Unless we prove in the next days that Paul McCartney actually died in 1967 and was replaced by a doppelganger, Rolling Stone‘s most memorable story will be Michael Hastings’ stunning profile of General Stanley McChrystal. Before the piece even hit stands Obama called McChrystal back to America and fired him for his inflammatory comments in the piece. Rarely has a magazine article ever had such an immediate and dramatic effect on world affairs.
It wasn’t our only scoop in 2010, though. During the last 12 months we unearthed John Lennnon’s final print interview, examined the true motives of the Tea Party, chatted with Lady Gaga about her new album and visited Conan O’Brien has he prepared his new TBS talk show. Here’s a look back at 10 great Rolling Stone stories from 2010.
1. The Runaway General
Re-reading the story six months later it’s hard to pick out a favorite detail. The unnamed top advisor called Vice President Biden “Bite Me” generated lots of press, as did the fact that a “member of the general’s team” grumbled when he got an e-mail from the late Richard Holbrooke. “Not another e-mail from Holbrooke,” he groans. “I don’t want to open it.” Responds another aide, “Make sure you you don’t get any of that [e-mail] on your leg.” In the end the most memorable details are the little things, like the fact that McChrystal’s favorite drink is Bud Light Lime and his favorite movie is Talladega Nights.
2. Billy Corgan
When Billy Corgan sat down with Rolling Stone earlier this year he had a lot on his mind. While the press cared about little beyond his supposed relationship with Jessica Simpson, he was eager to assert his place as an overlooked musical genius and settle old scores. “Do I belong in the conversation about the best artists in the world? My answer is yes, I do,” he said. “I’ve been too productive for too long, and despite what anybody wants to strip away from me, I am influential. I am. You can hear echoes of my music right now. So all the Pitchforks in the world can try to strip me of every ounce of dignity, but I belong.” He also described former bandmates James Iha, Jimmy Chamberlin and D’Arcy Wretzky as “two drug addicts and one guy who hated me, and I hated him.”
3. Exile on Main Street
When The Rolling Stones released Exile On Main St. in 1972 it was seen as a disappointing follow-up to the hit-packed Sticky Fingers. In the four decades since it’s become widely acknowledged as their finest work. To commemorate its recent re-release as part of a massive box set David Gates sat down with the bands to relive their wild days on exile in the South of France. “It was a strange atmosphere,” Keith Richards recalls about recording the album in the basement of a mansion. “It was very, very murky — and dusty. It wasn’t a great environment for, like, breathing. Mick Taylor and I would just peer through the murk at each other and say, ‘OK, what key is it in?’ It was very Hitleresque — the last days of Berlin sort of thing.”
4. Lady Gaga (subscription only)
Last summer Neil Strauss flew to England to sit down with Lady Gaga before a show, hear tracks from her upcoming LP and ask her about the difference between Stefani Germanotta and her alter-ego Gaga. “When I wake up in the morning, I feel just like any other insecure 24-year-old girl,” she said. “But I say, ‘Bitch, you’re Lady Gaga, you better fucking get up and walk the walk today,’ because [my fans] need that from me. And they inspire me to keep going.” She also spoke out against the media for spreading insane rumors about her. “When they start saying that you have extra appendages, you have to assume that they’re unable to destroy you,” she said. “I’ve got scratch marks all over my arms, and they say I’m a heroin addict. It’s from my costumes. When I pass out onstage, they say that I’m burning out, when I have my own (A) personal health issues and (B) it’s fucking hot up there and I’m busting my ass every night. I’ve heard that Audrey Hepburn used to faint on the set all the time, and nobody thought she was a burnout.”
5. Mad Men (subscription only)
With the possible exception of The Wire, no television show of the past decade has been praised as much as Mad Men. The newest season may have been its finest yet, even as the previously unflappable Don Draper’s personal and professional life collapsed around him. Writer Eric Konigsberg checked in with the show’s creator Matthew Weiner and the cast during the filming of an episode late in the season. “I am a mixture of Roger, Peggy, Don, Pete, Joan, Betty,” Weiner said. “They all behave in ways I’m embarrassed to behave, and they all have qualities I wish I had. There’s a lot of Joan in me: She has sexual confidence, which I wish I had. Pete is the guy I tried to be in high school: I was the towel snapee. I’m attuned to moments of humiliation. When Peggy is dancing in one episode and Pete says, ‘I don’t like you like this,’ it was a hard thing for me to admit that I had been him — jealous and cruel. If you’re a mean or vindictive person, I don’t think you can learn it. You have to be raised with it.”
6. Roger Waters (subscription only)
Pink Floyd’s original Wall tour of 1980/81 only played to four cities across the globe, so when Roger Waters finally revived it this year the shows sold out as quickly as they went on sale — even in the worst year for rock tours in recent memory. Rolling Stone‘s Brian Hiatt sat in on rehearsals for the epic show, and chatted with Waters about his relationship with Floyd guitarist David Gilmour. “We don’t see each other socially,” Waters said. “He very much lives in the middle of the countryside in England, and I very much live in Manhattan, so our paths don’t cross — but a couple of times when we end up being in England, we’ll probably have dinner once in a restaurant. But yeah, there’s no fussing and fighting going on.” He feels that a reunion tour remains highly unlikely. “David and Nick and I might do a one-off somewhere, but there’s no way we’re going to do a tour,” he says, suggesting that they might consider a single benefit concert: “Like a Live 8 but probably just with us. It’s such a shame that we didn’t get around to it before [keyboardist] Rick [Wright] died [in 2008].”
7. Matt Taibbi on the Tea Party
Shortly before the mid-term elections Matt Taibbi went to a Sarah Palin-led Tea Party rally in Kentucky to try and understand the political movement — and he noticed that many people in the audience were in motorized scooters. Somebody informed him that Medicare pays for the devices and “practically everyone in Kentucky has one.” “A hall full of elderly white people in Medicare-paid scooters, railing against government spending and imagining themselves revolutionaries as they cheer on the vice-presidential puppet hand-picked by the GOP establishment,” Taibbi wrote. “If there exists a better snapshot of everything the Tea Party represents, I can’t imagine it.”
8. Conan O’Brien (subscription only)
2010 was one nutty year for Conan O’Brien. NBC yanked his Tonight Show after just seven months, leading to the rise of the Team Coco army of fans. When he took his show on the road in the summer he was greeted as a mythical folk hero. Shortly before starting his new show on TBS, O’Brien talked to Mark Binelli about the wild ride. “In some ways, I planned and worked for five years toward this one thing that was supposedly the epitome of my television dreams,” O’Brien said “And then the still-kind-of-unthinkable happened. But one of the advantages of that experience is to really feel like, ‘OK, I’m going to go for broke. I have got nothing to lose.’ Let’s face it: I’m not going to do another television show after this one.”
9. Lost Lennon Tapes (subscription only)
Three days before John Lennon died he spent nine hours speaking to Rolling Stone‘s Jonathan Cott for a cover story. Only select excerpts from the interview were used in the piece, and the tapes sat in Cott’s closet for nearly thirty years. On the 30th anniversary of Lennon’s death Rolling Stone ran the entire interview. “What [fans] want is dead heroes, like Sid Vicious and James Dean,” Lennon told Cott. “I’m not interseted in being a dead fucking hero…so forget ’em, forget ’em.” He also discussed the possibility of launching his first solo tour. “We just might do it,” he said. “But there will be no smoke bombs, no lipstick, no flashing lights. It just has to be comfy. But we could have a laugh. We’re born-again rockers, and we’re starting over…There’s plenty of time, right? Plenty of time.”
10. Marijuana America
While marijuana is still technically illegal all across the country, certain states have decriminalized it to the point where getting caught with a joint is barely a worse offense than jaywalking. In Massachusetts, pot has been effectively decriminalized at the recreational level; possession of up to an ounce nets a $100 ticket. Meanwhile, 14 states have approved medical marijuana, and legislation is pending in 14 more. California is at the center of the movement, with hundreds of marijuana dispensaries popping up at strip malls all across the state. Rolling Stone went to California to investigate: “When California voters passed Prop 215, it seemed like typical behavior from the people who brought us Scientology and the career of Gary Busey. But now, as the economy has cratered and millions of Americans have found themselves forced to rethink their livelihoods, there’s a growing feeling that the country can no longer afford its longstanding prohibition on marijuana — a sense, for the first time since the Seventies, that pot could soon be decriminalized in many states, or even made fully legal… On the national level, a Harvard economist has estimated that legalizing pot could save the government $13 billion annually in prohibition costs (including cops and prisons) and raise $7 billion in annual revenues if marijuana is taxed — a potent argument at a time when local municipalities are being forced to slash services and cut public-sector jobs.”