose of realism.
“It’s like I’m in some
foreign country,” Nelson
sings with resigned
warmth over an easygoing shule. It’s the sound
of hanging out with an
eternal buddy helping
you through hard times.
Five Songs That
Changed My Life
The Hootie-singer-turnedcountry-star, who is
touring this summer with
Lady Antebellum, picked
tunes that forever altered
how he heard music.
Al Green
“For the Good Times”
As a kid, this was the
first song that made me
want to be a singer. You
believe every word he
sings, that he’s living in
that moment.
R.E.M.
5. Jean
Grae and
Quelle
Chris
“So. Central Rain”
You can hear the pain
in Michael Stipe’s voice
when he sings, “I’m sorry.”
I’d never heard anything
like it when it came out.
“Breakfast of
Champions”
The Notorious B.I.G.
Hip-hop radicals
flip a reference
to old-school rap
great Biz Markie
into a funky, hardhitting anti-policeshooting anthem.
“The What”
I played this 10 times
in a row when I got my
first B.I.G. album, and
now I listen to it before
I go onstage, because
it pumps me up.
Radney Foster
7. Bettye
Lavette
“Seeing the
Real You
at Last”
6. Roxiny “Goliath”
A perfect example of how wide-open
pop music is these days: DominicanAmerican New York singer Roxiny
mixes a slinky street-wise groove with
a moody ambience that evokes Eighties art-pop heroes the Cocteau Twins.
8 | R ol l i n g S t o n e
The 72-year-old
soul singer just
released Things
Have Changed, an
excellent collection
of Bob Dylan covers.
On this standout,
she delivers a bitter
Eighties castof with
striking empathy.
“Old Silver”
This is the consummate
country song, since you
aren’t sure if he’s singing
about a horse or a
man. It’s one of the
greatest country songs
I ever heard.
Nanci Griith
“Mary & Omie”
This is like a movie about
a post-Depression black
family in the Deep South.
No one sounds like Nanci,
and no one ever will.
A p r i l 1 9 -M a y 3 , 2 018
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: MARIO RUIZ/EPA-EFE/REX SHUTTERSTOCK;
JOHN SHEARER/WIREIMAGE; MINDY TUCKER; MARK SELIGER; KEITH MAJOR
1. Pearl Jam
“Can’t Deny Me”
Darius
Rucker
GREAT TASTE. LESS FILLING.
MILLER LITE. HOLD TRUE.
Q&A JARED LETO
P. 20
| TV ‘THE HANDMAID’S TALE’ IN TRUMP’S AMERICA
P. 21
High Times
With the
Black Beatles
SOPHOMORE
SREMM
Jxmmi (left)
and Swae
Photograph by Peter Ya ng
After going multiplatinum,
Rae Sremmurd wrecked cars,
bought pet monkeys and made
a wild triple album
BY JONAH WEINER
RollingStone.com
| R ol l i n g S t o n e |
11
R&R
I
12 | R ol l i n g S t o n e |
RollingStone.com
SREMMLIFE
Above: Sremmurd
performing in
Minneapolis, 2018.
Left: The brothers
as kids. As teens,
they squatted in
abandoned
houses.
‘Man, we get that every day in real life!’ We
try to keep happy vibes.”
The brothers were raised in Tupelo, Mississippi. As teenagers they squatted in an
abandoned house for a stretch, penniless
but throwing house parties, striving to
make it big as musicians. They both worked
at a mattress factory, “breaking our backs
working 12-hour shifts,” Swae recalls.
“That wasn’t fun.” When Mike Will, whose
credits include Gucci Mane, Miley Cyrus
and Beyoncé, caught wind of their early
work through a mutual acquaintance, he
took them under his wing. When they got
big, releasing hooky hits like “No Flex Zone”
and “No Type,” they celebrated success with
flamboyant glee, wearing pink fur coats
and enormous Gucci ski goggles cocked
sideways on their heads.
Here at their house, a six-bedroom rental
listed at $12,000 a month, you can smell
the weed from the driveway. The kitchen is
stocked with protein supplements, oatmeal
cream pies and multiple boxes of Cinnamon Toast Crunch. The studio, of the living room, is decorated with a life-size E.T.
and a bunch of Dragon Ball Z figurines. As
Swae sits in a swivel chair, Lil G wraps his
arms tenderly around his neck. “I can’t be
without him – he go with me to the grocery store,” Swae says of the monkey, taking a deep drag from a blunt. I point up at
A p r i l 1 9 -M a y 3 , 2 018
FROM TOP: MICHAEL LOCCISANO/GETTY IMAGES; COURTESY OF RAE SREMMURD
t didn’ t m a k e the n e ws,
but a couple of months back
Slim Jxmmi drove his Ferrari into a fence. “It was a beautiful Ferrari,” says his younger brother, Swae Lee. Together
they make up the pop-rap duo
Rae Sremmurd; they’re in their
home studio in the suburbs
north of L.A. “I played chicken with traic,” Jxmmi explains. “I woke
up from this party, don’t even know where
my shirt was, got in the Ferrari, no shirt
on.” A few blocks from his house, he blew
a red light, overcooked a turn and crashed.
“Drove home with the front dragging on
the ground,” he says. Swae shakes his head:
“He fucked that motherfucker up.” Jxmmi
grins. “It was a rental. I just got my license,
so now I’m actually gonna buy myself some
cars.” Meaning he didn’t have a license
when he crashed? “You can do anything
without a license,” he replies. “I got pulled
over once doing 160 on the highway. Got of
with a warning. Said, ‘Shit, Sremmlife!’ ”
Swae is barechested,
For the brothers of Rae Sremmurd, wearing camouflage shorts
“Sremmlife” is an all-purpose motto con- and a necklace made of
noting a nonstop whirl of partying, money- linked gold-and-diamond
spending and, on occasion, vehicular fish skeletons. As he talks,
death-tempting. If Swae seems unflappably his pet spider monkey, Lil
laid-back, Jxmmi is wilder, more intense. G, curls up against his
He tells me he’s got a baby on the way, but stomach. Swae’s seeming
impending fatherhood clearly hasn’t slowed girlfriend, Mar liesia, is
him down. You can hear the diference in standing beside him, braidtheir personalities in their music – Swae ing his hair. Lil G, who cost
slipping into silky, lover-man melodies; Swae $20,000, is “two, three months old,”
Jxmmi rapping with scowling aggression he says, and wearing a tiny monkey diaper
about haters – and you can see it in their that members of the Sremmurd entoulive shows. In 2015, Jxmmi jumped off rage are tasked with changing during my
the stage at Governors Ball and split his visit. Swae also spent $15,000 on a baby
leg open. “I’m like a stuntman for real,” he Capuchin monkey named Naya, and he
says, hiking up the right leg of his blue box- owns two dogs and two mini-pigs that are
ing trunks to show of a gnarly horseshoe- currently “on a farm out somewhere toshaped scar on his thigh.
wards the desert,” he says.
It’s 4 p.m. on a March
I ask how he grew interafternoon and Rae Sremested in pet monkeys and
“People ask,
murd a re put ting the
pigs, and he nods at Marl‘Why not write
finishing touches on their
iesia. “She recommended
imminent third album,
the pigs, and I was like,
about pain?’
which has a working title of
‘Fuck it, I’m rich.’ ” Swae
We try to keep
Sr3mm. (The duo are part
says he’s an animal lover:
happy vibes.”
of a music-making collec“I wanna go in the jungle
tive called Ear Drummers,
and see elephants and shit.
presided over by the AtlanAnyone fucking with wildta superproducer Mike Will Made-It, and life, poaching them, they need to be taken
their name is the collective’s name spelled out. Shoutout to PETA.” On one Sr3mm
backward.) The new album follows the big- song he raps absurdly about “whipping up
gest success of their career – the quintuple- checks like tofu.” “The vegans are gonna
platinum 2016 single “Black Beatles,” fuck with that line,” he says.
which topped the Hot 100 for seven weeks,
There’s a bleakness running through
soundtracked the viral “mannequin chal- much contemporary rap, against which
lenge” and earned an endorsement from Rae Sremmurd stand in sunny contrast.
none other than Paul McCartney. “I met Their songs celebrate an untroubled hedohim years ago at Coachella,” Swae says. nism – what Swae characterizes as “turn“I don’t think he knew our music, but he up, party-with-your-friends music. People
was chitchatting with us, dropping all this ask us, ‘Why not make songs about, like,
game, telling us to stay true.”
pain? About killing niggas?’ And I’m like,
Neil Young’s Restless Twilight
A Western movie, a sci-fi novel and an ambitious site that will
house his life’s work are just a few of his latest projects
BY PAT R ICK D OY L E
able. “That’s when they realized, ‘Holy shit, when he wants
to play, he’s gonna play no matter what,’ ” says Young. “Because
that’s how I get so much done. I
don’t wait. I just do it. I go, ‘This
is a gift, I’m gonna accept it.
I’m gonna use it, and I’m gonna
move on.’ ”
t’s pretty unbelievable, really,” says Neil
You ng. He ’s t a l k i ng
about the process of
going through his entire archives for the Neil Young Archives, an interactive multimedia timeline. How does it feel
to reflect on a half-century of
work, from Bufalo Springfield
to Rust Never Sleeps to Harvest
Moon? “I try not to focus on it
too much,” Young says, from his
Austin hotel room. “It starts in
1963, and it’s 2018. I try to be
mellow on that.” But Young is
in no way done creating – as his
recent workload proves.
‘I
Transformer Man
“I’m finishing a novel,” Young
says. It’s called Canary, a sci-fi
thriller about a power-company
worker who goes undercover to
expose corruption. “He discovers the solar company he works
for is a hoax, and they’re not
really using solar,” Young says.
“The guy who’s doing this has
come up with a way to make bad
energy. . . and genetically create animals [whose] shit gives
energy to make the bad fuel.
But the species escapes. So it’s
a fuckin’ mess.”
Journey Through
the Past
NETFLIX
Young has obsessed over every
detail of his archival site, from
the high-resolution audio to a
blog he constantly updates. Only
25 percent of the music is loaded
so far, and Young rattles of the
unreleased albums he’s excited
to roll out, including unheard
Crazy Horse LPs from 1969 and
2012, and Dume, an alternate
version of 1975’s Zuma, with six
unreleased songs. Young loves
checking out what people are
listening to: “We have our crazy
little charts, and I’m Number
One all the time,” he says. “I
have a lot of fun with the site.”
FOREVER
YOUNG A still
from Paradox
The Man in Black
Paradox, a psychedelic new
film he made with partner
Daryl Hannah, just hit Netf lix. Written by Hannah and
filmed in three days, it features
Young and his band Promise of the Real portraying a
gang of thieves who rob “seed
banks” for currency. “Daryl
did it all for, like, 125 grand,”
says Young. “It’s not Cecil B.
a smoke detector, and say I’m surprised it’s
not blaring. “I didn’t know we had one in
here!” he says. “That shit must be immune
to smoke now. Or it must be high as shit.”
I note that Lil G must be getting a contact high, too. Swae considers this: “I don’t
blow smoke at him, but yeah, he probably
be high.”
The brothers play some songs from the
new album, which consists of three discs
– two “solo” sides and a group disc combining their styles. “My side is crazy melodic,”
says Swae, cuing up a reggaeton-ish track
called “Guatemala,” about taking a girl to
Guatemala. There’s another song on Swae’s
A p r i l 1 9 -M a y 3 , 2 018
DeMille or Eastwood. Let them
make those movies.” It’s full
of musical highlights, including “Pocahontas” and 2016’s
overlooked rocker “Peace Trail.”
“That’s the first time Promise of
the Real ever played it,” Young
says, referring to the band he’s
toured with since 2015. He says
he originally wanted to record
the Peace Trail album with
them, but they weren’t avail-
disc called “Little Marliesia,” but he says,
“I might need to change that title because
she’s controversial now.” Just the other day,
it turns out, Marliesia took to social media
accusing Swae of infidelity. “People think
I cheated on her with Blac Chyna,” Swae
explains. “Did you?” Marliesia asks. He is
silent for about five seconds before answering, “I’m not a cheater.” She leans over to
him and murmurs something about how
he’d better not change the song title. Jxmmi
says he “came out spraying” – he mimes firing a machine gun – on his solo disc. His
tracks are flinty and sparse. On one, called
“Fuck It, I’m Balling,” he raps, “I might just
Rust Never Sleeps
Young’s peers Paul Simon and
Joan Baez have announced retirement tours. Don’t expect
him to. “I’m going out with
Cher for a retirement tour,” he
jokes. “When I retire, people
will know, because I’ll be dead.
I’m not gonna say, ‘I’m not coming back.’ What kind of bullshit
is that?”
get lost inside of these drugs.” He tells me
this is a metaphor: “The drug is balling. We
don’t care: We living reckless! Somebody
come get me before I spend all my money!”
The album’s release date has been pushed
back a few times – thanks to tinkering, the
brothers say, and to their label’s sense of
ideal timing. Jxmmi says he’s impatient,
though: “I can’t sleep at night.” Swae turns
to me. “When it come out, it’s gonna change
the world,” he says. “I’m about to make a
major statement. I’m about to take a massive shit. Everyone’s gonna hear this album
and know that real rock stars lived on the
Earth at the same time they did.”
RollingStone.com
| R ol l i n g S t o n e |
13
R&R
PODCASTS
Artists Get in the
Podcast Game
Cooley, Loretta
Lynn, Gentry,
Merle Haggard,
Judd (clockwise
from left)
Down Nashville’s
Lost Highways
Before Bob Wills was known as the King of
Western Swing, the title belonged to Spade
Cooley, a fiddle player who hosted a popular
FORMAT Tyler Mahan
California television variety show. But Cooley’s
Coe tells the wild
stories of country
career ended in 1961 when he was convicted of
legends.
PLATFORM Apple
brutally murdering his second wife – allegedly
Podcasts/Android
killing her in front of his 14-year-old daughSCHEDULE Every week
ter. Cooley was sentenced to life in prison, but
ORIGIN STORY “I had the
idea in the shower,
served just eight years, eventually getting a full
and it wouldn’t leave
me alone,” Coe says.
pardon from California Gov. Ronald Reagan.
BEST EPISODE The
The story is detailed by Tyler Mahan Coe on CoLouvin Brothers, who
caine and Rhinestones, an ambitious podcast
“beat the living hell
out of each other at
that tells the history of country music one artevery opportunity.”
ist at a time. Other sagas include Bobbie Gentry – who stopped releasing music not long after her 1967 classic,
“Ode to Billie Joe” – and Wynonna Judd, who endured an abusive
childhood before finding fame alongside her mother in the Judds.
The host is uniquely qualified: He’s the son of country outlaw David
Allan Coe, and played in his band before the two had a falling-out
a few years ago. Tyler funded the series himself, and he estimates
each episode took “about 100 hours” to finish. He is already hard
at work on a second season, but don’t expect an episode on his father. “I don’t think it would be fair to anyone, really,” he says. “A lot
of the appeal is me being a little bit on the inside, a little on the outside. I can’t really do that with David Allan Coe.”
JON FREEMAN
QUESTLOVE
OZZY OSBOURNE
QUESTLOVE
SUPREME
THE OSBOURNES
PODCAST
FORMAT The drummer dissects songs with heroes
like the Revolution and
Sheila E.
PLATFORM Pandora
SCHEDULE Every week
WHY HE DOES IT “To satisfy the fan in me,” says
Quest.
BEST GUEST Ray Parker
Jr., who recalled writing
the Ghostbusters theme
and claimed his old boss
Stevie Wonder can drive:
“He didn’t care about
hitting the cars.”
FORMAT Ozzy, Sharon,
Kelly and Jack sit down
and reflect on their hit
MTV show and go on
crude tangents. “I hope
people have a laugh,”
says Ozzy.
MIKE WATT
RICK RUBIN AND
MALCOLM GLADWELL
PLATFORM
Apple/Android
SCHEDULE
Every week
They recalled
Bill Cosby blasting their
show’s language. “Hey,
Bill Cosby, how you
doin’, motherfucker?”
Jack said. Added Sharon,
“What a fucking joke!”
BEST MOMENT
14 | R ol l i n g S t o n e |
RollingStone.com
THE WATT FROM
PEDRO SHOW
FORMAT The bassist spins
records and conducts interviews for three hours.
PLATFORM Apple/Android
SCHEDULE Almost weekly
WHY HE DOES IT “It’s one
way I can pay down the
debt I feel I owe the punk
movement,” he says.
BEST GUEST Fred Armisen,
who ended up interviewing Watt about his career.
“It’s still mysterious,”
Watt says of playing the
bass guitar. “There’s too
much to learn.”
BROKEN RECORD
FORMAT Rubin and guests
discuss how songs are
made. Gladwell narrates.
PLATFORM Apple/Android
WHY THEY DO IT “It’s as
important to hear artists
talk as it is to hear them
play,” Gladwell says.
BEST GUEST Eminem, who
broke down the influences behind his single
“Walk on Water.” It’s
also the only episode:
“More are coming by the
end of the year,” Rubin
promises.
BEST OF THE REST
Henry Rollins, Jessie Ware and more also have
podcasts. Read about them, and hear our show, Rolling
Stone Music Now, on RollingStone.com.
KORY GROW
A p r i l 1 9 -M a y 3 , 2 018
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: PICTORIAL PRESS/ALAMY; GLOBE PHOTOS/REX SHUTTERSTOCK; GEORGE ROSE/GETTY
IMAGES; CBS PHOTO ARCHIVE/GETTY IMAGES; GLOBE PHOTOS/REX SHUTTERSTOCK; DIMITRIOS KAMBOURIS/GETTY
IMAGES; KEVIN WINTER/GETTY IMAGES; MEDIAPUNCH/REX SHUTTERSTOCK; WILL RAGOZZINO
COCAINE AND
RHINESTONES
Why Taylor Hasn’t Sold Out
Swift’s tickets are selling more slowly than they used to.
But experts say that’s part of a smart business plan
f y ou w e n t on t ic k e t in 2018. While Swift’s entire 2015
END GAME
master in January and pulled
1989 tour sold out almost instantly,
Swift’s tour
up a third-row seat for Taylor
there are plenty of seats available
kicks of
Swift’s June 2nd show at Chicafor most of her Reputation shows.
May 8th.
go’s Soldier Field, it would have
One veteran promoter says it’s sellcost you $995. But if you looked up
ing “terribly – the worst scaling and
the same seat three months later, the
flexible pricing I have ever seen for
price would have been $595. That’s
a stadium tour.” But others say she’s
because for some seats Swift has
just playing a long game. “Don’t put
adopted “dynamic pricing,” where
too much emphasis on the fact she
concert tickets – like airline seats –
hasn’t sold out yet,” says Gary Bonshift prices constantly in adjusting
giovanni, the editor-in-chief of conto market demand. It’s a move incert trade publication Pollstar. “The
tended to squeeze out the secondindustry is adopting a new mantra,”
ary-ticket market – but it’s also left
says a concert-industry expert. “If
many fans confused as they’re asked
you sell out quickly, you didn’t price
to pay hundreds of dollars more
tickets properly.” (Swift declined to
than face value. “Basically, Ticketcomment for the story.)
master is operating as StubHub,”
But the system can be confusing
says a concert-business source.
for fans. In addition to dynamicSwift is not alone. This sumpriced tickets, Swift’s tour is ofering
mer, U2, Kenny Chesney, Pink, the
seats on an interactive map through
Eagles and Shania Twain will also
a menagerie of dots – yellow for VIP
embrace dynamic pricing (which
($500-$900), pink for approved fan
Ticketmaster calls Official Platiresales (which can list for thousands
num Seats). It’s their latest attempt
of dollars), blue for standard faceto battle resellers like StubHub, the
value tickets ($50-$450). “It’s kind
eBay-owned site, which had sales of
of complicated,” says Alex Hodges,
more than $1 billion in 2016. “You
CEO of Nederlander Concerts in
“The industry is adopting a new
can go and buy tickets and then put
Los Angeles, suggesting that the asthem on StubHub and speculate for
tronomical prices may cause fans to
mantra,” says a concert-industry
three to five times their face value –
“get skittish and back of.”
expert. “If you sell out quickly, you
[that’s] their entire industry,” says
But experts see the plan as a necdidn’t price tickets properly.”
Stuart Ross of Red Light Manageessary way to hold on to profits as
ment, which reps Dave Matthews
the entire industry goes through a
Band, Phish and more. Doc Mcsea change. “Does the airline want
Ghee, who manages KISS, sees why Tick- John Misty. “An artist like Father John to sell out all tickets and be done with
etmaster needed to take action: “If some- Misty is very ticket-price-conscious,” says that flight?” says one source. “Or do they
body’s going to pay $500 for a $150 ticket, his manager, Dan Fraser. “Just because want to sell them at $700 and [eventuthe band should receive the money.”
more people are willing to pay for a ticket, ally] sell every seat? It’s that kind of situNot everyone agrees. Some artists, like he doesn’t want to [charge it]. . . . He’ll leave ation.” Adds another expert, “[Concert
Foo Fighters and Pearl Jam, have opted money on the table.”
tickets] just caught up to hotels, airfares
out of using the dynamic-pricing model,
The program has forced promoters to and rental cars. It’s a cultural change and
STEVE KNOPPER
as have smaller, indie artists like Father rethink what a successful concert means an acceptance of resellers.”
TIM MOSENFELDER/GETTY IMAGES
I
How to
Score
Cheap
Tickets
Despite dynamic
pricing, resellers
swallow primo seats.
Here’s how to beat
them.
ANDY GREENE
A p r i l 1 9 -M a y 3 , 2 018
1
If Tickets Seem
Sold Out, Wait
an Hour
Scalpers’ ticket bots often
hold up tons of inventory
during an on-sale – without actually purchasing
the seats. If it seems you
were shut out, keep hammering away for an hour
or two. Amazing seats can
pop up out of nowhere.
2
Check Back on
Ticketmaster
Day of Show
Promoters often overestimate how many seats
need to be held back for
production reasons and
VIPs who don’t use them.
“Ninety-five percent of
the time, tickets are made
available day of show,”
says an industry veteran.
3
Wait Till Last
Minute to Buy
From Resellers
As the final hours until
showtime tick by, fans
who can’t make the show
and pro scalpers get
desperate and lower
their prices. It can be
nerve-racking, but wait
until about 4 p.m. on
show day to buy.
RollingStone.com
4
If All Else Fails,
Show Up at
the Box Office
Getting tickets in advance
to a show like Springsteen
on Broadway is very diicult. But most nights, the
Walter Kerr Theatre box
oice often has tickets
that aren’t ofered online.
The same goes for music
across the country.
| R ol l i n g S t o n e |
15
R&R
EIGHT IS
ENOUGH The
members of
Superorganism
in London earlier
this year.
Superorganism Blow Up
S
Quick
Facts
Writing Style
They draw
inspiration from
a private Spotify
playlist they’re
always updating.
For Fans of
Gorillaz, Beck,
Bran Van 3000
ed-out version of Beck’s winking Nineties collage pop. The
band’s origins are as loopy as its music. Several members
came out of the early-2010s New Zealand band the Eversons. They got the attention of Japanese singer Orono
Noguchi, 18, who discovered them online while attending high school in Maine. They sent her a demo; within
an hour, she’d returned it with lyrics. The resulting song,
“Something for Your M.I.N.D.,” now has more than 2 million YouTube views. As Superorganism have taken of,
they’ve started getting input from the rest of the music
industry. But they’re doing their best to ignore it. “That’s
the thing about an eight-person band,” says Harry. “You’ve
EMILY ZEMLER
got eight critics you already trust.”
Move Over, Wayne Newton: Vegas Residencies Go Younger
Britney was just the beginning: In 2018, superstars from the Nineties and beyond are choosing the Strip over long tours
Blink-182
Lady Gaga
Gwen Stefani
The Palms Las Vegas
May 26th-November 17th
TICKETS $59-$155
Park Theater at Park MGM
Begins in late 2018
TICKETS TBD
Zappos Theater at
Planet Hollywood
DATES AND TICKETS TBD
For their first Vegas residency, Blink are promising
“very special” shows with
guests. “I might even sing
on-key one of these nights,”
says bassist Mark Hoppus.
Gaga will reportedly
get nearly $75 million for 74 gigs. “It’s
my lifelong dream
to be a Las Vegas
girl,” she said.
Stefani may soon
announce a residency. She said she
was “inspired” by
J. Lo’s Las Vegas
show. ANDY GREENE
16 | R ol l i n g S t o n e |
RollingStone.com
Photograph by Julia n Broad
BOTTOM, FROM LEFT: JOSH BRASTED/FILMMAGIC; KEVIN MAZUR/GETTY
IMAGES; ANDREW LIPOVSKY/NBC/NBCU PHOTO BANK/GETTY IMAGES
om e of t h e w e i r de s t, mos t e xc i t i ng
indie music of the past few years has come out of
a two-story row house in East London. The space
serves as home for most of Superorganism’s eight
members, who created their excellent self-titled debut LP
there. They bounce ideas around via a group-texting app,
and band members go through dozens of mixes before everyone is happy with a song. “It can be quite frustrating,”
says guitarist Christopher Young, who goes by Harry. (To
alleviate stress, they have a group chat for “shit-talking.”)
The results are undeniable. On songs like “Everybody
Wants to Be Famous” and the viral hit “Something for
Your M.I.N.D.,” Superorganism suggest a uniquely weed-
R&R
TRIBUTE
Robert Grossman, 1940-2018
The legendary magazine illustrator had one goal during
his half-century career: to ridicule everyone
BY A N DY GR E E N E
rom his 1974
depiction of
Richard Nixon
molesting the
Statue of Liberty to his 2016 illustration
of a maniacal, pitchforkwielding Donald Trump,
artist Robert Grossman
was a master at skewering
politicians on the cover
of R o l l i n g S t o n e .
Grossman – who died of
reported heart failure on
March 15th at age 78
1
– spent more than 40
1
years creating unfor2
gettable images for
the magazine. Recent classics include
his 2006 drawing
of George W. Bush
wearing a dunce cap
and his 2012 cover
of Mitt Romney as
the Monopoly Man
(Grossman also lovingly portrayed rock
stars such as Bob
Dylan as cherubic
cartoons). “He was
able to cut through
sticky political issues
and find a brilliant,
simple idea that communicated
the point very well,” says Rolling Stone design director Joe
Hutchinson.
Grossman graduated from
Yale in 1961 and soon landed a
job in the art department at The
New Yorker. He went on to create more than 500 magazine covers, including nine for Rolling
3
Stone. Among his most famous
images was a 1972 cover for National Lampoon showing Nixon with a Pinocchio nose;
in 1980, he designed the poster for the classic comedy Airplane!, which showed an aircraft twisted into a knot. “He
taught me not to overthink things,” says Victor Juhasz, a
Rolling Stone illustrator.
Grossman was also a gifted sculptor and a comic-strip
illustrator. In the early 1960s, he created Captain Mel-
F
18 | R ol l i n g S t o n e |
RollingStone.com
4
Grossman’s illustrations of (1) Jerry Garcia
as a parade balloon, 1973; (2) George W. Bush
wearing a dunce cap at the nadir of his
presidency, 2006; (3) Richard Nixon groping
Lady Liberty near the pinnacle of the Watergate
scandal, 1974. (4) Grossman in his New York
studio, 1968.
anin, one of the first black superheroes. Decades later,
he made George H.W. Bush into a squirrel named Cap’n
Bushy. “The idea is to ridicule everything,” he told The
New York Times in 2008. Asked if poking fun at politicians was undignified, he shot back, “Virtually anything
has more dignity than lying and blundering before the
whole stupefied world.”
A p r i l 1 9 -M a y 3 , 2 018
RIGHT: JAN WELT/COURTESY OF THE GROSSMAN FAMILY
Drawn and Quartered
48 H O U R
PROTECTION
T H AT G O ES O N C L E A R
GILLETTE CLEAR GEL ANTIPERSPIRANT.
GOES ON CLEAR,
LEAVES YOU FRESH ALL DAY. ®
GILLETTE.COM ©2018 P&G
he new thirt y seconds
to Mars album, their fifth,
has what frontman Jared
Leto calls a “rather, um,
loaded title,” and he’s not kidding: It’s
America. It’s also the most electronicsheavy album for the band since its
self-titled 2002 debut, and its most
pop-friendly LP ever, complete with
guest appearances by Halsey and
A$AP Rocky and production on one
track by Zedd. “It’s not necessarily
big, bombastic guitar anthems,” says
Leto, fresh from landing in Italy for
an arena date with the band. “For a
long time, I wanted to make an album
about the American dream and America as a concept – and as I was halfway
through, I thought, ‘I guess I’m making that album now.’ ”
T
On the single “Walk on Water,” you
sing, “Making love with the devil hurts.”
Could you expand on that sentiment?
It’s the old story about the rabbit
that wanted to ride on the back of the
crocodile. And at the end he eats the
rabbit and says, “I’m a goddamn crocodile. What did you expect?” So if you
make a deal with the devil, there are
certain things you can expect. “Walk
on Water” is a song very much about
the times we’re living in.
Is the devil perhaps in the Oval Office?
You could take that as one example.
I played it in Paris to 15,000 people,
and I was stunned how loud they sang
that song. You can write a song about
America, but these are global concerns.
What led you toward electronic sounds
on this album?
I’ve always loved that mix, whether
it’s Depeche Mode, or the Who using
synthesizers, or Pink Floyd using
whatever technology to get where the
song needed to go. Also, loud cymbals
and distorted guitars don’t translate in
this day and age. If you turn that stuf
up now, your ears start bleeding.
Isn’t that really because everything’s
being mastered too loud?
You’re totally right. It used to be
pleasurable to crank up Zeppelin or
Nirvana to 12 in your car. Now everyone would complain – it’s so piercing,
so bright. I do think that has something to do with stylistic choices that
are pervasive in music today.
What modern pop and hip-hop are you
drawing on?
Kanye is always an inspiration for
his bravery. And one of my favorite songs in the past few years has
been Father John Misty, “Bored in
the U.S.A.” I hadn’t heard that kind
of truth spoken in a song in a really long time. In general, some of the
20 | R ol l i n g S t o n e |
RollingStone.com
Q&A
Jared
Leto
The Thirty Seconds to Mars
singer on their new LP,
the Spinal Tap perils of
touring, and why he’s down
on Bitcoin and guitars
BY BR I A N H I AT T
biggest songs in the world now have,
like, three instruments, including the
vocal. We’re in this time of incredible
minimalism, and for a band that’s
been full-on maximum, it’s fun to experiment in new territory and break
our own rules.
You named your tour after the hugesounding new instrumental “Monolith.”
Were you inspired by Hans Zimmer?
Not directly. With the instrumentals, I say to the engineer, “Excuse me,
I need that chair for a little while,”
and I open up Pro Tools and start, basically, composing. I’ve always loved
soundtracks ever since, like, Ennio
Morricone and Tangerine Dream. I
even loved fucking Chariots of Fire
when I was a kid. And The Last Temptation of Christ is one of my favorite
albums of all time. “Monolith” is the
intro for this giant, kinetic sculpture
that we have in the middle of the arena
on this tour – and there is a 60-foottall monolith in the building.
So you managed not to pull a Spinal Tap
and end up with a 60-inch monolith?
Yeah [laughs]. But we have plenty
of that. We start out playing inside this
giant rectangular box. There is great
potential for us to get stuck inside this
thing. But our concerts are so loose
that if it happened, it would probably
turn into the best show of the tour.
And then we’d send the production
home and never use it again.
You filmed Suicide Squad and Blade
Runner 2049 while working on this
album. Does any of that bleed in?
When I focus on something, I’ll
focus on it completely, and when I
make music, I’m part manager, part
marketer, part creative director, part
producer, writer, musician, singer,
songwriter. I enjoy it, and it drives
me fucking nuts a lot of times. For
this album, we have a documentary
film about America, filmed in every
single state on a single day, July 4th,
last year. We’re in the middle of editing. It’s been an onslaught of incredible creative challenges. Probably the
hardest that I’ve worked ever in my
entire life.
As a huge tech investor, how do you feel
about Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies?
I don’t fuck with crypto. That should
be the name of the album, really. I
asked the two smartest people I know,
two of the most successful people in
the world, and they both had a negative view on it. Which doesn’t mean
that those two people can’t be wrong.
You’re a Smashing Pumpkins fan.
Thoughts on the D’arcy-free reunion?
I don’t . . . I didn’t even know there
was a reunion. Sorry.
A p r i l 1 9 -M a y 3 , 2 018
PICZO
R&R
Television
LADIES
FIRST
Moss in
Atwood’s
bleak
future
The Secret
Origins of
Superman
Krypton is Game of
Thrones meets Project
Runway – and it works
The Man of Steel remains the
gift that just keeps on giving.
Syfy’s clever Krypton isn’t just
another origin story – it’s the
origin behind the origin, going
back a couple of generations
into Superman’s family history.
KRYPTON
WEDNESDAYS, 10 P.M., SYFY
A Dystopian Fable
for Trump’s America
Margaret Atwood’s harrowing
‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ returns
BY ROB SH E F F I E L D
eep in the heart of gilead,
a dystopian hellhole that used to
be known as the United States of
America, Elisabeth Moss ofers a
prayer. Like all the women in The Handmaid’s Tale, she’s a slave. She remembers
a few years ago, when she was an assistant
book editor in Boston with a husband and
D
THE HANDMAID’S TALE
FROM TOP: TAKE FIVE/HULU; STEFFAN HILL/SYFY
HULU
a daughter, until the country fell in a religious coup. Now it’s a Christian totalitarian
state where women are forced into servitude
or killed for “gender treachery.” So she has a
question for the Lord: “Our Father, who art
in Heaven: Seriously? What the actual fuck?”
It’s an apt prayer, considering the circumstances – both hers and ours.
The Handmaid’s Tale felt freakishly timely
as soon as it debuted last spring. When Hulu’s
adaptation of the Margaret Atwood novel
went into production, there was no way of
knowing how ugly the country was about to
get – or how familiar Gilead would feel. Moss
remains excellent as the heroine Ofred, summing up her life: “Wear the red dress. Wear
the wings. Shut your mouth. Be a good girl.
Roll over and spread your legs. Yes, ma’am.”
A p r i l 1 9 -M a y 3 , 2 018
The harrowing second season ventures beyond the book, with Atwood involved in the
writing with showrunner Bruce Miller. We
finally see the Colonies, the ominous wasteland often mentioned in Season One, where
disobedient women and other misfits get
shipped to work until they drop. Ann Dowd
is back as the horrifying Aunt Lydia, the sadistic mistress who torments her handmaids,
like a nightmarish vision of the principal
from Rock ’n’ Roll High School. Samira Wiley
returns as Moira. Bradley Whitford joins as
a powerful commander, along with Marisa
Tomei, Cherry Jones and Clea Duvall, rounding out an already packed cast.
The Handmaid’s Tale isn’t exactly a thriller, or pleasant viewing – the violence is grueling in its sheer repetition, as the women
get brutalized to the constant soundtrack
of whimpering. The first season kept dangling the hope of the handmaids rising up.
But every time it feinted at a “let’s go, ladies”
twist, the boot heel came crashing down. The
challenge for Season Two will be building up
some suspense, and it will rely on Moss, who
drives the drama forward with an intensely
moving performance. She isn’t hoping to get
strong enough to hit back – not yet. She just
wants to keep the rage burning hot enough
to remind herself she’s worth fighting for.
Cameron Cufe stars as SegEl, Superman’s grandfather,
hundreds of years before the
future superhero Kal-El was
born. It seems the House of El
is shunned in proper society on
Krypton, a rigidly hierarchical
place where diferent houses
angle for supremacy – it’s part
Game of Thrones, part Project
Runway. Krypton has a light
touch, which is why it works.
It’s fundamentally about Seg-
SUPERMAN’S PAWPAW
Cufe faces Krypton’s leaders
in the prequel.
El’s quest to prove himself
worthy of having a heroic
descendant. Because the one
thing everybody knows about
Krypton is that it blows up. The
planet’s death is the reason
the Man of Steel fell to Earth
in the first place. But the fun is
watching new stories from one
of the most beloved superhero
R.S.
sagas in any universe.
RollingStone.com
| R ol l i n g S t o n e |
21
Rock
at the
March
On March 24th, more than
a million took to the
streets to demand new
gun laws at the historymaking March for Our
Lives. Artists came out in
full force, including Miley
Cyrus, Ariana Grande and
Kanye West. The normally
neutral Taylor Swift even
voiced her support,
saying she was “so
moved” by the event.
COME TOGETHER
Paul McCartney
shared a powerful
reason for marching
in New York. “One of
my best friends
was killed in gun
violence right around
here,” he said.
BELIEVER
Cher showed
up in D.C. and
said she has
“pride and
hope for the
future.”
Jamaica
State of
Mind
A HARD
DAY’S
KNIGHT
Ringo Starr
was knighted
by Prince
William at
Buckingham
Palace. Starr
said he’s not
sure if he’ll
use the sir
title. “But I
expect you
to use it,” he
joked to a
reporter.
22 | R ol l i n g S t o n e |
RollingStone.com
Before hitting the road
on their four-month
On the Run II Tour
in June, Jay-Z and
Beyoncé went to
Jamaica, where they
turned heads on the
streets of Kingston as
they cruised around
with a film crew in tow.
(They were apparently
filming footage to be
used onstage during
the tour.) This month,
Beyoncé will play her
first full show in
nearly two years at
Coachella, which she’s
been prepping for
with a vegan diet.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: MARK WILSON/GETTY IMAGES; ATILGAN OZDIL/ANADOLU AGENCY/GETTY IMAGES; PAUL
MORIGI/GETTY IMAGES FOR MARCH FOR OUR LIVES; MARLON REID/SPLASH NEWS; © YUI MOK/PA WIRE/ZUMA PRESS
SHE
WON’T STOP
Miley Cyrus
sang “The
Climb” at
D.C.’s rally.
“I’m lucky to
be here in
the presence
of so many
people
fighting for
what’s right,”
she said.
BIEBER KICKS IT
A rainstorm didn’t
stop Justin Bieber
from stepping out
of his $200,000
custom turquoise
Lamborghini
Aventador to
play a soccer
game with fellow
Hillsong Church
worshippers in
L.A. “Grateful
for friends,” he
tweeted that week.
BLEACHER
CREATURES
Jack Antonof
hung at a
Knicks game
with model
Carlotta Kohl.
Antonof
recently called
rumors about
his dating life
“heteronormative
gossip.”
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: JULIANO/X17ONLINE.COM; JAMES DEVANEY/GETTY IMAGES; ALEXANDRE SCHNEIDER/
GETTY IMAGES; SACHYN MITAL; © NANCY KASZERMAN/ZUMA PRESS; CHARLEY GALLAY/GETTY IMAGES FOR IHEARTMEDIA
GOOD THINKING
David Byrne gave
an anatomy
lesson onstage
during his set
at Brazil’s
Lollapalooza.
Byrne’s huge
new stage show
includes six
drummers and
percussionists.
Chance’s Dream Team
Chance the Rapper (right), Pharrell Williams (left) and new couple Halsey and G-Eazy caught
up at the iHeartRadio Awards in L.A. The night belonged to Chance, who received the
Innovator Award. “He dresses like [Mario from] one of my favorite video games – of course
he’s an innovator,” Pharrell said. Chance said he felt a “little undeserving” of the honor.
RIP THIS JOINT
Keith Richards
played a charity
show at New
York’s Beacon
Theatre, dusting
of his X-Pensive
Winos deep
cut “Make
No Mistake.”
CHARLI’S IN CHARGE
Before hitting stadiums this
summer as Taylor Swift’s
opening act, U.K. pop diva
Charli XCX played a wild
Brooklyn club gig. “It was a
fucking party, and it felt like
the future,” she says.
RollingStone.com
| R ol l i n g S t o n e |
23
THE NRA’S RUSSIA
CONNECTION
Femmes fatales, lavish Moscow parties and dark money – inside
the decade-long Russian campaign to infiltrate the National Rifle
Association and help elect Donald Trump
By Tim Dickinson
n nov ember 2013, the president of the National Rifle Association, David Keene, was introduced
as an honored guest at the conference of the Right to Bear Arms, a
gun lobby in Moscow. “There are
no peoples that are more alike than
Americans and Russians,” Keene said.
“We’re hunters. We’re shooters. We value
the same kinds of things.” Keene underscored his friendship with Alexander Torshin, a top politician in the ruling party of
Vladimir Putin; for the past three years,
Keene said, “I’ve hosted your senator Alexander Torshin at the National Rifle Association’s annual meetings.” In words that
now carry a darker connotation, Keene insisted, “We need to work together.”
Torshin, now 64, is a roly-poly politician,
perhaps five feet six, with thick glasses and
a passion for borscht – “like medicine!” he
once tweeted. A member of Putin’s rightwing United Russia party, he served in the
Russian senate for more than a dec ade,
forging close ties to Russia’s internal security service, the FSB, which awarded him a
medal in 2016. His embrace of Keene, says
Steven Hall, who served as chief of Russian operations for the CIA until 2015, was
about more than forging “an international
brotherhood of the NRA.”
As part of Putin’s “active measures,” Hall
says, Russia has attempted to influence
right-wing and populist factions abroad,
preaching unity around social conservatism: “ ‘We’re both religious-based countries – we have the Orthodox Church that’s
a big deal for us.’ ” The Russians, Hall believes, “made a natural transition in the
United States to the NRA”; over time Putin
became determined to exploit the American gun lobby “and decided Mr. Torshin is
going to be the guy to do it for him.”
I
26 | R ol l i n g S t o n e |
RollingStone.com
Keene proved an easy mark. A career
lobbyist who advised presidential candidates from Ronald Reagan to Mitt Romney, he was a longtime chair of the American Conservative Union, which organizes
the annual CPAC convention. NRA board
member Grover Norquist has praised
Keene as “a conservative Forrest Gump”
who’s been at “the center of all things conservative for decades.” Keene, with a sweep
of white hair, owlish glasses and a patrician bearing, might move in cutthroat political circles, but friends say his personality
runs against type. “He’s like a teddy bear,”
says Alan Gottlieb, founder of the Second
Amendment Foundation, who has known
Keene for decades. “He’s not hard-edged at
all. He’s a gentleman.” (Keene did not respond to multiple interview requests.)
Torshin and Keene forged a quick friendship. “Just a brief note to let you know just
how much I enjoyed meeting in Pittsburgh
during the NRA annual meeting,” Keene
wrote in a 2011 letter later obtained by anticorruption activists in Russia. Extending a
personal invitation to the following year’s
event, Keene added, “If there is anything
any of us can do to help you in your endeavors . . . please don’t hesitate to let us know.”
IT’S SHOCKING
HOW MANY WAYS A
GROUP LIKE THE NRA
COULD BE USED TO
CHANNEL RUSSIAN
MONEY,” SAYS ONE
ELECTIONS EXPERT.
Torshin’s “endeavors” included a plan to
back a gun-rights group in Moscow. “We
will start organizing our own Russian
NRA,” Torshin soon tweeted. The NRA
president seemed flattered, seeing Torshin
as a powerful Russian eager to build a gun
organization that mirrored his own, and
even secured a Russian translation of the
NRA charter.
But Russia experts believe Torshin’s interest in U.S. gun culture masked a dark,
ulterior motive. “It’s all a big charade, basically,” Glenn Simpson, founder of the research firm behind the infamous Steele
Dossier, testified to the House Intelligence
Committee. Much of what passes for civil
society in modern Russia is, in fact, controlled by Putin. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee published a January 2018
report on “Putin’s Asymmetric Assault
on Democracy,” which describes how the
Kremlin has “sought to co-opt civil society
by ‘devot[ing] massive resources to the creation and activities of state-sponsored and
state-controlled NGOs.’ ”
Some of these faux grassroots groups
buttress the Kremlin’s domestic agenda.
Others are projections of Putin’s foreign
policy. Sen. Ben Cardin, the ranking Democrat on the committee, says it is common
for Russian groups that “appear to be independent” but are “really Putin groups”
to build relationships with civic groups in
Western democracies, like the NRA – “to
have tentacles,” Cardin says, “to try and influence public opinion here in the United
States. It is certainly part of Putin’s MO.”
Hall agrees. “The idea of private gun
ownership is anathema to Putin,” he says.
“So then the question is, ‘Why?’ ” Why was
a pro-gun campaign being hatched by a
leader in Putin’s own party? The answer,
according to Hall, is that Putin was baitA p r i l 1 9 -M a y 3 , 2 018
KGB colonel Vladimir Putin, can
be hard to fathom. But an investigation by Rolling Stone establishes deeper ties between
the NRA and Russia than previously reported. The record reveals this union was the product
of a sophisticated Russian influence campaign nearly a decade
in the making. By November
2016, Torshin greeted Trump’s
election victory as a foregone
conclusion, specifically pointing
to his and the president-elect’s
joint connection to the NR A.
“This striking personality has
fascinated me for a long time,”
he tweeted, in Russian. “Was
sure of his victory.”
y torshin’s ow n account, his ailiation with
the American gun lobby
bega n a round 2010,
when he became a member of the NRA. His passion for
firearms is genuine; Torshin
counted Gen. Mikhail Kalashnikov, the inventor of the AK47, as a friend, and has tweeted, “I love guns.” Nearly as soon
as Torshin joined the NRA, he
began targeting the gun lobby’s
leadership, leaning on a friend, a
Nashville lawyer named G. Kline
Preston IV. “I’ve probably known
him 10 years,” Preston says of
Torshin. “He’s one of the finest
people I know. He’s a very capable, intelligent, honest man, a
very devout Orthodox Christian,
very serious about his faith.”
Preston is a jovial Russophile.
He studied abroad in Soviet Leningrad in the late Eighties on his
way to an undergraduate degree
in Russian language and literature. He has moonlighted as a
vodka importer and a trader on
the post-Soviet stock exchange. In 2006,
Preston opened a sister law oice in St. Petersburg, where his practice areas included
“lobbying members of government bodies
in the United States and the Russian Federation.” Torshin met Preston through mutual Russian contacts, and he invited the
lawyer to speak to the Russian senate in
2009. “I’m very pro-Putin, honestly,” Preston says in a rich Southern drawl. “He’s
been fantastic for Russia.”
A campaign banner from Putin’s 2012
election hangs in Preston’s Nashville office, also decorated with Russian nesting
dolls of the Trump family. Preston believes
Russia shares the values of the American South, but his own views are reactionary. He calls the Civil War “the War for
Southern Independence”; the Confederate
B
ing a trap. “He’s reaching out to attract the
NRA, specifically, over to Russia.”
The FBI is now investigating whether Torshin, the current deputy governor
of the Russian central bank, illegally funneled cash to the NR A to support the
election of Donald Trump, according to
a report by McClatchy that has sparked a
probe by the Federal Elections Commission. Moscow’s NRA connections have
also become a focus of House and Senate
Russia investigators. In his House testimony, made public in January, Simpson
pointed to “Russian banker-slash-Dumamember-slash-Mafia-leader” Torshin and
his “suspicious” protégé, a young gun activist named Marina Butina. “It appears
the Russians,” Simpson said, “infiltrated
the NRA.”
Illustration by Victor Juhasz
The NRA spent an unprecedented $30
million to install Trump in the White
House. Putin has a long track record of
illegally financing nationalist opposition
groups in the West. If the Kremlin’s NRA
outreach culminated in pumping vast
sums into the group’s cofers, America’s
lax campaign-finance regulations would
have posed no obstacle. “There are so many
ways that a group like the NRA could be
used to channel Russian money into a race,
it’s shocking,” says Robert Maguire, who
investigates “dark money” for the Center
for Responsive Politics. In a letter to Congress, the NRA has denied wrongdoing; it
has not denied accepting Russian money.
The notion that the flag-waving NRA of
Eddie Eagle has allied itself with the Russian bear, and the government of former
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| R ol l i n g S t o n e |
27
Constitution “an improvement”; and has
blasted Lincoln as “a terrorist and a war
criminal!” In 2013, he posted a meme on
Twitter of Barack Obama looking unmanly in comparison to the buf, shirtless Russian leader. Preston wrote, “As long as U.S.
is electing foreign-born presidents, I propose Vladimir [Vladimirovich] Putin.”
The Nashville lawyer saw nothing odd
about his Russian friend’s desire to meet
the NRA president: “Torshin is a gun enthusiast,” he says. And although Preston attends the annual NRA meetings,
he didn’t know Keene personally. “I just
called him out of the blue,” Preston says. “I
told him, ‘Hey, I got a friend who is interested in the NRA, gun rights, that kind of
stuf. Happens to be a Russian senator.’ ”
The NRA welcomed the outreach. “Russia’s essentially a gun-free zone since Bolsheviks took power,” Preston explains. (Rifles and shotguns are commonly owned;
handguns are tightly restricted.) “You
have Russian politicians and other citizens working to change that. Senator Torshin is one of those people.” He adds, “The
obvious place to look, to see a successful gun-rights organization, is the United
States and the NRA.”
Speaking on the phone from Tennessee
and Moscow, where he traveled in March
to act as an observer of the presidential
election of Putin – which independent
monitors have called “a sham” – Preston
flatly denies that his Russian friends were
meddling in the U.S. election. “These allegations are laughable,” he says. “I have no
knowledge of it, never saw any indications.
It’s a red herring, man. Like when we were
kids, they sent us on snipe hunts – a bird
that doesn’t exist.”
But as early as 2012, when Torshin attended the NRA convention as a “VIP”
guest of “the NRA President,” his fascination with U.S. gun culture was twinned
with an interest in presidential politics.
That November, he was in Nashville as an
observer of the contest between Obama
and Romney. “I set that up,” says Preston,
but Torshin’s bona fides with the rifle association smoothed his path: “My NRA
card,” he boasted on Twitter, “opened the
doors to any polling stations for me.” Torshin inspected electronic voting machines
and election queues. Spotting posters of
Obama hanging in one precinct – a violation of election norms – “Torshin, I think,
snapped pictures and sent them to Moscow
immediately,” Preston recalls.
Torshin also traveled to D.C., making
two intriguing stops: one at the headquarters of the NRA, the other at the residence
of Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador
to the United States whose frequent contacts with Trump campaign figures have
raised red flags with investigators.
Over the next year, Torshin’s access and
influence in the NRA continued to grow. At
28 | R ol l i n g S t o n e |
RollingStone.com
the 2013 convention in Houston, Gottlieb
recalls, Torshin was presented with the gift
of a rifle. “3 thousand delegates of the NRA
Congress, greeted me with an ovation!”
Torshin tweeted. He also snapped photos
of a ceremony for the “Golden Ring of Freedom,” the NRA’s high society for milliondollar lifetime donors, many of them gun
executives. The group breaks bread in golden dinner jackets with elaborate crests embroidered on the breast pockets. They ring
a replica of the Liberty Bell.
Outside the NRA bubble, however, senator Torshin was becoming infamous. Spanish authorities reportedly sought to arrest
him at a 2013 birthday party for Alexander
Romanov, a member of the Russian Taganskaya mob, now serving prison time for
laundering money through real estate on
I WISH WE HAD AS
MANY GOOD-LOOKING
YOUNG LADIES IN OUR
GUN MOVEMENT IN
THE UNITED STATES,”
ONE ACTIVIST SAYS.
“I WAS IMPRESSED.
the Spanish island of Mallorca. According
to judicial documents reviewed by El Pais,
Romanov referred to Torshin as “boss” and
“godfather” on intercepted phone calls;
Spain suspected Torshin had laundered
14 million euros through the purchase of a
hotel on the island.
The birthday sting was foiled when Torshin didn’t show up to the island. Charges were never filed. “Calling on Russia to
arrest him would have been useless because Russia does not cooperate,” a judicial source told El Pais. In a statement to
the paper, Torshin denied any wrongdoing,
insisting he’d never done business with Romanov or owned Spanish real estate. Torshin has acknowledged only social connections to the mobster; for example, he is the
godfather of Romanov’s teenage son. (Torshin did not respond to interview requests.)
n moscow, tor shi n h a d partnered with Marina Butina, who would
become the face of gun rights in Russia. She gained national prominence
in 2011, competing in the Youth Primaries of the Young Guard of United Russia – a political competition sponsored by
the Kremlin to cultivate fresh political talent. Tall and poised, with a spiky brown
haircut, Butina, then 22, had grown up
with guns, learning to hunt with her father
in her home region of Altai, in southern Siberia. Her platform in the contest included
I
liberalizing Russia’s gun laws. Torshin was
captivated. He hired Butina as a special
assistant. That same year, she became the
founding chair of Russia’s new gun group:
the Right to Bear Arms.
In late 2013, Torshin and Butina hosted an NRA delegation, along with other
American gun-rights activists, at a Right to
Bear Arms convention in Moscow. A lavish
afair, staged in an upscale convention center, the event doubled as a coming-out party
for Torshin’s young protégé. They arranged
private meals for American guests, who
feasted on Russian delicacies and downed
flavored vodkas. Leggy models in miniskirts put on a fashion show, flashing garter belts that doubled as conceal-carry gun
holsters. “I was impressed with the grassroots movement they created,” says Gottlieb, of the Second Amendment Foundation.
“I wish we had as many good-looking young
ladies involved in our gun-rights movement
here in the United States.”
For an upstart organization, the Right to
Bear Arms’ conference was crawling with
Russian government oicials. Torshin delivered the keynote address, and Butina presented him and a half-dozen other
Russian politicians – including the ultranationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky – with
honorary memberships. (Butina has denied taking even “one coin” in government
money.) Leading the American cohort was
the NRA’s president, Keene, who delivered
his address promoting Russo-American
unity. In pictures, Keene posed next to Butina – now sporting long red hair – grinning like a schoolboy.
Putin did not attend, but those in the
audience felt his influence. “I make the assumption that they have the blessing of
more than just Alexander Torshin, because
he’s an upper-ranking member of Putin’s
party,” Gottlieb says. “He’s not going to do
things that are going to upset Putin.” (Despite this cleareyed assessment, Gottlieb
rejects the notion that the Russians and
the NRA were in cahoots in 2016.)
Right to Bear Arms’ international outreach extended to John Bolton, the former U.N. ambassador and longtime NRA
activist, who now serves as President
Trump’s national security adviser. In late
2013, a video appeared online of Bolton
delivering an address to Right to Bear
Arms, as the group was pursuing a gunrights amendment to the Russian constitution. (That campaign – like much of
Right to Bear Arms’ political agenda – has
foundered.) Through his bushy mustache,
Bolton praised Putin’s autocratic country
as a “force for democracy in the world,” and
encouraged the Russian activists. “Good
luck on your journey,” he said, “into a new
century of freedom.”
Torshin feted Butina, calling her “very
young and talented. She is the youngest
prominent public figure in the Russian
A p r i l 1 9 -M a y 3 , 2 018
FROM LEFT: KONSTANTIN ZAVRAZHIN/GETTY IMAGES; MARIA BUTINA/FACEBOOK
Federation.” Torshin also praised more
than her political acumen, saying she had
become “more beautiful” and “ideally slim.”
Hall, the former CIA oicer, says Butina
fits a mold: “The Russians are not stupid.
It’s a safe bet that there’s more men in leadership positions on the conservative side of
American politics in places like the NRA.
If you are looking to attract people to your
cause, guys would be more interested in
talking to somebody like her. It’s one of the
old plays out of the KGB handbook.”
Butina, he says, “reminds me of Anna
Chapman – the fiery redhead who was one
of the illegals who was kicked out of the
United States back in 2010.” Chapman had
lived in New York before being unmasked
as a spy by the FBI; she pleaded guilty to
acting as a foreign agent and was deported
in a spy exchange – for the Russian double
agent recently poisoned with a nerve agent
in the U.K. Chapman now has a popular
Instagram account in which she poses in
revealing outfits, often with weapons. Butina has flashed a similar sex appeal, stripping down for a 2014 profile in GQ Russia
– wielding a pair of pistols, wearing stilettos, a black leather jacket, and lingerie from Dolce & Gabbana – and posing as
the cover model for the Right to Bear Arms
glossy in-house magazine.
In early 2014, U.S.-Russia relations
were cratering, following the invasion of
Crimea. Torshin helped steer the legislation that oicially annexed the territory,
appearing with Putin at a Kremlin signing ceremony. But his relationship with the
NRA was sunnier than ever. “Republicans
are the bones of the NRA,” Torshin tweeted in February. “Great political victories
are ahead of you!” At the 2014 convention
in Indianapolis, Butina met with the highest-ranking oicers of the NRA – including, Rolling Stone can report, Wayne
LaPierre, the NRA’s executive vice president. She presented a plaque from Right
to Bear Arms to then-NRA president Jim
Porter, tweeting, “Mission accomplished.”
Her tour through the conservative elite included snapping selfies with former GOP
presidential candidates Bobby Jindal and
Rick Santorum.
A p r i l 1 9 -M a y 3 , 2 018
As a guest of Keene, Butina joined the
rituals of the Golden Ring of Freedom,
even ringing the NRA’s liberty bell. “To
the right to bear arms for citizens of the
whole world,” she said as the bell sounded.
Her first American trip, she blogged, culminated in “an experience at the Washington oice of the NRA.” Standing before the
group’s blue-glass headquarters, she posed
for a photo with Keene.
Butina and Torshin soon began leveraging their NRA connections to gain per-
BIG GUNS Above:
Torshin (center)
with Putin at an
awards ceremony
in Moscow, 2011.
Right: Butina,
founder of Russia’s
Right to Bear
Arms, in 2015.
sonal access to GOP presidential contenders. Not yet a declared candidate, Trump
addressed the NRA’s 2015 convention in
Nashville. “We need strength,” Trump
said. “We need people that are respected. Putin has no respect for our president.” Torshin has claimed he met Trump
in Nashville, and that Trump ribbed him:
“ ‘So, you’re from Russia – when are you
going to invade Latvia?’ ” The Trump
White House has denied this encounter
took place.
The Russians also rubbed elbows with
Scott Walker, then a viable candidate, and
the beneficiary of more than $3.5 million from the NRA over his career. Walker charmed Butina when they first met,
she blogged, greeting her in Russian. “We
talked about Russia,” she wrote. “I did not
hear any aggression towards our country, the president or my compatriots.” Two
months later, Butina traveled to Wauke-
sha, Wisconsin, to attend Walker’s oicial
presidential launch.
Butina was not keeping a low profile.
In June, she wrote an English-language
op-ed about U.S-Russia relations for The
National Interest, the foreign-policy magazine founded by neoconservative Irving
Kristol. Butina staked out a case for regime
change in America: “It may take the election of a Republican to the White House
in 2016 to improve relations between the
Russian Federation and the United States,”
she wrote. “As improbable
as it may sound, the Russian bear shares more interests with the Republican elephant than the Democratic
donkey.” Citing the GOP’s
coalition of social conservatives, businessmen and
anti-terrorism hawks, Butina wrote, “These are values
espoused by United Russia, the current ruling political party in Moscow.” The
magazine identified Butina
as the founder of “a Russian
version of the NRA.” Not
included in her bio: Butina
was still on the government
payroll, as special assistant
to Torshin, who by now was
deputy governor of the Russian central bank.
Butina soon appeared
in Las Vegas for Freedom
Fest, a libertarian conference where Trump spoke.
Barely a month into his candidacy, Trump had said little formally about Russian
relations. “I am from Russia,” Butina said in lilting
English from a microphone
in a ballroom at the Planet
Hollywood casino. “If you
would be elected as the president, do you
want to continue the politics of sanctions?”
“I know Putin,” Trump replied. “I believe
I would get along very nicely with Putin.
OK?” Then Trump gave an answer that was
music to Kremlin ears: “I don’t think you’d
need the sanctions.”
utina’s intelligence, drive
and charisma won her powerful
friends in the NRA. But she became remarkably close with one
lifelong GOP activist in particular: Paul Erickson. Six feet four, with a
bald crown ringed by graying curls, Erickson has a skier’s build and greets fellow
Yalies with a fight-song-inspired “Boola,
Boola.” A member of the same cohort of college Republicans that produced Norquist,
Christian Coalition head Ralph Reed and
disgraced superlobbyist Jack Abramoff,
Erickson has enjoyed a vivid and varied
B
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| R ol l i n g S t o n e |
29
career. A rabid anti-communist, he spent
the summer of 1983 sending supplies to insurgents battling the USSR in Afghanistan. He has lobbied on behalf of Zairean
strongman Mobutu Sese Seko, mounted
the “Love Hurts” media tour for celebrity
penis amputee John Wayne Bobbitt and
was credited as an executive producer on
Abramof’s 1989 B-movie Red Scorpion,
starring Dolph Lundgren.
Like Keene, with whom he served on the
board of the American Conservative Union,
Erickson is a low-profile everywhere man,
described by one friend as a “secret master
of the political universe.” He has helped run
a number of GOP presidential campaigns,
serving as national political director for nativist Pat Buchanan’s 1992 run. (Erickson
did not respond to repeated interview requests.) In 2013, Erickson joined the NRA’s
first visit to the Right to Bear Arms conference in Moscow – the following September, according to Butina’s blog, he returned
to Russia, solo, to address her group on behalf of the NRA.
FROM
RUSSIA
WITH GUNS
A timeline of how
Putin’s agents
cozied up to the
NRA and Trump
2010
RollingStone.com
vate meetings start. This is something the
Russians have done for decades.”
The Russians, Hall believes, were seeking a “mechanism by which they can, sort
of, control the NRA.” They might start
with the “friendly route,” he says, “pulling
the wool over the organization’s eyes, getting them to buy into: ‘Hey, we’re both real
conservatives at heart. Russia is actually a friend of the United States. Why can’t
we get past all of this ugliness?’ ” The question is where the camaraderie ends. “Do
they end up with a senior NRA guy who
they formally recruited, who can now work
clandestinely for them?”
Many recruits are oblivious of Russian
influence – until it’s too late. “They’ll start
it of with something seemingly innocuous,” Hall says. “And then they’ll move it as
far as they possibly can. If they start hitting
resistance, they might very well say, ‘Let’s
not forget that trip to Moscow you took six
months ago, where you had a few too many
drinks and got a little too friendly with
somebody.’ That’s there as well.”
Apr. 2011
Aug. 2011
Nov. 2012
A Suspicious
New Member
Meeting With
NRA Brass
Russia Gets
a Gun Lobby
A Visit to the
U.S. Elections
NRA Shows
Moscow Love
Russian senator
Alexander Torshin
becomes a member of the NRA.
Torshin meets NRA
president David
Keene, at the NRA
convention in
Pittsburgh.
Torshin’s
protégé
Marina Butina
founds Right
to Bear
Arms, a
Russian
analogue to
the NRA.
Torshin observes
2012 voting locations in Nashville:
“My NRA card
opened the
doors to any
polling stations for me.”
NRA president ofers
speech of
unity in
Moscow;
John Bolton, via
video, calls Russia
“a new force for
democracy.”
As she tracked GOP presidential candidates in 2015, Butina touched down, repeatedly, in South Dakota, where Erickson lives. In July, she lectured at a camp
for young Republicans with Erickson by
her side. That same month, the duo appeared on a podcast in Manhattan. Erickson regaled the audience with a creation
myth about Right to Bear Arms worthy
of a Silicon Valley startup. “Maria is very
humble,” Erickson said. “She started the
Right to Bear Arms in the Russian version
of McDonald’s with friends, and her work
became noticed by the highest levels of the
Russian government.” In September, the
pair partied by the graveside of F. Scott
Fitzgerald in Maryland. Butina wore a
flapper’s silver headband and a long string
of pearls; Erickson carried a bottle of rum
and a copy of The Great Gatsby.
At the close of 2015, Torshin and Butina invited a new delegation of NR A
members to a Right to Bear Arms convention in Moscow. The crowd included
faces familiar and new, including Keene;
Pete Brownell, CEO of one of America’s
30 | R ol l i n g S t o n e |
largest gun-sellers who is now the NRA’s
president; Joe Gregory, the chair of the
NRA’s Golden Ring of Freedom; as well
as Trump surrogate and then-Milwaukee
Sherif David A. Clarke. Erickson reportedly also attended.
The Russians put on a wintry spectacle – replete with ornate Christmas trees
and white chairs tied up like presents
with red ribbons. Arnold Goldschlager,
a major NRA donor who also attended,
would tell McClatchy, “They were killing
us with vodka and the best Russian food.”
In a public filing, Clarke estimated Right
to Bear Arms spent $6,000 on his hotels, meals, excursions and transportation
around Moscow.
In these same days, Putin himself was
pursuing other angles of influence with the
American right. The Russian president met
with right-wing pastor Franklin Graham
for a 45-minute exchange. And on December 10th, Putin infamously sat next to Gen.
Michael Flynn, Trump’s future national security adviser, at an RT gala in Moscow.
As they lived the high life in Moscow, the
NRA delegation kept crossing paths with
top Putin cabinet oicials. Clarke tweeted about a meeting with “the Russian Foreign Minister” – who is Sergey Lavrov.
NRA members also convened with Dmitry
Rogozin, the deputy prime minister of Russia who is in charge of the defense industry, and a subject of U.S. sanctions. But for
the representatives of the NRA, geopolitics
seemed a distant concern. This trip was all
fun and guns. Sherif Clarke tweeted photos from Russian gunmaker Orsis, delighting, “I test fired one of their sniper rifles.”
If NRA members were having a carefree good time, the Russians were almost
certainly watching their every move, seeking leverage, says Hall. “The FSB is set up
first and foremost to collect compromising information on people who might later
be useful to the Russian government,” he
says. “It’s not always that,” he adds. “A lot
of it involves establishing personal relationships that then could be leveraged into
something diferent. That’s where a lot of
the dinners, and the toasting, and the pri-
Nov. 2013
t t h e b e g i n n i n g of 2 016 ,
Butina and Erickson were taking
their relationship to a new level.
Back in South Dakota, they became
partners in a limited-liability corporation called Bridges; in legal documents, Butina and Erickson list their address at the same suite in Sioux Falls, but
the purpose and activities of Bridges remain opaque. According to a conversation
between Erickson and reporters for McClatchy, the corporation, founded in February 2016, “was established in case Butina needed any monetary assistance for
her graduate studies.” (Months later, Butina would enroll in a master’s program
at American University.) McClatchy deadpanned this would be “an unusual way to
use an LLC.”
The timing of Bridges’ founding is notable. Three days later, Torshin tweeted from
Russia, sharing news of the Republican
presidential race: “Maria Butina is now in
the U.S. She writes to me that D. Trump (a
member of the NRA) is really for the cooperation with Russia.”
A
A p r i l 1 9 -M a y 3 , 2 018
That spring, Erickson would attempt to
broker a meeting between the GOP candidate and Torshin, with the hope that it
would lead to a future sit-down between
Trump and Putin. Erickson sent an email to a top member of the Trump campaign in May, with the subject line “Kremlin Connection.” (The message, obtained by
Congress, was shared with The New York
Times.) Erickson explained that “happenstance” and NRA connections had enabled
him to “slowly begin cultivating a backchannel to President Putin’s Kremlin.”
He informed the campaign that “Putin is
deadly serious about building a good relationship with Mr. Trump” and wished candidate Trump “to visit him in the Kremlin.”
Erickson implied that Moscow saw Hillary
Clinton as “beyond redemption.”
Referring to “President Putin’s emissary
on this front” – who The New York Times
determined was Torshin – Erickson proposed an initial meeting would be possible
between Trump and Torshin in Louisville,
Kentucky. Timed with the 2016 NRA con-
THIS SPREAD, FROM LEFT: ALEXANDER TORSHIN/TWITTER,2 ; MARIA BUTINA/FACEBOOK; THE RIGHT
TO BEAR ARMS/YOUTUBE; MARIA BUTINA/VK; LUKE SHARRETT/BLOOMBERG/GETTY IMAGES, 2; FBI
Apr. 2014
Apr. 2015
ing two sources close to the gun lobby, McClatchy reporters Peter Stone and Greg
Gordon suggest the true total may be far
greater – $70 million or more – noting that
Internet advertising, field work and getout-the-vote campaigns are not documented in federal disclosures.
The source of the millions spent by the
NRA is untraceable; the organization is a
dark-money giant that can hide its benefactors. This privilege of secrecy is granted to “social welfare” organizations, whose
primary purpose is not political. Despite
its prodigious power in our elections, the
NRA spends most of its money on other activities – from magazine publishing to gun
education to NRATV.
“The NRA is routinely used as a conduit” for “sketchy” money spent on Republican politics, says Maguire, the investigator for the Center for Responsive
Politics. “We’ve seen some of the groups in
the Koch network give large, six- and seven-figure grants to the NRA – knowing
that the NRA is going to spend that money
July 2015
Dec. 2015
ters to Ron Wyden, the ranking member
of the Senate Finance Committee, a lawyer for the NRA wrote that the organization is committed to “raise and spend our
funds within the bounds of the law” and
that it works to vet “significant contributions from unknown entities.” However,
the lawyer admitted that the NRA accepts
donations from “foreign persons” to accounts not dedicated to elections – adding
that money moves between election and
nonelection accounts “as permitted by law.”
Wyden tells Rol l i ng S t on e that
“money in these accounts could be used to
pay for ad campaigns and voter mobilization eforts,” insisting that “the NRA has a
public responsibility to disclose where their
foreign donations are coming from.” Understanding how “outside actors are directly or indirectly influencing the U.S. political
debate,” the Oregon Democrat says, “is critical to the preservation of our Democracy.”
Torshin has blasted the accusations
in the McClatchy exposé as “gossip from
the media,” taunting critics on Twitter to
May 2016
Nov. 2017
Jan. 2018
A Smitten
Convention
Trump Cracks
Invasion Joke
Who Needs
Sanctions?
NRA Parties
Like Putin
More Meetings
for Don Jr.
Testimony on
NRA-Russia
News Breaks
of Feds’ Case
At NRA
convention,
Butina meets
the group’s
leaders, including Wayne
LaPierre, later
tweeting, “Mission
accomplished.”
Torshin claims
to briefly meet
Trump, who he
says joked,
“When are
you going
to invade
Latvia?”
Butina asks Trump
in Las Vegas about
Russia; Trump
says, “I know
Putin....I
don’t think
you’d need
the sanctions.”
NRA delegation meets
top Putin
oicials in
Moscow. An
attendee: “They
were killing us with
vodka and the best
Russian food.”
The NRA endorses
Trump at its
convention
in Louisville,
Kentucky, where
Torshin meets the
candidate’s son
Donald Trump Jr.
House Intelligence Committee
receives testimony:
“It appears the
Russians,
you know,
infiltrated
the NRA.”
FBI investigates
whether Torshin
illegally funneled
money to the NRA,
which spent at
least $30 million on Trump.
vention, Erickson wrote, the event weekend could be used by Torshin to “make
‘first contact.’ ”
The NRA officially endorsed Trump
in Louisville on May 20th, marking the
gun lobby’s earliest-ever presidential endorsement. Accepting the NRA’s backing,
Trump vowed, “I will never let you down.”
Torshin watched in the audience, later
tweeting, “He was not simply endorsed
at the NRA Congress at Louisville, it was
unanimous. . . . the applause!”
Torshin, it seems, did not secure the
face-to-face meeting with Trump. But the
Russian banker did meet with the president’s son, lifetime NRA member Donald
Trump Jr., at a dinner during the convention. (Outreach from Russia was coming
strong: Weeks later, in early June, Trump
Jr. would sit down with another cast of
Russians promising “dirt” on Clinton at
Trump Tower.) In July, Torshin received
his medal from the FSB.
Through Election Day, the NRA would
spend more than $30 million in federally recorded funds on behalf of Trump. CitA p r i l 1 9 -M a y 3 , 2 018
on ads in an election,” Maguire says. “They
get away with it.”
The Russians, Maguire says, could easily have funneled money into the NRA’s
cofers, using a similar pathway: “It is not
surprising that the NRA would be used in
that way.” It might even have been legal,
he says. The NRA is allowed to accept foreign cash; it’s only forbidden from spending that money directly on U.S. elections.
But in an organization as vast and varied
as the NRA, cash is fungible. A legal, ostensibly apolitical donation to the NRA
by Russia could have freed up other, unrestricted funds to spend on politics. It’s
also possible the gun lobby was duped.
“The NRA may have been used without
even knowing it,” Maguire says. “Russians
could easily set up a Delaware corporation, with a name like ‘Americans for Gun
Freedom LLC,’ and give the NRA a $5 million check. The NRA would just say, ‘Hey
great, it sounds like our kind of people,’ ”
and spend the cash.
The NRA did not respond to numerous
requests to comment for this piece. In let-
“produce concrete proof of my financing
of the NRA (amounts of money, account
numbers, dates). . . . I’m waiting!” On social
media, Butina has argued her gun advocacy should be taken at face value, and not as
evidence of the “long arm of the Kremlin” in
the 2016 election. “Sometimes,” she wrote,
in a nod to Freud, “a cigar is just a cigar.”
Some members of Congress see the apparent Russian efort to turn the NRA as
part of a larger, ongoing Kremlin ofensive. “The tentacles of Russian enterprise
in this country are deep and ubiquitous,”
says Rep. Jackie Speier, a California Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee. “The Russians are as close to being
warlike as you can imagine, without bullets being fired.” Putin, says Sen. Cardin,
“uses an asymmetric arsenal in order to
undermine our democracy and our institutions of democracy” – noting that “part of
his game plan is to finance entities that he
believes disrupt the unity of our country.”
Pointing to the gun lobby’s polarizing role
in our political culture, Cardin adds, “The
NRA would be perfect.”
RollingStone.com
| R ol l i n g S t o n e |
31
DWAYNE’S
BY JOSH
EELLS
Photograph by
Mark Seliger
WORLD
S
The pain and
the passion that
fuel the Rock,
Hollywood’s
most dependable
good guy
LIKE A ROCK
Johnson in
Simi Valley,
California
33
I don’t
like a sad
ending.
Life brings
that shit –
I don’t
want it in
my movies.
I want to
feel great.
Contributing editor Josh Eells wrote
about Chadwick Boseman in February.
34 | R ol l i n g S t o n e |
RollingStone.com
“Finally they had to move us at, like, three
in the morning. It was a whole thing.”
What a bummer – and on their special
night, too. “One night!” Johnson says. He
throws his hands up, mock-exasperated.
“The hits just keep on coming.”
They do, actually. Johnson is riding a
wave of success as the most bankable star
in Hollywood – the closest that movies in
2018 have to a sure thing. A recent Wall
Street Journal report revealed that his upfront payday for an upcoming film would
be $22 million; a source close to Johnson
says that figure is low by “two bills.” But the
most surprising part of the news may have
been how unsurprising it was: Of course
the Rock is worth $20 million-plus. After
all, there’s a reason last year’s Jumanji sequel grossed nearly $1 billion worldwide,
and all due respect, it’s not Jack Black.
As producer Beau Flynn, who’s made six
of Johnson’s films, says, even at that price,
“Dwayne is a massive steal and a bargain.”
“He’s a freak of nature,” says Johnson’s
Rampage co-star Jefrey Dean Morgan. “It
seems like every month he’s in a movie and
making a killing. In the middle of shooting
Rampage, he’s of hosting SNL and doing
ads for Apple and running for president
and whatever else. He works out at 3:30 in
the morning so he can get to set on time. I
don’t know how he does it. And the other
thing is, he’s a family dude, so not only is
he juggling the 9 million things he’s got on
his plate for work, he’s also raising kids and
got a happy marriage. Jesus Christ. I kind
of fucking hate him.”
S
p e n di ng t i m e w i t h
Dwayne Johnson is pretty
much as uplifting as you’d
expect. He will give you
a fist bump that makes
your humerus vibrate. He
will ask your spouse and/
or child’s name and then
make a point to repeat it
17 times. His warmth and
enthusiasm will be infectious, and you will
leave with newfound inspiration to wake
up earlier and exercise more and be kinder to people and also maybe join the Marines? That’s just the kind of guy he is.
“When I first met Dwayne, one of the
first things he said to me was ‘Let’s elevate
and dominate,’ ” Peyton says. “If most people said that, you’d be like, ‘Are you kidding
me?’ But when Dwayne says it, I’m like,
‘Yes! Elevate and dominate!’ ”
Out at Johnson’s regular table on the
patio, he asks for Fiji water with lemon on
the side, then produces an aluminum takeout container. “If we could just take that
back to the chefs and have it heated and
plated,” he tells the waitress.
“OK,” she says. “I have to check with
them first, because we don’t take outside
food.”
A p r i l 1 9 -M a y 3 , 2 018
PREVIOUS SPREAD: PRODUCED BY COCO KNUDSON. SET DESIGN BY
JESSE NEMETH AT THE MAGNET AGENCY. RING BY DAVID YURMAN.
D W AY N E ’ S W O R L D
the world seemed a little bit sluggish this
morning – if the birds weren’t singing as
sweetly, or the sun hung a bit lower in the
sky – it might be because Dwayne Johnson
didn’t work out.
On any other day, Johnson would be up
before dawn, clanging and banging on the
45,000 pounds of equipment in the torture
chamber of a home gym he calls his Iron
Paradise. But not today. Today Johnson
slept in until the downright slothful hour
of 6 a.m., in a hotel suite in
Beverly Hills under the alias
Sam Cooke, where he now sits
perusing the newspaper while
his longtime girlfriend, Lauren Hashian, enjoys a bowl of
room-service granola.
The reason for this uncharacteristic idleness? Johnson
and Hashian have a two-yearold daughter, Jasmine, and
a second child arriving in a
few weeks. “We’re in the home
stretch,” says Hashian, rubbing her belly – so they left
the toddler with the nanny
for the night and snuck off
for a little romantic getaway.
“We’re getting it in now before
it’s too late.” Johnson, padding
around the suite in gym socks
and a T-shirt that reads blood
sweat respect, says he and
Hashian were originally going to get married this spring in Hawaii. “But then we
got pregnant,” he says. “And Mama don’t
wanna take wedding pictures with a big
belly – Mama wanna look good.” They
weren’t exactly trying to have another baby.
“We were talking about it,” he says. “And
then all of a sudden I get a text from her
with a [picture of a] pregnancy test.” Apparently it didn’t take much. “All I did was
look at her,” Johnson jokes. “Guess what.
You’re pregnant. Baby in you now.”
“He just gave me the eyebrow,” says
Hashian. “Pew. Here’s a baby.”
Johnson says he’s excited. “I had Simone when I
was 29” – his older daughter, now 16, whom he had
with his ex-wife, Dany Garcia, who’s now his manager. (They make
it work.) “Guys don’t mature until much,
much later, so it’s nice to be in my fourth
level and have babies again.” Fourth level
– that’s a new one. Johnson, 45, grins. “It’s
better than saying the actual number.”
Do they have a name picked out? “I think
we do,” Hashian says. “We’re thinking
about Tia. It’s simple, it’s Polynesian-ish.
And I feel like she might come out looking
like a Tia. I mean, she could come out any
which way, because we’re complete opposites” – she’s fair and delicate, he’s brown
and colossal. I love that name, I tell her.
“ Yea h? ” says Johnson, sound ing
pleased. “Thank you. You’re probably
the fourth person who’s heard it. It was
funny – we were having dinner with Emily
Blunt, who I’m getting ready to work with
[on Disney’s Jungle Cruise], and I said,
‘What do you think of Tia?’ And she went –
beat, beat, beat – ‘No one’s gonna fuck with
a Tia Johnson.’ ”
Especially not when her
father is Dwayne Johnson,
roughly the size of a grain elevator. When he was in high
school, other kids were suspicious of him because they
thought he was an undercover
cop. (For the record, a pretty
solid pitch for a Dwayne Johnson movie.) Even now, as the
most beloved star in Hollywood not named Tom Hanks,
Johnson and his giganticness
can still give pause. Director
Brad Peyton, who’s worked
with him on three films –
including the new monster
romp Rampage – says the first
time they met, Johnson was
dressed as Hobbs, from the
Fast & Furious franchise. “I
was like, ‘Oh, my God – this
guy is frighteningly large,’ ”
Peyton says. “I was shitting myself he
looked so intimidating. It took me, like, 15
minutes to get over it.”
As if to combat this, Johnson carries
himself with an abiding gentleness, like a
grizzly bear who rolls over so you can rub
its belly. On our way to the hotel restaurant for breakfast, we pass a manager who
apologizes to him for last night. “Oh, it’s all
good!” Johnson says. Only after we’re out
of earshot does he reluctantly relate what
happened. It turns out when he got back
to the suite around 2 a.m., following a long
day of work, Hashian was still wide awake,
thanks to a mysterious buzzing near the
bed. “I shut the AC of, we called for earplugs, maintenance came,” Johnson says.
1 2
3
Rise of the Rock
(1) Playing ball at the University of Miami.
(2) In the ring, 1999. (3) With his father,
wrestler “Soulman” Rocky Johnson, and (4)
his mother, Ata. “He’s used to being coached
and pushed,” says one of his directors.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP RIGHT: © 1999 WORLD WRESTLING
ENTERTAINMENT, INC.; COURTESY OF DWAYNE JOHNSON, 3
4
“Oh, they will,” Johnson says, smiling
confidently.
“It will be fine?” she asks.
“It will be fine,” he says. And she trusts
him, because when Dwayne Johnson tells
you something will be fine, it will be.
(A few minutes later, a waiter returns
with the heated-up breakfast. I ask what
he’s having. “Right here?” he says. “This is
chopped-up lion heart. That’s bufalo placenta. And these are goat balls. From the
Andes.” He laughs and shakes his head. “So
stupid. But, no – that actually is bufalo.”)
When Johnson was in college, playing
football at the University of Miami, he majored in criminology and wanted to be an
FBI agent or a CIA oicer, so he could “put
bad guys away.” Since then, he has played
both onscreen, as well as a lifeguard and
a Green Beret. In 2015’s San Andreas, he
was an L.A. fire-rescue pilot trying to save
his daughter from a terrifying earthquake.
Says Flynn, “One of my favorite comments
online was ‘This movie is so unrealistic.
Dwayne would just go to the center of the
Earth and hold it from quaking.’ ”
A p r i l 1 9 -M a y 3 , 2 018
Johnson has found a sweet spot with
the characters he plays: highly skilled badasses who are also sensitive and vulnerable,
flawed yet decent men with big biceps and
bigger hearts. “No one’s going to see me play
a borderline psychopath sufering from depression,” he says. “I have friends I admire,
Oscar winners, who approach our craft
with the idea of ‘Sometimes it comes out
a little darker, and nobody will see it, but
it’s for me.’ Great. But I have other things I
can do for me. I’m gonna take care of you,
the audience. You pay your hard-earned
money – I don’t need to bring my dark shit
to you. Maybe a little – but if it’s in there,
we’re gonna overcome it, and we’re gonna
overcome it together.”
As a wrestler, Johnson spent years traveling the country performing in stadiums
and arenas, learning what people wanted
from their heroes. “And the number-one
goal in all those towns, from Paducah,
Kentucky, to Bakersfield, California, was
always take care of the audience. You find
that today in anything I do. Never send an
audience home unhappy.”
There’s a moment in
Rampage that illustrates
this perfectly, but it’s impossible to talk about
without discussing the
ending of the film. “But
if there’s a way to put it
in, feel free,” Johnson
says. “Because I think
it’s interesting how we
got there.”
In the movie, Johnson
plays Davis Okoye, a former special-forces-soldier-turned-anti-poaching-commando who’s
now a primatologist.
(Hey, it could happen.)
His best friend, a lovable
albino silverback gorilla
named George, gets infected by an evil corporation’s genetic experiment and transforms
into a 40-foot monster
hellbent on destroying Chicago, a pursuit
he’s joined in by a mutant crocodile and
a giant f lying wolf. Davis reunites with
George and reminds him that he’s a good
guy, and together the two of them team up
to take down the crocodile and the wolf before they destroy the world. “So the script
comes in, and I’m reading it,” Johnson says.
“And at the end of it – George dies! I’m like,
‘No. Did I miss something? George can’t be
dead.’ But I go back, and yeah.”
Johnson says this moment became “the
number-one topic of discussion” between
himself, the director and producers, and
the studio. “I don’t like a sad ending,” he
says. “Life brings that shit – I don’t want
it in my movies. When the credits roll,
I want to feel great.” His concerns went
up the chain of command, and “we had
a big meeting where they gave me all the
reasons they thought George should die,”
he says. “He sacrifices himself saving the
world. Killing these animals who had ill
intentions to harm mankind. He sacrifices
himself like a brave soldier. OK. But this
is a movie! There’s a crocodile the size of a
football stadium – we’re not making Saving Private Ryan.”
“Dwayne rarely digs in, but on this he
was very adamant,” Flynn says. “It was
back and forth for about two months.”
According to Johnson, it was about more
than just George. “My problem is I have a
relationship with an audience around the
world,” he says. “For years I’ve built a trust
with them that they’re gonna come to my
movies and feel good. So every once in a
while, you have to drop this card, which is:
You’re gonna have to find another actor. We
need to figure something out, otherwise
I’m not gonna do the movie.”
In the end, they landed on a compromise
that made both sides happy. But everyone
RollingStone.com |
R ol l i n g S t o n e |
35
D W AY N E ’ S W O R L D
LAST ACTION
HERO Saving the
day in Rampage
oh nson’s o t h e r big
hallmark, in addition to
being strong and hardworking and able to laugh
at himself, is that he’s a
good dad. It’s built into
his brand: He’s the guy
who can punch out 20
dudes in a prison riot or
divert a torpedo with his
bare hands while hanging from a speeding truck, then make it home for his little girl’s soccer game. He says he’s learned
a lot from being a father, especially a father of girls: empathy, sensitivity, how to
listen better. As Hobbs puts it, “The only
thing that I love more than saving lives is
my daughter.”
His own dad was a little more reserved.
“Soulman” Rocky Johnson was a wrestler
too, part of the first black tag team to win
a WWF championship. Before that, he was
kicked out of his house at age 13 and forced
to live on the streets. “My dad was tough,”
says Johnson. “Tough, tough, tough, tough.”
Johnson’s earliest memory is from when he
was two, and his dad was filling up a kiddie
pool with a hose. “He was like, ‘Hey, come
look at this,’ so I went over and he pushed
me in.” Johnson laughs. “That’s why I need
therapy.” (These days they’re close enough
that Johnson bought his dad a new Cadillac
after hip surgery.)
Back then, wrestlers were like nomads,
eking out a living in Memphis or Allen-
J
36 | R ol l i n g S t o n e |
RollingStone.com
town for a few months before moving
on to the next territory. Johnson lived
in five diferent states by kindergarten,
13 by the end of junior high. “It sucked,”
he says. “I would just be getting settled,
and then it’s the anxiety of a new school,
new friends. . . .” When he was
12, they moved to Hawaii,
where his mom’s family lived.
“That’s when it got rough,” he
says. His dad worked less. His
parents fought. “Times were
lean,” Johnson says. Frustrated with being poor, he started
stealing, then getting arrested. Later, he began getting in
fights more, and turning into
an angry kid. An only child,
he found it hard to talk about
his feelings.
Johnson says he’s been
to therapy a few times now.
“I’ve had a few bouts of depression, as happens to a lot
of us,” he says. The first was
around the time of his divorce:
“Around 2008, 2009, I was
going through a lot of personal
shit that was really fucking me
up. I was just struggling, man.
Struggling to figure out what
kind of dad am I gonna be.
Realizing I’d done a piss-poor job of cultivating relationships, and a lot of my friends
had fallen by the wayside. I was just scared.
Personally, everything was in a very bad
and challenging place. And then professionally, I couldn’t bet on myself. I wasn’t
used to that. I’d always felt like I could put
in the work and fix the scenario with my
own two hands.”
He’d made a splashy entrance in Hollywood, earning $5 million for his first star-
ring role, in 2002’s The Scorpion King. But
after a string of slightly embarrassing kids’
movies, it seemed he might be done. “My
career was a little shaky – really shaky,”
he says. “Returning to wrestling wasn’t an
option, because I didn’t want to go back
deemed a failure. So I’m making these movies, my third
family movie in a row, which
is often considered career suicide for someone who started
in the world of action. Like,
‘Check, please – you’re done.’ ”
Johnson called a meeting with his agents and said
he had a plan. He wanted to
be Will Smith, only different and bigger. “I don’t know
what that means,” he said.
“But I can see it, and I have
these” – he held up his hands
– “and I need everybody to see
it with me.” The silence was
profound. Pretty soon he had
new agents. But 10 years later,
what kind of career does he
have? Will Smith’s, only different and bigger.
When Johnson star ted
wrestling, he didn’t want to
use his real name because “it
didn’t have any pizazz.” Now
it’s practically its own genre. “People just
know it’s the new Dwayne Johnson movie,
and they’re in,” says Toby Emmerich, chairman of Warner Bros. Pictures Group. Blair
Rich, the studio’s president of worldwide
marketing, agrees: “He’s a brand unto himself.”
Through it all, he’s never stopped improving – working with acting coaches,
learning about business and marketing.
“It’s kind of amazing to see how far he’s
When
shit goes
bad or
sideways,
when you
get booed
out of the
building,
it should
form you.
It should
drive you.
A p r i l 1 9 -M a y 3 , 2 018
WARNER BROS. PICTURES
agrees that Johnson had the right instinct.
“He understands the audience and his relationship with the audience better than
anyone,” Peyton says.
“That’s Dwayne’s genius,” says Flynn.
“And watching it with an audience, he was
100 percent right.”
FROM TOP: COLLECTION CHRISTOPHEL/ALAMY; FRANK MASI/SONY PICTURES; WALT DISNEY STUDIOS MOTION
PICTURES/EVERETT COLLECTION; JASIN BOLAND/WARNER BROS.; WARNER BROS./EVERETT COLLECTION
come as an actor,” Morgan says. “A couple
of weeks ago I was flipping through channels, and one of his first movies came on,
this movie Doom, from the mid-2000s – it
was old enough to where he had hair. To
see the subtleties he brings now – I give
mad props to him.”
“Dwayne started as an athlete, so he’s
used to being coached and pushed,” says
Rawson Marshall Thurber, who directed
Johnson in Central Intelligence and this
summer’s Skyscraper. “He responds really
well to that. He’ll give you a hundred takes
if you want.”
By all accounts, Johnson is a dream on
set – remembering everybody’s name from
craft services to the camera operators, taking pictures with the second prop department guy’s brother even though no one
asked. After two movies together, Thurber
says he’s seen Johnson get truly mad only
once, when “there was a miscommunication about when he would be done shooting, and he wasn’t gonna be able to get on
his flight to go see his little one. It was the
most upset I’ve ever seen him. But the way
he handled it was really cool. He brought
everybody together in the middle of the set
and said, ‘I’m disappointed in all of us that
we’re here at this point. How can we solve
this and move forward?’
“It was pretty tense,” Thurber says. “He’s
a big guy – everyone was staring at their
shoes. But what he didn’t do was say ‘screw
it’ and storm of, or sit in his trailer and
have his people make a fuss. He’s a giant
movie star – he could just walk out. But he
called everybody together and said, ‘Let’s
figure this out.’ I gained a lot of respect for
him in that moment.”
All of which may help explain the drama
that boiled over on the set of The Fate of the
Furious in 2016. During the last week of
filming, Johnson posted a message on his
Instagram slamming anonymous co-stars
who fail to “conduct themselves as standup men and true professionals” and were
“too chickenshit to do anything about it. . . .
Candyasses.”
It soon became clear Johnson was referring to co-star Vin Diesel. When the film
came out, eagle-eyed viewers noticed the
pair’s scenes were shot in such a way that
they might not have been on set at the same
time. “That is correct,” confirms Johnson.
“We were not in any scenes together.”
“Dwayne will give you a lot of latitude,”
Beau Flynn says. “You can push and push
and push. But there’s a line in the sand with
him – close to his toes, probably – and if
you cross that, that’s one of the rare times
he gets upset.”
Johnson says their beef came down to a
disagreement about professionalism. “Vin
and I had a few discussions, including an
important face-to-face in my trailer,” he
says. “And what I came to realize is that we
have a fundamental diference in philosoA p r i l 1 9 -M a y 3 , 2 018
KING OF THE
BOX OFFICE
Johnson is Hollywood’s most
bankable star – just look at the
worldwide grosses for his movies
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$4.2 billion
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phies on how we approach moviemaking
and collaborating. It took me some time,
but I’m grateful for that clarity. Whether
we work together again or not.”
Does that mean he might not be back
for the ninth installment? “I’m not quite
sure,” he says. “Right now I’m concentrating on making the spinof as good as it
can be” – Hobbs and Shaw, co-starring
Jason Statham, due next year. “But I wish
him all the best, and I harbor no ill will
there, just because of the clarity we have.”
He considers this, then lets out a big, sly
laugh. “Actually, you can erase that last
part about ‘no ill will.’ We’ll just keep it
with the clarity.”
O
n the day of the nationwide March for Our
Lives to protest gun violence, Johnson posts
for his 102 million Instagram followers a picture of the marchers in
D.C., along with a caption that reads (in part),
“Very proud of our youth
leading this movement. . . . very strong day.”
Johnson rarely chooses to weigh in publicly on political issues, but the massacre of
14 students and three adults in Parkland,
Florida, hit close to home, literally. His
daughter Simone goes to school just half
an hour away.
“She was absolutely terrified,” he says. “A
lot of her friends’ friends died. It’s heartbreaking. They’re still going through it.”
I ask him what he thinks we should do.
“You gotta do something, right?” he says.
“I don’t think giving teachers guns is the
answer, because then we’re just bringing
more guns into school. I don’t know, man.
I don’t have the answers. But we’ve gotta
keep our kids safe.”
I mention how moving it’s been to see
kids leading the way. “Incredibly moving,”
he says. “And powerful and emotional. But
like with anything, we’ve gotta have people
who will meet them in the middle. It’s frustrating. We’ve gotta see better leadership.”
Johnson’s idea of leadership includes
a few things. Empathy. Inclusivity. Being
open to other views. Staying calm and
avoiding knee-jerk reactions. “I also feel,
at some point, like we just need goodquality human beings,” he says. “I think
when you’re a good-quality human being in
your DNA and your constitution, it leads to
more efective decision-making.”
As an example, consider the clash between President Trump and the NFL players who knelt during the national anthem.
Johnson (who says if he were in the league,
he “would either have knelt or raised my
fist in solidarity”) says that what those protests were about – namely, African-Americans being killed by police – was misunderstood. “I felt like our [Cont. on 56]
RollingStone.com |
R ol l i n g S t o n e |
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Ratelif in
February
in L.A.
NATHANIEL RATELIFF
short for “Son of a Bitch.” Fallon’s
immediate reaction: “This dude is
insane. Where was this? Why wasn’t
I there?”
That clip, still on YouTube, was
shot on an iPhone from the side of
the stage in November 2013 at one
of Ratelif’s early gigs with the Night
Sweats. He belts the chorus – “Son
of a bitch, gimme a drink!” – like an
enraged Van Morrison armed with
a wall of horns, atop a Ray Charlesstyle charge. At one point, the singer,
a barrel-chested man with a thick
brown beard, does a nimble James
Brown-like swivel on the tips of his
shoes. “That was,” Fallon says, “the
last thing that sold me: ‘This has to
be on television.’ ”
On August 5th, 2015, Ratelif and
the Night Sweats played “S.O.B.”
on The Tonight Show – two weeks
before their debut album, including that song, was released. Backstage, getting his makeup, Ratelif
worried about living up to Fallon’s
enthusiasm. During the taping, the
host “kept putting the record on his
desk,” the singer recalls, “cutting of
his guests: ‘You gotta check this out.’
“But by the time we got onstage, I
wasn’t thinking about playing to millions of people,” Ratelif says. “It was
this tiny room. I thought, ‘We’ve got
one song. Let’s tear it up.’ I remember
seeing Jimmy over there, freaking
out.” The studio audience responded
with a standing ovation. The next
day, Fallon got a phone call from Paul
McCartney, who saw the broadcast
and wanted to know, “Who was that
guy? That was fantastic.”
A month later, Ratelif was in a
meeting at his record label when,
he says, “one guy who does statistics said, ‘You really fucked my job.
TV supposedly doesn’t sell records.
You’ve just changed everything.’ ”
t m ay be t he most i mprobable breakout of this viral-pop-star decade: a white
classic-soul band led by a
burly middle-aged singer.
In the wake of “S.O.B.,” Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night
Sweats went gold in the U.S.
as the band toured relentlessly, playing 246 shows in 16
countries just by the end of
2016. Ratelif, bassist Joseph
Pope III, drummer Patrick
Meese, guitarist Luke Mossman,
keyboard player Mark Shusterman,
trumpeter Scott Frock, and saxophonists Jeff Dazey and Andreas
I
Senior writer David Fricke wrote
about Eric Clapton in December.
Wild are back on the road with a new
album, Tearing at the Seams, which
has already produced a Number One
hit on adult-alternative radio, “You
Worry Me.”
“I would have fucked it up if I had
been younger,” Ratelif, 39, says over
a Scotch and water in a Denver restaurant. “When you’re 20, you don’t
know what the fuck you’re doing.
I’m almost 40, and I’m still figuring
shit out.”
Ratelif has lived in this city for
two decades and been a local hero
for most of them, with various bands
and as a solo singer-songwriter.
When he launched the Night Sweats
in 2013, “I wanted to write like the
Band and Sam and Dave had a band
together,” Ratelif says. It was his
turning point.
“We were so ready for something
to happen in our lives,” says Pope,
Ratelif’s best friend and sidekick in
every group they’ve had since they
were teenagers in Hermann, Missouri, a small town about 80 miles
west of St. Louis. “Even before we did
Fallon, we knew this band was going
to change the course of our lives. I remember having a conversation with
my wife: ‘Baby, I gotta see this thing
through. If I don’t, you’re not gonna
want to be with me anyway.’ ”
Ratelif and Pope took the hard,
winding road out of Hermann. The
singer was raised in an evangelical-Christian household and played
drums in church in a band with his
parents, Bud and Sandy, and his
older sister Heather. Nathaniel was
13 when Bud was killed in a car accident on his way to a service. Nathaniel soon quit school, getting by
with menial jobs. For a time, he was
a janitor in the high school where he
should have been in class.
Pope came from a religious home
with outlaw roots; an uncle, he
claims, was an expert safecracker.
The two friends moved to Denver
in 1998, turning to music in earnest
while working at the same trucking
company to stay afloat. Ratelif made
three albums as an indie-folk singer
with a quietly forceful voice and fearless confessional streak. But by the
last one, 2013’s Falling Faster Than
You Can Run, he was ready to quit
the rock life for his day gig at the time.
“I remember him saying, ‘I’m
thinking of going back to gardening,’ ” says Chris Tetzeli, Ratelif’s
manager. “He had pounded it so
hard.” But Tetzeli soon heard
Ratelif’s next set of demos. They included the hearty stomp “Trying So
Hard Not to Know” and the Memphis-soul stew “Look It Here,” both
R ol l i n g S t o n e
| 40 |
The
day after
Rateliff’s
gig, Fallon
got a call
from Paul
McCartney.
“Who was
that guy?”
he asked.
“That was
fantastic.”
R ol l i n g S t o n e . c o m
eventually cut for Nathaniel Rateliff
and the Night Sweats. “It wasn’t like
anything he did before was put-on,”
says Pope. “But this was more guttural, more him.”
Ratelif traces that breakthrough
to his father’s record collection: albums by Van Morrison, Muddy Waters and the Allman Brothers Band
that Bud – “a roughneck hippie” before his Christian conversion – kept
hidden and then left behind when
he died. Listening to them “was a
way to build a relationship with him
after he passed,” Nathaniel says. He
notes that “one of the ways I got comfortable with my voice was singing
along to early Bob Marley and Sam
Cooke.” But until the Night Sweats,
“I couldn’t figure out how to write
soul and R&B songs that were genuine to me.”
“S.O.B.,” the song that blew Fallon’s mind, was pure autobiography, written about a bad patch in
Ratelif’s marriage. He was drinking heavily; he quit alcohol entirely
for a time to make amends with his
wife, Jules, but sufered delirium tremens from withdrawal. “I was talking about my relationship,” Ratelif
admits, while the gospel-party arrangement was “making light of
what ‘S.O.B.’ was about.”
That duality runs through Tearing
at the Seams. The couple are going
through a divorce, and the blues
waltz “Babe I Know” and the melancholy shuffle “Still Out There Running” are among the songs drawn
from the end of their 11-year relationship. At the session for “Tearing
at the Seams,” sung by Ratelif in a
single torrid take, Pope broke into
tears. “He had some open wounds
coming in,” Richard Swift, the album’s producer, says of Ratelif. “You
can hear it in his voice.”
Pride and poise are there too as
Ratelif and the Night Sweats rehearse one afternoon at Pope’s small
home studio in Denver. Rateliff,
sporting his trademark fedora
with the upturned brim, leads the
group through a cover of the Band’s
“Ophelia.” But the vibe is more like
a garage-band spin on an Al Green
session. Vintage electric keyboards,
hearty backbeats and earthy brass
evoke Seventies-soul values in new
songs about love breaking down and
crawling forward. When Ratelif hits
the bellowing finish in “Tearing at
the Seams,” he does it with his eyes
shut tight in concentrated honesty
and wounded hope.
“I always knew I had a strong
voice,” he says during a break. “Now
what I’m doing is actually me.”
1
BLOOD, SWEAT AND BEERS
(1) In Ottawa, 2017. (2) Pope (center) and
Rateliff (right) in 2007. (3) Rateliff and the
Night Sweats with Bruce Springsteen in March.
FROM TOP: MARK HORTON/WIREIMAGE; KARL GEHRING/“DENVER
POST”/GETTY IMAGES; NATHANIEL RATELIFF/INSTAGRAM
3
P
ope can tell you exactly when he knew that
he would play music
with Ratelif for the rest
of their lives. They were
both working at a Subway sandwich shop in
Hermann, handling the
closing shift on alternate
nights. “If I was on duty,
he was there hanging out,”
Pope says. “If he was working, I was hanging out.”
One evening, Ratelif came to keep
his pal company. He had an acoustic
guitar and was not wearing shoes.
Ratelif played an original song for
Pope – a first in their friendship. “I
was standing by the Gatorade cooler,”
Pope remembers. “I felt like God had
grabbed me and said, ‘You have to
help this dude because what he has
been given is way too much for him to
INFLUENCES
Muddy Waters
“Folk Singer
[1964] really displays the power
and elegance in
his voice,” says
Ratelif.
Ray Charles
Ray Charles at
Newport (1958)
– “I can’t believe
that show, especially how they
vamp on ‘I Got a
Woman.’”
Sam and Dave
“‘Soul Man’
– that’s a blackman thing: ‘You’re
worth something,
you’re a soul
man.’”
handle on his own.’ ” From that moment, “there has never been any question of us not doing this together.”
Rateliff describes Hermann as
“the middle of nowhere. We always
joked about embracing the boredom.” But there is fondness in the
barb. Asked where Hermann is on
the map, he rolls up a sleeve of his
denim jacket and points to a spot on
his left arm – inside a tattoo of the
Missouri state lines.
Bud Ratelif struggled to support
his family as a carpenter, making
$8,000 “in his best year,” says his
son. (Bud’s real name was Cecil Clement Ratelif, but he would “kick your
ass,” Nathaniel says, if you used it.)
To supplement her husband’s income,
Sandy worked at a leather company
and a tent factory. After Bud died and
Nathaniel left school, mother and son
had jobs at the same grocery store.
When Sandy remarried and moved to
Texas, Nathaniel stayed behind, living with Pope’s family for two years.
The boys were so tight that Ratelif
was “my date to the prom,” Pope says
with a straight face. “The first time
I got drunk was with him. The first
time I had sex, he was in the other
room.” Ratelif was there for Pope
when the bassist was diagnosed with
R ol l i n g S t o n e . c o m
| 41 |
R ol l i n g S t o n e
testicular cancer in 2002. The singer helped nurse his friend through
treatment. When Pope started losing his hair from the chemotherapy,
Ratelif shaved his head in solidarity.
Ratelif is an exuberant, unguarded storyteller, sharing personal details in conversation as openly as he
does in his songs. He had based “You
Should Have Seen the Other Guy,” a
song on his 2010 album, In Memory
of Loss, on a great-grandfather who
supposedly got blind-drunk his own
moonshine and fell asleep under a
tree, freezing to death. When Ratelif
showed the song to an aunt, she corrected him: Her dad – Nathaniel’s grandfather – would drink too
much of his brew and
pass out in the snow.
Ratelif’s great-grandfather died from a bullet during an altercation with a bootlegger.
“I had to change the
song,” Rateliff says,
still awed by that story.
“I just thought he was a
drunk loser.”
Rateliff is frank
about the price of
choices he made on
the way to success. At
the trucking company,
2
he never rose further
than the loading dock
because he lacked a high school diploma. As for drinking, compared
to the depths recalled in “S.O.B.,”
he’s seen wisdom in moderation. In
fact, he swore of alcohol completely
for the final sessions of Tearing at
the Seams. “He and I agreed we were
going to be sober,” Swift says. “Dudes
that were not having an issue stood
by Nathaniel: ‘Cool, no drinks.’ ”
Ratelif does not live like a star.
He’s been staying in his drummer’s
basement while waiting for his divorce settlement, resisting Pope’s
suggestion he buy a property near the
bassist’s house. Instead, Ratelif purchased a home for his mother, who
moved back to Hermann, and started
a foundation, the Marigold Project,
to address issues such as the plight
of homeless military veterans in the
city. “People become rock stars, and
they forget where their community
is,” Ratelif says. “I love Denver – it’s
part of my family. They’ve supported
us through every little style we tried
to do. I’m not going to move to L.A.
or New York. We’re Denver’s band.”
But Ratelif and the Night Sweats
are always welcome at The Tonight
Show. “He can play anytime he
wants,” Fallon says. “He has the invite for the rest of his life.”
The social
media giant
has swallowed
up the free
press, become
an unstoppable
private spying
operation and
undermined
democracy.
Click here to
like its breakup
BY MATT
TAIBBI
Illustration
by Rory Kurtz
42 | R ol l i n g S t o n e
BOOK
THE
FACEBOOK
MENACE
EVERYONE
HAS IT
BACKWARD.
We shouldn’t be asking Facebook to fix the problem. We should
be fixing Facebook. It’s our collective misfortune that this perhaps silliest-in-history supercorporation – a tossed-of hookup
site turned international cat-video vault turned Orwellian surveillance megavillain – has dragged us all to the very clif edge
of modern technological capitalism.
We’ve reached a moment in history where many companies
are more powerful than even major industrialized nations, and
in some cases have essentially replaced governments as de facto
regulators and overseers. But some of those companies suck
just a little too badly at the governing part, leaving us staring
into a paradox.
The Russians call this situation a sobaka na sene, a dog on
the hay. Asleep in the manger, the dog itself won’t eat the hay.
But it won’t let you eat it either.
We’ve got to get the dog of the hay.
For much of the past year and a half, the Social Network has
been everywhere in the news. It’s ubiquitous in a bad way for the
first time in its existence. The blithely addictive social media site
bathed in unthreatening baby-blue graphics that one tech columnist derided as “the place where you check to see who married Jill the cheerleader” has found itself at the center of an exploding international controversy.
A recent Wired cover story is a typical press treatment. Legions of current and former employees whispered to the mag
about Facebook’s toxic culture. The firm was said to have overreacted to conservative criticism some years back and gone too far
the other way in an ill-fated search for “balance,” inadvertently
handing Trump the White House in the process.
Facebook was also rocked by recent revelations that Cambridge Analytica, a firm partly owned by the same conservative Mercer family that became a primary sponsor of Donald
Trump’s foundering campaign in the summer of 2016, may have
used personal information from 50 million Facebook users to
deliver targeted ads to likely Trump voters.
Cambridge Analytica has since been revealed to be a con’s con
– in 2015, it was selling Ted Cruz on “secret sauce” intelligence
services it hadn’t even finished designing yet. The story created
instant worldwide panic, despite the fact that manipulating private information is the sort of service Facebook has long provided as a matter of routine. Any third-party app built on the site,
not just those created by archconservatives, would be able to perform the same data-sucking trick. As former Facebook advisContributing editor Matt Taibbi wrote about Donald Trump
and the dysfunction of the Republican Party in February.
44 | R ol l i n g S t o n e
er Dipayan Ghosh puts it, “The problem
goes far beyond the scope of the current
controversies. The story here is about
sheer market power.”
The headlines are scary, but the pathology behind them is actually the most
alarming and unreported aspect of the
Facebook story. The world seems simultaneously to be denouncing the company for having meddled with an election,
and demanding that it meddle more responsibly in the future. From senators
to members of the media to security officials, the solution to the problem of
“fake news” and foreign intervention in
our elections has been absurdly simplistic: Just have Facebook fix it.
All this outside pressure is hitting
home. After years of resistance, Facebook’s polarizing supergeek CEO, Mark
Zuckerberg, is suddenly accepting the
challenge of reforming an industry he knows nothing about,
i.e., the press. Ominously, he recently vowed to spend 2018 working on “these important issues.”
It’s a seismic change. As recently as November 2016, Zuckerberg, who exudes all the warmth of a talking parking meter,
could be heard lashing out at people who “insist we call ourselves a news or media company.” He later scofed at the idea
his firm played a significant role in the election, and refused to
discuss the possibility that Facebook had responsibility for reversing the declining quality of news reporting.
But by the beginning of 2018, Facebook began a sharp – and
subtly frightening – turnaround. No longer denying its outsize
media role, the company announced one initiative designed to
create a trustworthiness measurement for news, and another
to increase the content you get from close friends and family,
presumably as opposed to evil (and possibly foreign) strangers.
The goal, said Facebook News Feed chief Adam Mosseri, was
to “make sure the news people see, while less overall, is highquality.” Mosseri, who’s been with the company since its earlier
days, tells Rolling Stone that Facebook’s original developers
never imagined being in the position the firm is in now.
“I don’t think anyone foresaw the scale that we got to,” Mosseri admits.
Now, he claims, Facebook is just trying to do the right thing.
“We take our responsibilities seriously,” he says, explaining the
thinking behind the new initiatives. “In a world where the Internet exists, how can we make the world better?”
Facebook’s decision to accept “responsibilities” in the news
realm, even in this rudimentary and characteristically disingenuous way, has mind-blowing implications for a country that has
functioned without a true media regulator for most of its history.
That’s because all of these horror-movie headlines about fake
news and “meddling” gloss over the giant preceding catastrophe implicit in all of these tales. For Facebook to be both the
cause of and the solution to so many informational ills, the design mechanism built into our democracy to prevent such problems – a free press – had to have been severely disabled well before we got here.
And it was. Long before 2016 had a chance to happen, the
news media in the United States was efectively destroyed. For
those of us in the business, the manner of conquest has been
the most galling part. The ClifsNotes version? Facebook ate us.
Internet platforms like Zuck’s broke the back of the working press first by gutting our distribution networks, and then by
using advanced data-mining techniques to create hypertargeted
advertising with which no honest media outlet could compete.
This wipeout of the press left Facebook in possession of power
it neither wanted nor understood.
It was all an insane accident. Facebook never wanted to be
editor-in-chief of the universe, and the relatively vibrant free
press that toppled the likes of McCarthy and Nixon never imagined it could be swallowed by a pet-meme distributor.
But it happened. As a result, we’re now facing a problem
potentially worse than either a Trump election or a Russian
cyber-incursion: a world in which the informational landscape
for billions of people is controlled more or less entirely by a pair
of advanced private spying operations, Google and Facebook –
and Facebook especially.
The Facebook mess is really the final chapter in a decadeslong collision of the news media with the Internet. Many smart
people expected this tale to end well. It hasn’t. The creators of
the Internet sold their invention as inherently democratizing. Instead, information is now so concentrated that a 1984 scenario
is just a few clicks away.
DANIEL BISKUP/LAIF/REDUX
THIS MAY SOUND OBVIOUS
“TV and radio, those were scarcity businesses,” says Moroney.
“There were only so many licenses in a market, which meant only
so many stations in a market. And beyond that, there were only
so many 30-second ad spots you could sell. You couldn’t have
a whole hour be ads. If you were good at managing your scarce
inventory, you could make a lot of money.”
In the early part of the 20th century, it wasn’t considered
necessary for the government to meddle in news licensing. But
in an ancient preview of the Internet, there was by the 1920s
an explosion of new radio stations, resulting in a “cacophony of
signal interference” that, much like today, made a mush of the
news-following experience.
This led then-Commerce Secretary Herbert Hoover and others to explore the question of how to weigh “spectrum scarcity” with the needs of a democratic society. The result was a pair
of landmark federal laws, the Radio Act of 1927 and the Communications Act of 1934. It was a trade-of. Companies that licensed airwaves had to agree to operate in the “public interest,
convenience and necessity.”
Of course, the federal government, with its high-minded
“public interest” standard that supposedly pushed broadcasters to serve “all substantial groups,” somehow managed to keep
in place a brutal system of racial apartheid, among other huge
misses. It also denied the viewpoints of anti-war activists, capitalist critics and a host of others. But the core idea, that a news
media in the broad public interest must exist, has been in place
almost from the start. Even the likes of Washington and Jefferson helped institute the practice
of giving cheap or even free postage
rates to newspapers.
“Abolitionist newspapers were
sent to the South thanks to these
policies,” notes University of Illinois
professor Robert McChesney. “Even
back then there was this idea of subsidizing reporting.”
With each new expansion of communications technology, Americans
almost always came up with guidelines for how to sync up the citizenry’s informational needs to the new
invention.
Then the Internet came along.
, but since even Facebook appears not to have understood this issue, here’s a brief reminder: The media business has always been first and foremost
about distribution.
News consumers once had direct and powerful relationships
with publishers, before the technological changes that made
Facebook possible. “People identified
with the fact that they read the local
newspaper,” says Jim Moroney, former publisher of The Dallas Morning News. “They connected with
being readers of The Dallas Morning News, The Boston Globe, The New
York Times and so on.” Newspapers
developed those relationships over
long periods of time via the hardcore
brick-and-mortar process of building distribution networks.
“Your major advantage as a
media business rested in your distribution system,” says David Chavern, director of the News Media Alliance. “Everything from your printing
press, to the people loading papers
into trucks, to the trucks themselves,
to the stores, to the kids delivering
papers to subscribers’ doorsteps.”
The physicality of the distribution system lent credibility to both
news and ads. Moreover, the diiculty and expense in building those systems meant that few people could do
it, and newspapers earned for themselves built-in revenue streams from
services like employment and realestate ads, where they were usually
the only game in town.
This model allowed newspapers
to be remarkably free of government
regulation. The same wasn’t exactly true of radio and TV stations,
which had to answer to the FederMONOPOLY MAN
al Communications Commission.
Zuckerberg is facing fire for Cambridge Analytica,
But TV and radio also once enjoyed
but the “problem goes far beyond the scope of the
enormous advantages that no loncurrent controversies,” says a former Facebook
ger exist.
adviser. “The story is about sheer market power.”
IN MANY WAYS
, the Facebook controversy is a canard. It’s
less a real crisis about Russians, the
Trump election or scamsters like
Cambridge Analytica than a longoverdue reckoning. Americans who
for decades have been clinging to reassuring myths about the origins and
purpose of the Internet are finally beginning to ask important questions
about this awesome Pentagon-designed surveillance tool they’ve enthusiastically welcomed into their homes,
bedrooms, purses and pockets.
Conventional wisdom sees the Internet as an invention that, yes, was
designed for narrow military uses,
but unexpectedly blossomed into a
powerful democratizer. “The Internet was viewed as a force for good,
supporting inclusion and democracy,”
R ol l i n g S t o n e |
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says Dr. Lawrence Landweber, a member of the Internet Hall of
Fame and former president of the Internet Society. “This view was
widely held in the industry as well as among political leaders,” he
says. “Remember Google’s motto around 2000 was ‘Don’t be evil.’ ”
There are, however, less-flattering histories of the Internet,
which began as a defense project in the Sixties. Some critics, like
Surveillance Valley author Yasha Levine, will tell you that keeping tabs on domestic and foreign resistance movements was one of
the net’s original design goals, which is one reason it’s no surprise
most of the big Internet-based firms today – Facebook, Google,
Amazon – also contract with the military and/or security services.
In his book, Levine points to the fact that from the very start,
the proto-Web banked info collected by the likes of the Defense
Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency. “Surveillance was baked into the original mission of
the Internet,” Levine says.
No matter what the intent behind the invention, it seems that little thought was given
to how the Internet would impact the existing commercial news business. Landweber,
for instance, says Internet developers never
conceived of a world where Internet platforms would acquire hegemonic power in this
sphere. “Getting most of one’s news via the Internet, as well as the notion that social media
companies would manipulate one’s personal
data for commercial or political benefit, was
not anticipated,” he says. He adds, “The current situation would have shocked early Internet developers.”
Which brings us back to Facebook, which
to this day seems at best to dimly understand
how the news business works, as is evident in
its longstanding insistence that it’s not a media
company. Wired was even inspired to publish
a sarcastic self-help quiz for Facebook execs
on “How to tell if you’re a media company.” It
included such questions as “Are you the country’s largest source of news?”
The answer is a resounding yes. An astonishing 45 percent of Americans get their
news from this single source. Add Google, and
above 70 percent of Americans get their news
from a pair of outlets. The two firms also ate
up about 89 percent of the digital-advertising
growth last year, underscoring their monopolistic power in this industry.
Facebook’s cluelessness on this front makes the ease with
which it took over the press that much more bizarre to contemplate. Of course, the entire history of Facebook is pretty weird,
even by Silicon Valley standards, beginning with the fact that
the firm thinks of itself as a movement and not a giant moneysucking machine.
“It’s more like a messianic cult,” he says. García Martínez is
the most interesting and damaging defector to have ever left the
ranks of Facebook. An iconoclastic combination of Travis McGee
and Michael Lewis, he is a former physics Ph.D. candidate from
Berkeley who worked at Goldman Sachs before his two years at
Facebook, and now spends much of his time writing and sailing.
He has lifted the curtain on ruthless profit-hoovering practices
he helped design. His main gripe with Facebook seems to be its
total lack of self-awareness about its own ambition.
García Martínez continually describes the company’s corporate atmosphere as an oddball religion where Zuckerberg is worshipped as an infallible deity – sort of like Scientology, but without Tom Cruise or space invaders.
“You can tell your value in the company by where you’re seated in relation to Zuck,” he says.
The Facebook religion doesn’t involve a
virgin birth. It does, however, feature an asexual creation myth, glamorized by fictionalized
accounts like The Social Network, in which
Zuckerberg is shown one-upping God by creating the future in fewer than seven days of
nerdly transcendence.
From there, Zuckerberg legendarily grew
the company to fantastic dimensions. To this
end, he had the help of Silicon Valley hotshots
like Napster’s Sean Parker and early investment from the likes of PayPal founder, libertarian icon, future Trump supporter and
Gawker-smashing press critic Peter Thiel.
Facebook ballooned in size at a spectacular rate – it’s gone from 100 million users in
2008 to more than 2.1 billion today, consistently adding 50 to 100 million users per quarter, steadily making itself into the town square
of the world. And it boasts awesome revenues:
a staggering $40.7 billion in 2017 alone.
That Facebook saw meteoric rises without ever experiencing a big dip in users might
have something to do with the fact that the
site was consciously designed to be addictive, as early founder Parker recently noted
at a conference in Philadelphia.
Facebook is full of features such as “likes”
that dot your surfing experience with neurorushes of micro-approval – a “little dopamine
hit,” as Parker put it. The hits might come
with getting a like when you post a picture of yourself thumbsupping the world’s third-largest cheese wheel, or flashing the
“Live Long and Prosper” sign on International Star Trek day, or
whatever the hell it is you do in your cyber-time. “It’s a socialvalidation feedback loop,” Parker explained. “Exactly the kind
of thing that a hacker like myself would come up with, because
you’re exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology.”
This echoes what García Martínez says about Facebook. “It
isn’t a media company internally,” he says. “It’s a hacker company
internally.”
Viewing Facebook through the hacker lens makes it a lot easier to understand. The firm’s overwhelming dependence on free
or found content is one thing. Another is its casual rerouting of
taxpaying responsibility through supposed “headquarters” in
tax havens like Ireland. The company, like most of the modern
tech giants, seems to pay almost nothing in taxes in the countries where it is most popular, for example paying just £4,327 in
British taxes in 2014.
All of this smacks of a particular brand of piracy unique to the
new generation of tech firms, whose leaders tend to celebrate the
“move fast and break things” libertarian ethos. The Thiels and
The culture
is like an odd
religion where
Zuckerberg
is worshipped
as a deity,
sort of like
Scientology,
but without
Tom Cruise or
space invaders.
THIS IS HOW ZUCKERBERG described Facebook in
Initial Public Ofering (IPO) documents from 2012:
Facebook was not originally created to be a company. It was
built to accomplish a social mission – to make the world more
open and connected.
“The great myth” about the company, says former Facebook
ad manager Antonio García Martínez, “is that Zuck gives a shit
about money.”
García Martínez, whose absurdist memoir about his time at
Facebook, called Chaos Monkeys, may be the funniest business
book since Liar’s Poker, laughs as he recalls his time at the firm.
46 | R ol l i n g S t o n e
Zuckerbergs represent a new class of CEO who, like the wealthy
self-financed superheroes in comic-book movies, could get the
job done by themselves if only the pesky government toe-draggers would get the fuck out of the way. Rules, like paywalls and
taxes, are for suckers: We reward people who can get past them.
Zuckerberg, on his profile in the days of “thefacebook.com,”
even listed himself as “Enemy of the State.”
In his book, García Martínez describes a scene in which a
college kid named Chris Putnam developed a virus that made
your Facebook profile look like MySpace, and deleted user content to boot. Instead of taking legal action, Facebook hired him.
“The hacker ethos prevailed above all,” García Martínez noted.
It’s a misconception that Facebook sells the personal data
of its users. What it sells is its hackerish expertise in snatching
and analyzing your personal info from everywhere – on the site
and outside it. Facebook keeps tabs on who has an anniversary coming up, who’s in a long-distance relationship, who uses
credit cards, who likes baseball and who likes cricket, who observes Ramadan, who’s participated in a time-share, and countless other things.
cused on expanding the cloud of flatulent self-congratulation
that began to hover over Facebook’s ballooning global presence.
Time after time, Facebook would make a move that publicly
highlighted its “social mission,” while really it was just growing its
economic footprint and increasingly monopolistic market share.
One of Facebook’s early problems, for instance, was that the
novelty of people sharing pictures of their kids’ soccer trophies
soon started to wear of. Without content with a little more heft,
Facebook was what one snickering industry writer called “a stupid site, AOL for adults.”
That changed with the introduction of the News Feed in September 2006. This move revolutionized both social networking
and the news business. Back then, the feed was clearly designed
to be more in tune with the site’s toxic neverending-high-school
vibe than an actual news source.
“News Feed highlights what’s happening in your social circles on Facebook,” then-product manager Ruchi Sangvi wrote.
“So you’ll know when Mark adds Britney Spears to his Favorites
or when your crush is single again.”
In between finding out that Zuck likes Britney Spears or a
prior stalking target had changed his or
her relationship status, you might now
also receive links to – news! Such simultaneously ridiculous and horrifying milestones litter the road to the Great Media
Disaster of 2016.
NICK OTTO/“THE WASHINGTON POST”/GETTY IMAGES
ALTHOUGH IT seemed frivolous on
its face, the Facebook News Feed made a
consumer mockery of the 24-hour cablenews channel, which was really just a repeating loop of a handful of daily reports.
Facebook made it possible for users to see
more than 1,000 news stories per day,
and on average a user actually did see, in
between all that other stuf, about 200.
This was hacker culture writ large again,
in that the feed was built around content
grabbed for free out of the Internet ether.
THE SOCIAL NETWORK
“Media brands are diluted when peoFacebook oices in Menlo Park, California. The firm has 2.1 billion users today, and
ple say things like, ‘I read this on Facean astounding 45 percent of Americans get their news from the site. But according
book,’ ” says Chavern.
to a former executive, “Facebook isn’t a media company, it’s a hacker company.”
This was more than a branding problem for media firms. It was a profound
issue that spoke to how the decision-making processes of modThat such data is collected mainly to more eiciently shove
ern news consumers were being warped.
ads in your face is widely understood today. What’s less wellOnce upon a time, a person had to make a conscious decision
understood is that monetizing user info was a key element of
to pick up a newspaper, turn on the evening news or buy a magaFacebook’s business model going back to its first days.
zine. Now, news came to you – was even ofered to you, suggest“We were always using the data,” says Mosseri, who runs the
ed in the way a magician ofers a card – as part of an artificial
News Feed. “We did it to improve the user experience.”
entertainment experience that skewed consumer expectations
Mosseri’s take – which whitewashes out the role data-powered
in a highly specific way.
ads played in the company’s early growth – is typical of Facebook
“I read this on Facebook” soon came to mean something like
defenders. Ironically, not unlike traditional media companies,
“I read this in a highly individualized intellectual masturbation
whose editorial chiefs have always pissed on their own sales reps
session.” News became a thing that only made it through if it fit
as lower life-forms and refused to admit their influence on newsinto those constant, round-the-clock sorties Facebook was flycoverage decisions, Facebook from its first years had a schizoid,
ing straight to your personal pleasure center. Simultaneously,
embarrassed attitude toward its own ad department.
the news stopped being a broadcast program designed to be diIn the beginning, the company featured no ads. Zuckerberg,
gested, for good or ill, by a group, as families had once done over
when he talked publicly about ads back then, said only that he
their nightly meatloaf.
might ofer them in the “future” for purely utilitarian reasons,
Most problematic of all, however, was the combination of ali.e., to “ofset the cost of the servers.”
gorithmic data analysis and free news content, which acceleratNot $40 billion or anything, just a few pennies here and there.
ed junk news trends that had already begun to poison the media
Facebook quickly established a pattern within the firm in
business. TV stations like Fox had long ago ditched what you
which surrogates and partners developed the powerful moneymight call “eat your vegetables” media, i.e., news, often investimaking technology, while the Christ-complexing Zuckerberg fo-
R ol l i n g S t o n e |
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MENACE
gative, that either requires significant mental efort to understand,
memo leaked to Buzzfeed showed one company exec conceding
some willingness to question one’s own beliefs, or both. To hear
that terrorists may eventually use the site to successfully coorold newshounds tell it, there was allegedly a time when we media
dinate attacks, but so what because “we connect people. Period.
vermin didn’t sling junk out of pure shame. Old-timers even tell
That’s why all the work we do in growth is justified.”
tales, probably apocryphal, of days when ad executives weren’t
Moreover, company oicers say using data collection to make
even allowed on the same floor as editorial staf.
both the ads you see and the news you’re exposed to more taiBut by the Eighties and Nineties, everyone in media was relored to you personally is actually a good thing. Mosseri points
alizing that audiences cared more about seeing graphics, panda
out that Facebook is not a news program but an online commubirths and newscasters withstanding hurricane winds than they
nity in which people talk about everything under the sun with
cared about news. The innovation of stations like Fox was to sell
their friends. And most people have so many friends that living in
xenophobia and racism in addition to the sensationalist crap.
a bubble of endlessly automated stupidity, he says, is impossible.
But even Fox couldn’t compete with future titans like Face“It’s hard to have hundreds of like-minded friends,” he says.
book when it came to delivering news tailored strictly for the la“Broadly, it balances things out.”
ziest, meanest, least intellectually tolerant version of you. FaceAnother thing that balances out? Age. There’s some evidence
book knew more about you personally, what you might like and
that the very young, as they often do, are rejecting a bad habit
also what might tickle your hate center, than any TV, radio stafrom their parents’ generation. About 100 million Facebook users
tion or newspaper ever had.
in America are age 25-44 in 2018, but it gets dicey after that, with
Ben Scott, who with Ghosh co-wrote a paper on Facebook
just 6.8 million users between the ages of 13 and 17.
called “Digital Deceit” for the New America Foundation, says
Tech billionaire and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, who
the power of Internet platforms to match people to mental junk
has been a heavy critic of Facebook, says time may reckon with
was unprecedented.
the firm. “I think they are losing impact domestically, with zero
“Forget about ever seeing eat-your-vegetables media again,”
influence on millennials and younger,” he says. “But [they have]
says Scott. “In the new world, not only will you only see sugar
overwhelming influence on boomers and Gen X’ers.”
media, but you’ll only see your favorite brand of sugar media.
Other information, you won’t even know it exists.”
Dr. Ofir Turel of California State University-Fullerton, who’s
, just before Facebook went public, exwritten extensively about Facebook, says use of the site has a lot
ecutives tried to convince Zuckerberg to own his company’s basic
of the features of an addictive activity, like ease of use, variable
nature and push the firm past a crucial ethical and financial Rurewards and feelings of anxiety when we’re not engaged with it.
bicon. The debate was over changing Facebook’s terms of service
“All addictions operate on the variable-reward system,” says
so that users would have to agree to allow data gleaned from the
Turel, who estimates that about five to 10 percent of the popfamed “like” button to be used for commercial purposes.
ulation could now meet the criteria of being at risk for social
The company had at least superficially resisted this idea,
media addiction. Chronic users spend hours staring glassy-eyed
and even with the IPO approaching, Zuckerberg balked. “Don’t
at screens in search of the tiny rushes that come with likes or
use the like button,” he reportedly
with the reading of articles validattold García Martínez and others in
ing their views. Mental horizons are
early 2012.
narrowed. A study by the Proceedings
A lot of Facebook’s value was in the
of the National Academy of Sciences
like button. When users liked some(yes, the acronym is PNAS) concludthing, particularly in voluntary proded, “Facebook users were more likely
uct reviews and surveys, it generated
to interact with a limited number of
intelligence about how to efectively
news sources.”
target those people with advertising.
Additionally, they posited, “The
Moreover, users who see their friends
main driver of misinformation difuliking a product are more likely to try
sion is the polarization of users on spethat product themselves.
cific narratives rather than the lack of
In any case, on May 18th, 2013, the
fact-checked certifications.” Translacompany held its IPO, and launched
tion: Lazy thinking and sheltered
with a market capitalization of $104
mental environs lead to more misinbillion. But the IPO was considered a
formation than fake news does.
fiasco on Wall Street. It also caused
Facebook’s News Feed was a big
a mild stir when the company’s first
part of the reward system designed
10-K report was released, showto keep people coming back. “The ining that the firm took advantage of
terest is not to inform you,” Turel says.
stock-option loopholes to make more
“The interest is to get you to stay on
than a billion in profits without paythe site.”
ing a dime in state or federal taxes –
Peter Eckersley, chief computer
in fact, Facebook in 2013 received a
scientist of the Electronic Frontier
$429 million tax rebate.
Foundation, describes the News Feed
The big public rollout was also
in even starker terms. “It’s designed
marred by lawsuits, and the stock
to match people to information that
price began declining in the wake of
will reinforce their existing prejudicIN MICRO-TARGETING WE TRUST
disappointing revenues. The shares
es, whatever those are,” he says.
Trump with his campaign’s digital director, Brad
originally sold at $38, and dropped
Facebook advocates justify basiParscale. “It was a question of reaching a specific
to a low of $17.55 later that year.
cally all of their practices on the premgroup of people in specific places who we needed
As it had done consistently in its
ise that connecting people is inherentto turn out,” Parscale says. “That happens to be
exactly what Facebook is good for.”
history, the firm, when faced with fily a net plus for the world. A recent
48 | R ol l i n g S t o n e |
RollingStone.com
BRAD PARSCALE/TWITTER
AS LATE AS 2013
nancial pressure, moved ever further in the direction of monetizing users’ personal data. In this case, it finally went after the
like button.
A little over a year after the IPO, on June 12th, 2014, Facebook
quietly announced a change to its terms of service. “Starting soon
in the U.S., we will also include information from some of the
websites and apps you use,” the company wrote. “This is a type of
interest-based advertising, and many companies already do this.”
Facebook didn’t just use its data to help advertisers place targeted ads. It also used AI-enhanced technology and tools like GPS
to track users’ information in order to learn more and more about
them, all while constantly improving the reach and power of the
company’s advertising capabilities. In perhaps the creepiest example, Facebook applied for (and received, last year) a patent for
a tool called Techniques, for emotion detection and content delivery. It would use the camera in your phone to
take pictures of you as you scroll through content. Facebook would then use facial analysis
to measure how much you did or did not like
the content in question, so as to determine
what kind of stuf to send your way. Ideas like
this are what make Facebook, at times, feel
like a giant blood-engorged tick hanging of
your frontal lobe.
Ghosh, who worked on global privacy and
public-policy issues at Facebook, says that the
company’s technology very quickly became
efective beyond anyone’s imagination, and
wasn’t limited to the placing of ads.
He points, for instance, to the “audience networks” program, where an advertiser might ask Facebook to not only put ads in
front of the users most likely to respond to
them, but to go after eyeballs on other sites.
“Maybe the advertiser is Nike and they’re
looking to sell the new Air Jordans to men
aged 18 to 35 in the D.C. metro area,” says
Ghosh. “So they’ll put ads in front of 100,000
Facebook users, then leverage their own audience to place the ad in front of a similarly sized audience on other networks – maybe
NBA.com or a sports site or whatever.”
Every time it places an ad in a campaign like this, a platform
like Facebook learns more and more about how to most efectively
interpret data, not just about its own users but about other sites
and the users of other sites.
In Europe and in other parts of the world, these practices
sometimes inspired protests and regulatory action. In 2015, Belgium demanded that Facebook stop tracking user data once the
user has left the site, which it’s reportedly been doing since at
least 2014.
This is what people don’t understand about the “fake news”
problem. This isn’t a crack in the system. It is the system. The
new age of targeted information distribution is designed to make
campaigns of manipulation not just possible but inevitable. It is
what the product was designed for.
Moreover, it’s all grounded in wholly legal advertising techniques. Scott, who co-wrote “Digital Deceit,” gives the example
of fake-news campaigns deployed by European far-right parties.
“You’d see some fake story on some little blog somewhere,
maybe about immigrants rioting in a big city,” he says. “Next thing
you know, some tabloid picks it up with a headline: ‘Alleged Riot
in Munich!’ Then you’d see someone promote the hell out of that
story using target marketing. Because the platforms know exactly
which people to target for you, you can pay to get that promoted
content to all those people. From there, the users share the story
themselves, and it goes viral,” Scott continues. “And every time
the platforms do one of these campaigns, they learn more about
who’s susceptible to what messaging.”
This is exactly how the “Russian troll farm” ads were supposedly used. The trolls described in the Robert Mueller indictment
simply made use of standard tools that Facebook ofers to advertisers. They would take a piece of content – for instance, the ludicrous image of Hillary Clinton as Satan, arm-wrestling Jesus
under the headline if i win, clinton wins – and blast it out to
a targeted audience via the News Feed. The only clue that the ad
has been commercially pushed to you comes via a tiny faded notation reading “sponsored” under the name of the origin page.
Despite frantic warnings from Senate Democrats about how a
few dozen trolls spending a handful of dollars on these ads managed to reach 126 million people, the far more serious issue is that
players with far deeper pockets were using the same tactics. “Facebook will sell to anyone if there’s a pot of gold at
the end,” is how one political source puts it.
“That’s why the whole Russia story was misunderstood,” says Scott. “People are trying to understand how $100,000 worth of ads could reach
126 million people, when what they should be
thinking about is the impact of the Trump campaign spending tens of millions of dollars using
the same technology.”
Brad Parscale, Trump’s digital director on
the 2016 campaign, thinks the furor over Facebook being responsible for Trump’s election is
misguided. They used a lot of Facebook ads, he
says, because of the peculiar nature of Trump’s
advertising needs.
Though The New York Times reported
Parscale was persuaded to “try out the firm,”
Parscale himself has scofed at the role Cambridge Analytica played in the campaign and insisted that Facebook was just the natural choice
for his candidate.
“Elections are identical to movies when it
comes to advertising,” Parscale explained to me
in an earlier interview. He talks about politicians
with a kind of bemused detachment, like they’re
no diferent from soaps or cereal brands. “You’ve
got Rotten Tomatoes for movies, Real Clear Politics for elections, exact same thing. If it’s a completely new movie
with new characters, then you go broad on TV to introduce the
unknown new product. With Trump, the market knew him. It
was a question of reaching a specific group of people in specific places who we needed to turn out. That happens to be exactly
what Facebook is good for.”
But Facebook shouldn’t be blamed for being an efective advertiser. The problem is why it’s efective, beginning with its monopolistic scale.
Designed to
be addictive,
Facebook
feels like a
giant bloodengorged
tick hanging
off your
frontal lobe.
SIMPLY BY GROWING so large that his firm ended up
essentially standing between media publishers and media consumers, constantly creating rules about who saw what, Zuckerberg and Facebook have become a thing America has never had
before: an entrenched, de facto media regulator. The universe in
which most Americans get their news sifted through a giant filter has multiple major consequences.
“There’s the big economic efect,” says Chavern of the News
Media Alliance. “We never had someone in the middle before.
Now we do have someone in the middle, collecting all the dollars.”
The economics are the reason most newsrooms today look like
post-nuclear wastelands. What sane person would buy ad space to
sell cars on localnewspaper.com in the vague hope [Cont. on 57]
RollingStone.com |
R ol l i n g S t o n e |
49
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Reviews
“I rolled a J on the day I got my
diploma. I knew Leroy would be proud.
I can’t forget . . . trying to wake him on
that sofa. He never did come ’round.”
—A shley McBry de,
“Livin’ Next to Leroy”
A Brave
New
Kind of
Country
Outlaw
Two great albums
explore the power of
Nashville’s woman-led
artistic renaissance
Ashley McBryde
Girl Going Nowhere Atlantic/
Warner Music Nashville
HHHH
Kacey Musgraves
Golden Hour MCA Nashville
HHHH
BY WILL HERMES
Amazingly, mainstream country is still about ball-capped
bros recycling hits from marketstudy bullet points, while Nashville’s ambitious women remain
the primary engine behind the
greatest creative renaissance
since Willie and Waylon fucked
shit up in the 1970s. Kacey Musgraves ushered in the new era in
2013 with her live-and-let-live
hit “Follow Your Arrow”; late
last year, newbie Ashley McBryde showed it had legs with
the hope-in-hard-times “A Little Dive Bar in Dahlonega.”
Each woman has a new record that furthers said renaissance, following her own arrow.
The title track of McBryde’s
Girl Going Nowhere is a whispered anthem about crushing
it in the face of doubters. Most
triumphant artists would holler, gloat, swagger, flip the bird,
Illustration by Ton y Rodriguez
RollingStone.com
| R ol l i n g S t o n e |
51
Reviews
52
The Voidz
Virtue RCA/Cult Records
HHH½
The Strokes frontman’s messy,
interesting search for meaning
Gaga and Elton
A Loving Tribute
on the Yellow
Brick Road
The second album from Strokes
frontman Julian Casablancas’
project the Voidz sounds like a
dozen diferent bands, at once
catchy and challenging. “Leave
It in My Dreams” is a honey
pot for Strokes fans; “Pyramid
of Bones” lands between Black
Sabbath and the White Stripes;
“Black Hole” is impenetrably,
punkishly wrought; and “All
Wordz Are Made Up” suggests
an audition for a Kanye collab. It’s all tied together by
Casablancas’ quest for meaning in a dark world (“Don’t you
ever listen to the white man’s
lies,” he advises). He doesn’t
have answers, and that’s fine.
This is the sound of honest conJOSH MODELL
fusion.
Pop and country superstars pay
their respects to Elton and Bernie
Various Artists Revamp: Reimagining the Songs
of Elton John and Bernie Taupin Virgin EMI HHH
Various Artists Restoration: Reimagining the Songs
Hop Along
of Elton John and Bernie Taupin UMG Nashville HHHH
Bark Your Head Off, Dog
There’s a valedictory air hovering over these Elton JohnBernie Taupin tribute albums,
and no wonder: Elton recently announced his final tour, the
capper to nearly 50 years of global barnstorming.
The best moments on Revamp, featuring big names from
pop, rock and R&B, are those least faithful to the original
songs: Q-Tip and Demi Lovato remake “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” as percolating funk; Mary J. Blige deepens
the ache of “Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word” while
transmuting it into flickering neo-R&B. Less successful are
the eforts of Elton’s glam-pop heirs, like Lady Gaga, who
tries and fails to match the master’s rococo ebullience. As
for the country-themed Restoration: It’s a revelation. Tyros
(Maren Morris) and legends (Dolly Parton) mine deep cuts
to reveal a very country strain of stoic melancholy in Elton’s songs. Miranda Lambert delivers a stormy “My Father’s Gun,” and Don Henley and Vince Gill wring pathos
from the divorce lament “Sacrifice,” one of Elton’s loveliest tunes. The album concludes with Willie Nelson’s quietly epic ramble through “Border Song” – one 20th-century
legend welcoming another to music’s Mount Olympus. Nice
JODY ROSEN
view from up there.
HHHHH Classic | HHHH Excellent | HHH Good | HH Fair | H Poor
Saddle Creek
HHH½
Ambitious indie rockers create
nuanced drama
This Philly indie-rock band’s
third LP is packed with intimate, at times explosive, revelations, built on moments and
memories that can be as distant as a brush with childhood
terror or as raw as yesterday’s
bar argument. Singer-guitarist
Frances Quinlan’s voice strains
from parched whisper to fivealarm shout as Hop Along push
past the messily bracing guitar
rock of their great 2015 album,
Painted Shut, adding melodic
details and orchestral touchups that can suggest a scrappier version of Elvis Costello’s
mid-Eighties literary-pop high
points. It’s an ambition they alJON DOLAN
most always nail.
Ratings are supervised by the editors of R OLLING S TONE .
KEVIN MAZUR/WIREIMAGE
but in this opener, McBryde
barely raises her voice, which
quivers potently over a muted
snare, guitar notes flashing like
phone screens in a dark arena.
Then “Radioland” crashes in, a
country rocker about old-time
broadcast bliss, invoking John
Cougar’s “Jack and Diane” and
McBryde’s daddy, “a rock star
riding on a tractor listening
to Townes Van Zandt.” (That
songwriting giant Van Zandt
got scant love from radio just
makes the song’s vision sweeter.) “Southern Babylon” evokes
the smoky country soul of Memphis, where McBryde logged
time in bar bands. “Andy (I
Can’t Live Without You)” depicts true love as a holy pathology; “Livin’ Next to Leroy” is a
Southern-rock conjuring of a
drug buddy who ends up dead
on his sofa. McBryde’s got a
big, vibrato-tinged alto, bikerchick style, and she wrote or cowrote everything here, including “Dahlonega,” with a sharp
eye for piercing detail. She has
a serious gift.
Ditto Musgraves, but you may
not recognize the weed-loving
cowgirl troublemaker on this
moony set, a throwback to easylistening pop that’s only “country” by the loosest definition.
With a familiar dream team of
Music City co-writers – Natalie
Hemby, Hillary Lindsey, Luke
Laird and Shane McAnally –
plus new partners Ian Fitchuk
and Daniel Tashian, the newlywed Musgraves uncharacteristically coos love songs; see
the swooning title track and
“Butterflies.” But she hasn’t lost
her wit: “Northern lights in our
skies/Plants that grow and open
your mind,” she muses on “Oh,
What a World,” a vocoder intro
shimmering in the distance
amid plinking banjo. Who knew
Americana and robot rock were
a thing? Musgraves did, because
like many of us, she digs both.
Purists will snif, of course. But
while Golden Hour may take
time to relax into, the set is a
fine lava-lamp soundtrack, and
if “country” suggests engaging
American musical traditions
with respect and pioneer spirit, then this album is as country
as it comes.
Kali Uchis’ Epic
Flashbacks
Sunflower Bean
Adventurous pop singer’s debut is
vintage, futurist and totally her own
Twentytwo in Blue Mom + Pop
HHH½
Dreamy Brooklyn guitar band
adds a little extra swagger
Kali Uchis Isolation Interscope/Virgin EMI
FELIPE Q NOGUEIRA
HHHH
The music 24-year-old Colombian-American artist Kali Uchis
summons on her fascinating
debut doesn’t refer to a particular place or time. Like Beck or
Outkast, she’s a pop weirdo who works grooves
that seem vintage and futuristic at the same
moment – grabbing splashes of funk, bossa
nova, reggaeton and soul, and blanketing them
with a sunbaked, psychedelic wooziness. Her
specialty is flashbacks, not throwbacks. Blink
and the picture changes again.
On Isolation, Thundercat, Damon Albarn,
Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker, and Kendrick
Lamar collaborators Sounwave, Steve Lacy
and BadBadNotGood all make contributions, but the vibe is Uchis’ alone. “Tyrant”
Uchis
finds her mulling sexual politics over a slowmotion dancehall beat; “Teeth in My Neck”
piles up come-ons atop a roller-skating bounce;
“Nuestro Planeta” is a reggaeton remembrance
of a lost world built for two. Whether she’s
promising to take your money and raise the
price, looking for a hero in the mirror or running errands in the sweater of an ex, Uchis is a
woman on the verge, willing to share her vertiginous thrills and spills. Thank her later. JOE LEVY
Sunflower Bean’s 2016 debut
was a dreamy, drone-y guitarmad pleasure. The Brooklyn
trio’s solid follow-up goes from
the Seventies glam stomp of
“Burn It” and “Crisis Fest” to
the Smiths swirls of “Twentytwo” and “I Was a Fool.” Where
their first LP evoked the chill
indecision of early-twenties
ennui, there’s a little more emotional forward motion here,
with bassist-singer Julia Cumming delivering her lyrics with
sweet, winning swagger and,
on the cavernous slow jam
“Only a Moment,” tender girlJON DOLAN
group ache as well.
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Movies
By Peter Travers
A Gamer’s Paradise
A Phoenix
Knockout
Ready Player One
Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke
You Were Never
Really Here
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Joaquin Phoenix
HHH
Directed by Lynne Ramsay
HHH ½
Sheridan
in the land
of VR
in flashback) is one last blowout game in which the winner
will inherit the Oasis.
And we’re of. When Wade
puts on his digital visor, he
morphs into Parzival, the perfect cool-kid avatar. His BFF,
Aech (Lena Waithe, OMG terrific), is a black-and-proud tech
whiz. Add speed diva Art3mis
(Olivia Cooke) and the Japanese duo of Daito (Win Morisaki) and Sho (Philip Zhao)
and you have the High Five, a
clan ready to take on corporate
villain Nolan Sorrento (a highcamp Ben Mendelsohn).
The visual clues are too
sweet to spoil. And a segment
on The Shining is bliss. Spielberg – the heart of E.T. – stumbles only in the moments when
our heroes try to connect in the
real world. The shallow script,
by Cline and Zak Penn, doesn’t
help. Don’t look to Spielberg, a
child of divorce who found escape (and a career) by getting
lost in media, to condemn a
digiverse where an alienated
kid might build an oasis of his
or her own imagining. As ever,
Spielberg is ready to play. Are
you? Game on.
‘Quiet’ Will Scare the Hell Out of You
A Quiet Place
Emily Blunt
Directed by John Krasinski
HHH ½
a s dir ector, co-w r iter
and star of A Quiet Place, John
Krasinski hits on a terrifying
premise: What if a family of
four, among the few left alive
after a monster apocalypse,
can survive on their farm only
if they don’t make a sound? The
monsters are blind; hearing is
their sonar. It helps that Dad
(Krasinski), Mom (the astonishing Emily Blunt) and son
54 | R ol l i n g S t o n e
Blunt hides
from evil in
a bathtub.
(Noah Jupe) have all learned
sign language in deference to
a nonhearing daughter (deaf
actress Millicent Simmonds).
The acting is flawless. Krasinski, who
showed his directing
chops in Brief Interviews With Hideous
Men and The Hollars, jumps to the
front ranks, showing
a keen eye for framing and a killer instinct for terror that
will fry your nerves
to a frazzle. Still, it’s
the focus on what defines a
family that grips your emotions and turns A Quiet Place
into a new horror classic.
HHHH Classic | HHH½ Excellent | HHH Good | HH Fair | H Poor
joaquin phoenix is simply
stupendous in You Were Never
Really Here. He and Scottish
writer-director Lynne Ramsay
make a dynamite combo in a
brutal, brilliant drama that gets
under your skin. Phoenix plays
Joe, a war vet who supports his
aging mom (Judith Roberts)
by working as a hit man. Killing is taking its toll on Joe. We
see him first covering his head
with a plastic bag, removing
Phoenix,
Samsonov
it only at the last second. Joe’s
new job is to rescue Nina (Ekaterina Samsonov, superb), the
13-year-old daughter of Sen. Albert Votto (Alex Manette). She’s
been forced into sex slavery by
a ring of pedophiles holed up in
a Manhattan brownstone. Joe,
wielding only a ball-peen hammer, aims to get her out.
The setup suggests Taxi Driver mixed with thriller tropes
from Taken. Don’t be fooled.
Ramsay (Ratcatcher, Morvern
Callar, We Need to Talk About
Kevin) is a ferocious original
who never states the obvious.
She paints her surreal tale of
the violence of the mind on the
face of Phoenix, whose shattering performance ranks with his
best. Joe’s savagery alternates
with his aching tenderness to
Nina. He even sits with one of
his victims, gently singing along
to Charlene’s “I’ve Never Been to
Me.” Trust me, you won’t know
what hit you.
A p r i l 1 9 -M a y 3 , 2 018
FROM TOP: JAAP BUITENDIJK/WARNER BROS.; ALISON COHEN
ROSA/AMAZON STUDIOS; PARAMOUNT PICTURES
the gamer kid in steven
Spielberg lets his virtualreality flag fly in Ready Player One, a mind-bending joyride that jacks you into dazzling cyberscapes mixed with
live action, plus infinite popculture shoutouts to the 1980s.
Brush up on everything from
Alien to Zemeckis if you want
to keep up. The sensory overload can grind you down. But
Spielberg’s go-for-broke adaptation of Ernest Cline’s 2011
sci-fi novel, a geek touchstone,
is eager to get you in the game.
It’s 2045, and orphaned
Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan)
is stuck in the shithole that
time has made of Columbus,
Ohio, where people live in trailers piled on top of one another. Wade finds escape in the
Oasis, a VR game created by
mad gen ius James Halliday
(the great Mark Rylance) and
his business partner, Ogden
Morrow (a sly Simon Pegg).
The dying legacy of Halliday’s
wacked-out Willy Wonka (seen
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DWAYNE JOHNSON
[Cont. from 37] president’s responses were
being dictated by the noise, and not the
actual problem,” he says. At their core, he
adds, the protests were “a cry for help: ‘As
one human being to another, we’re having
this issue that’s afecting our country and
our little kids, and I need your help.’ And I
think when human beings are in jeopardy,
and they ask for help, good-quality human
beings, whether locally or at the highest
level of oice, they help.”
Johnson doesn’t know Trump. They
met once, 15 or 20 years ago, at a wrestling event at Madison Square Garden.
(“Saw him, shook his hand. That was it.”)
But politics aside, Trump seems like exactly the kind of guy Johnson would have
little patience for. As his character in Central Intelligence says, “I don’t like bullies.”
Can you imagine the Rock’s reaction if a
man on his set mocked a person with a
disability, or bragged about assaulting a
woman? “You’re gone,” Johnson says angrily. “You’re done. I don’t have friends like
that, nor is it anywhere in our business.”
That kind of behavior, he says, “is why I
didn’t vote for him.”
Johnson says he voted for Obama twice,
but he didn’t vote in 2016. “At the time,
I just felt like it was either vote for the
[candidate] I thought would make a better president than the other, even though
I would rather have someone else, or not
vote at all. I wrestled back and forth with
it. We were on the set of Jumanji in Hawaii, and it really was like calling on the
gods. Give me the answer. Ultimately, it
was [to not vote].”
But it sounds like he may be having second thoughts. “The next elections, in 2020,
I think I’ll be a little bit more vocal in who
I support,” he says.
It’s hard to have this conversation without addressing the elephant in the room,
which is Johnson’s own political aspirations. For the past few years, stories have
come out floating him as a future commander in chief. It makes sense: He’s popular, smart, charming, a natural leader and all-around good guy. He’s spent
years touring small cities across America
– wrestling at state fairs, f lea markets,
barns, high school gyms. He was born in
California, has deep ties to Hawaii and
Florida, has lived everywhere from Texas
to Georgia to Pennsylvania, and currently
resides part-time in Virginia – that’s 153
electoral votes right there. A poll last year
showed him beating Trump head-to-head,
42 to 37.
But let’s be honest: Dwayne Johnson is
not going to be president anytime soon. As
much as we’d all love to see him drop the
People’s Elbow a few Novembers from now,
everyone needs to just calm down.
56 | R ol l i n g S t o n e |
RollingStone.com
“I mean, look,” says Johnson, “people
are very excited, and it’s so flattering that
they’re excited. I think it’s also a function
of being very unsatisfied with our current
president. But this is a skill set that requires years and years of experience. On
a local level, on a state level and then on
a national level. I have the utmost respect
for our country and that position, and I’m
not delusioned in any way to think, ‘Oh,
absolutely, if Trump can do it, I can do it,
and I’ll see you in 20-whatever, get ready.’
Not at all.”
Besides – is it even a good idea? More
than a year into our first celebrity presidency, most Americans would agree that it’s
not going supergreat. Have we not learned
our lesson? “I think in a lot of people’s
minds, what Trump has proved is that anybody can run for president,” Johnson says.
“And in a lot of people’s minds, what he’s
also proved is that not everybody should
run for president. What I’m sensing now
is that we have to pivot back to people who
have a deep-rooted knowledge of American history and politics and experience in
policy and how laws get made. I think that
pivot has to happen.”
So there you have it. Dwayne Johnson
knows he probably shouldn’t be president
right now. And yet . . . maybe someday?
Johnson says he’s been taking “underthe-radar” meetings with experts from
across the political spectrum: “Republicans, Democrats, independents, mayors,
strategists, you name it. Just soaking in
and listening. Trying to learn as much as I
possibly can. I entertain the thought, and
thank you, I’m so flattered by it. But I feel
like the best thing I can do now is, give me
years. Let me go to work and learn.”
Johnson smiles. “I will say this really quick, which is cool. So there’s a wellknown political figure who said, ‘A ll right,
listen. If and when you want to run for
president, when you text me this word, I’ll
come running. Don’t text any other word
– not hi, not how you doing, not what’s up.
Just this word.”
So what’s the word?
“The word is fr— I can’t say the word!”
Is it freedom?
Johnson smiles again. “Freedom patriot.
Two words.”
In 2032, he will have just turned 60.
Freedom patriot. Mark it down.
he l ast time i see johnson is
on a rainy L.A. morning, when he
picks me up at a Whole Foods near
his house in a black Escalade with Hank
Williams Jr. on the stereo. “Hey, brother,” he says, opening the door. We pull out
of the parking lot and onto the freeway,
and he checks his mirrors before merging
across three lanes of traic. “Very smooth,”
Johnson says. “Please note that.”
T
We’re on our way to the practice facility
of the Los Angeles Lakers, where he’s due
to give a “Genius Talk” – one in a series of
TED-style lectures that the Lakers’ GM,
Rob Pelinka, has organized to spark players’ curiosity for subjects outside basketball. Speakers so far have included Elon
Musk and former Disney and Dreamworks
CEO Jefrey Katzenberg. Today it’s Johnson’s turn.
When he walks in, waiting to greet him
is the Lakers’ president of basketball operations, Earvin “Magic” Johnson (no relation). “What’s up, baby!” Magic says.
“How you doing?” says Johnson, hugging him. They’ve known each other
for years, since Johnson came to Lakers games when he was just starting his
transition from wrestling to Hollywood.
“To see what he’s doing now, see it just,
boom, explode, number one in the world
– they need to hear that,” Magic says.
“We’re trying to become number one in
the world ourselves.” The Lakers are waiting for Johnson in the video room – rookie
sensation Lonzo Ball up front in sweats
and sandals. It’s one of the few gatherings
on Earth where Johnson looks small. The
team has struggled this year, 30-36 as
of this morning. But the Lakers are young,
and improving, and they have a lot of
potential.
“Thank you, boys, for having me,” Johnson says to the room. “I really didn’t know
what to say to you today, because you guys
are already successful. So instead, let me
just tell you what’s worked for me, and
maybe some of it might work for you.”
For the next 40 minutes, Johnson delivers a heartfelt, extemporaneous speech
cataloging his lifetime of failures. How he
was arrested multiple times as a teenager.
How he failed to get drafted into the NFL,
his dream crushed at 22. How he made it
big in wrestling, but then quit to star in
movies and struggled, and two years later
wondered, “What the fuck did I do with my
career?” He says he carries these failures
close. “You gotta keep that shit in the front
of your mind. When shit goes bad or sideways, when you get booed out of the building, it should form you. It should drive you.”
At one point, Johnson looks around the
room at the hungry young faces looking
back at him. “You guys are on the comeup,” he tells them. “You’re on the rise. But
at some point, you gotta be fucking tired
of not being number one. You gotta play
angry. I’m cool and calm when I step on
a set. But when it comes to business and
when it comes to executing” – he raps his
fist against the wall – “every day my back
is up against this motherfucker. And when
my back is against this motherfucker” —
he raps again – “I don’t give a fuck who’s in
front of me. I won’t stop.”
That night, the Lakers win by nine.
A p r i l 1 9 -M a y 3 , 2 018
THE FACEBOOK MENACE
[Cont. from 49] of catching the right eyeballs, when Facebook can instantly serve up
40,000 men age 18 to 54 who are likely to
buy an automobile in the next six months?
Press outlets can only sell chunks of
vaguely grouped audiences to advertisers.
Facebook can bring merchants right to the
individual buyer’s doorstep at almost the
exact moment his hand is reaching for his
wallet. There’s no comparison, which is why
two companies – Google and Facebook –
control 63.1 percent of all digital advertising and, as noted previously, nearly all of
the growth in that business.
Market share is only one issue. The other
problem – the presence of algorithms that
efectively determine who gets to see what
material – is much more serious.
“They’ve created rules about who gets to
see which stuf,” says Chavern. “They also
change the rules all the time. And they’re
also secret rules.”
Talk to media executives about Facebook, and they’ll complain endlessly about
two things: one, that they can never get a
straight answer from the company about
how the algorithm works (“You’re fucking
lucky if you can even get someone on the
phone,” hisses one publisher), and two, if
they do get advice about how to optimize
content, the advice changes constantly.
Media sites routinely shift their entire
commercial strategies to try to reach more
people through the Facebook News Feed –
the latest mania was video content – only to
have the algorithm change suddenly.
For a while, some media developers tried
to build brands dedicated to gaming Facebook. But sites like Mashable and Upworthy are being sold or laying of workers after
initial spikes of success. There’s just no way
to build a consistent strategy around a constantly changing, secret system.
Still, Facebook’s recent move to reweight the News Feed again, this time with
unhelpfully euphemistic new values like
“trusted sources” and “time well spent,”
will likely put an end to the idea that news
companies are not dependent upon Facebook to survive.
The latest changes will instead “serve as
the final deathblow to almost two decades
of delusional thinking,” as VentureBeat
writer Chris O’Brien put it.
The arbitrariness of the algorithms has
essentially forced media firms to lobby
Facebook and Google the way other businesses would lobby government departments. A classic example is the battle over
the so-called “first click free” rule.
For years, Google had a rule that gave
greater visibility to media companies that
ofered at least some free content. Outlets
complained about the rule, which they
claimed shaped the industry early in the
A p r i l 1 9 -M a y 3 , 2 018
online age, forcing firms away from subscription-based models. Under pressure,
Google finally scrapped the rule in October 2017, but the damage was already done.
About those subscription-based models: There are people out there who believe
the media’s only hope is to organize, as a
union would, and collectively enforce a
giant paywall, denying Facebook and its
hacker ethos the oceans of free content that
are its lifeblood.
But one would be hard-pressed to find a
media executive who believes such a strategy has a chance of working.
“You don’t call that play under normal
circumstances, but it’s 4th and 30 for all of
us,” says McChesney. “There is no commercial solution. There is no magical business
model that will save the news business. It’s
time we all faced reality.”
hether facebook is just a
reflection of modern society or a
key driver of it, the picture isn’t
pretty. The company’s awesome data-mining tactics wedded to its relentless hyping of the culture of self has helped create
a world where billions of people walk with
bent heads, literally weighted down with
their own bullshit, eyes glued to telescreenstyle mobile devices that read us faster than
we can read them.
Surveys show audiences trust the media
less than ever but consume news more
than ever. Those two deeply troubling data
points suggest the Fourth Estate, which
was designed to inform the public and provide a crucial check on power, is instead
morphing into an entertainment product,
which succeeds or doesn’t based on how
quickly our brains ratify the information
ofered. This is the opposite of how news is
supposed to work.
“Once, a citizen had a right to an opinion,” says García Martínez. “Now, they feel
like they have a right to their own reality.”
Awful as that all is, it’s not even the most
immediate emergency. Along with Google,
Facebook is a clear duopoly, which simply
has too much power in the fields of media
distribution and digital advertising.
The recent controversies have inspired
countless proposals for how to “improve”
Facebook. Some have pressed for a tax that
would kick Facebook revenues back to public-interest journalism. Others have called
for a simple ban on new acquisitions, to
prevent the firm from snatching up properties like Instagram and WhatsApp when it
clearly can’t manage the ones it already has.
But when a tumor starts growing teeth
and hair, you don’t comb the hair. You yank
the thing. And it turns out we have a mechanism for just that.
We need to break up Facebook, the same
way we broke up Standard Oil, AT&T and
countless other less-terrifying overgrown
W
corporate tyrants of the past. The moral if
not legal reason is obvious: A functioning
free press just can’t coexist with an unaccountable private regulator.
An antitrust action sounds extreme, but
given the alternatives – diferent groups
have proposed creating fact-checking star
chambers either within government, Facebook or both – it may be the least-intrusive
solution, one that moreover doesn’t create a
“legitimacy” standard that could threaten
alternative or dissenting media.
The question is, can we actually break
up Facebook?
“It’s tough,” says former New York governor and attorney general Eliot Spitzer,
who policed Wall Street for nearly a decade. “Because market size alone, unless
gained through improper means, is not a
basis for action.”
According to the stif test the government must meet to file successful antitrust
actions today, the state not only has to demonstrate the existence of monopoly, but that
consumers are worse of under it, subject
to “supernormal” prices. The case against
Facebook is not a legal slam dunk.
But not all market harm is about raw
numbers, and some of the more celebrated
recent antitrust actions, like the breaking
up of Ma Bell, have opened the door for the
government to consider factors other than
mere price.
“Under the traditional antitrust analysis, the issue is whether the consumer pays
more,” says Louisiana Sen. John Kennedy, a
corporate lawyer by profession. “But courts
are beginning to look at other types of economic harm.” Kennedy, a Republican, says
the “black box” nature of firms like Facebook, combined with their unprecedented
influence, make it urgently necessary for
the government to consider all options.
“We’re in a brave new world,” he says.
“We’re waking up and realizing some of
these companies aren’t companies – they’re
countries.”
The real solution to this problem would
be to dial back the use of the data-collection technologies that have turned companies like Facebook into modern-day
versions of the “propaganda stations” the
Federal Radio Commission was so bent on
keeping of the airwaves a century ago.
The diference is Facebook doesn’t push
Nazism or communism or anarchism, but
something far more dangerous: 2 billion individually crafted echo chambers, a kind of
precision-targeted mass church of self, of
impatience with others, of not giving a shit.
A generation of this kind of messaging
is bound to have some pretty weird consequences, of which electing proudly ignorant
bubble-thinker Donald Trump is probably
just a gentle opener. Given that, we might
be too late to fix Facebook – maybe we
need to be saved from it instead.
RollingStone.com
| R ol l i n g S t o n e |
57
THE
LAST
WORD
Questlove
The Roots drummer on lessons from his dad, being a
‘superdweeb,’ and overcoming ‘pie-in-the-face moments’
Who are your heroes?
My dad [doo-wop singer Lee Andrews] taught me everything I
know about the music business. But if you’re talking about who I
look to and worship in my daily life, the Father is Don Cornelius,
the Son is Prince and the Holy Ghost is Michael Jackson. The first
thing I do every morning is watch an episode of Soul Train. Why?
I don’t know. Because I can. There’s always some Prince surprise
around the corner. And the last three interviews on my podcast are
heavily Jackson-related.
What’s the best advice you have ever received?
[Drummer] Bernard Purdie was doing
a session for my father in 1975. Dad
said, “Bernard, tell my son how you
keep food on the table,” and he says,
“The two and the four.” My dad
was always a rigorous, bandleading disciplinarian when it came
to keeping it in the pocket. That
stuck with me. In some ways I’ve
become my dad, especially with
the Roots.
My dad always said, “Son, remember: They can’t get you if they
can’t put anything in you.” That’s
probably the reason I don’t drink. I think
he had these fears of me partying at a bar and
picking up a random person.
What advice would you give to a teenage Questlove?
If the Questlove Jacob Marley figure could
go back in time and tell 19-year-old me
that you were about to face the hardest 25year fight of your life, would he still stay in
the race? [Over the years] I had panic attacks over [other people getting] undeserved Rolling Stone covers. I
threw tantrums, I threw glasses.
Many times, I quit. But there was always the hope that one day you were
going to make it. I jumped in the
river and there’s piranhas and sharks,
but as far as I’m concerned, I have a
500-foot lead on them.
Your new book, Creative Quest, is “a self-help
book made for music and art heads,” as you put
it. You have a chapter about dealing with failure.
Why?
There have been a lot of pie-in-the-face moments. “Oh, you’re Questlove and you’re an icon
and everyone loves you.” But I cry over record reviews and have done horrible projects. It’s
important to let people know.
Do you ever get impostor syndrome?
Questlove’s book “Creative
Quest” is out on April 24th from
HarperCollins Press.
58 | R ol l i n g S t o n e |
RollingStone.com
Every day of my life. I was trying to explain to my girlfriend recently: “Look, there are some people on this Earth that hold me
in a higher Superman regard, but you’re stuck with Clark Kent.”
A lot of us are like that. The reason why bodyguards and velvet ropes really exist is mainly because a lot of celebrities don’t
want you to know how normal and regular they are. I would rather kill all expectations and let you know from the get that I’m a
superdweeb.
What are the most important rules to live by?
Get out of your own head. When I write about that, I’m trying
to explain being in the alpha state where you do things so
naturally that you don’t overthink it. I know I’m coming
of like that weird guy that I used to always roll my eyes
at. But my peers overthink shit and call me at four in
the morning, like, “I can’t!” Panic is just people’s default. They don’t trust the Force. I’m dismayed that
U2’s “Get Out of Your Own Way” didn’t hit bigger.
You write that your response to seeing someone else’s
creative innovation is to be “overcome by a kind of paralysis.” What was the last thing that made you freeze?
[Dave] Chappelle did a four-hour private show at the Comedy Store at NBA
All-Star Weekend. Chappelle is in his
mid-1960s free-jazz Coltrane phase.
Especially now, when people
are finding some of his work
problematic.
Just to see him have so
much conf idence . . . he
spent 30 minutes talking about pumpkin juice.
Thir t y minutes! I am
thoroughly amazed at anyone who is so confident in
the science of their work. He
knows that he is Mel Blanc plus
Richard Pryor. He’s hypnotizing.
What first drove you to play hourslong DJ sets?
There’s a lot of boredom on
the road once you get off the
stage at midnight and there’s
girls and there’s Patron there.
So I made sure that I was accounted for between the hours of
12:30 and four in the morning. I don’t
want to start a cocaine habit. DJ’ing was
my cocaine.
How far do you think the Roots would’ve
gone if you’d stayed with your original
name, Black to the Future?
[Laughs] One and done. One
album and that’s it. Those [kind
of] group names never . . . yeah. But
[some crate-digger] would’ve paid
$500 for that one record.
INTERVIEW BY JASON NEWMAN
Illustration by Mark Summers
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