The Hootie & the Blowfish Review That Got a Rolling Stone Editor Fired

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The editors at Rolling Stone have negotiated a very interesting path between apology and non-apology since the beginning of the process that has, as of yesterday, definitively revealed their UVA rape story to be an abject failure in terms of intent, process and outcome.


Managing editor Will Dana went on the record as saying, “I don’t think we need to necessarily institute a lot of new ways of doing things.” Sabrina Rubin Erdely’s story editor Sean Woods said, “We were too deferential to our rape victim.” (Who knew such big hearts couldn’t accommodate due diligence??) As the Washington Post points out, Rolling Stone refuses to blame either their policies or their personnel for the series of big, prolonged, approved missteps—and yet they’re superficially apologizing all over the place, retracting the piece fully, wiping it from their website. In doing this, they push the blame very firmly onto Jackie, the deceptive college student at the center of all of this. Jann Wenner, Rolling Stone’s co-founder and publisher, called her “a really expert fabulist storyteller” in the New York Times, adding, “obviously there is something here that is untruthful, and something sits at her doorstep.”

In the end, no one involved in the story’s production will be fired, and amazingly, Sabrina Rubin Erdely—who knowingly dodged a series of basic journalistic steps in order to ensure her story could keep its shocking, deliberately non-representative lede—will still write for the magazine. We’ve come a long way since 1996, when Jann Wenner fired senior music editor Jim DeRogatis after eight months on the job for writing a negative review of Hootie and the Blowfish.

Previous to his firing, DeRogatis was told he was a “bad apple and [didn’t know anything about music]” after he filed his review, which was swapped for a positive one; he later told the New York Observer that perhaps Hootie’s eight and a half million records sold had something to do with Wenner’s decision. The day the Observer report came out, he was fired.

Here is an album review that warranted a Rolling Stone senior editor’s firing in 1996.

Hootie and the Blowfish

Fairweather Johnson


WITH SOUNDSCAN-CERTIFIED sales of 8.5 million for its Atlantic debut, Cracked Rear View, the humble South Carolina bar band Hootie and the Blowfish hit that strata of hyper-popularity where people who never buy records bought the record. But whether or notFairweather Johnson ever meets those chart accomplishments—and to date, it ain’t even coming close—it is certainly its predecessor’s artistic equal. Which is to say it’s an album full of what Hootie themselves call “silly little pop songs”—no more, no less.

Tunes such as “Be the One,” “Honeyscrew,” and “Tucker Town” (which was inspired by a band vacation to Bermuda) don’t vary much from the formula of Hootie hits like “Hold My Hand” and “Only Wanna Be With You.” There are insidious hooks aplenty and hints of Stax/Volt soulfulness courtesy of the occasional Hammond organ and Darius Rucker’s pleasingly gruff vocals (think Eddie Vedder imitating Otis Redding). All of the songs overflow with generic jangly guitars that evoke denatured versions of edgier Southern popsters like R.E.M. and the dB’s, whose Peter Holsapple is reduced by the need for health insurance to serving as fifth Hootie on organ, piano, and accordion.

These comfy, cozy sounds—the musical equivalent of Mom’s chocolate chip cookies and a big glass of milk—are paired with lyrics that reek of Hallmark-card sentimentality. “I thought about you for a long, long time/I wrote about you, but the words don’t seem to rhyme/Now you’re lying near/But my heart still beats for you,” Rucker sings in the weepy ballad “Tootie.” Are these the sweet nothings of a bunch of regular Joes struggling to express their romantic feelings, or the trite clichés of hack songwriters who just wanna get laid? It would be easier to believe the former if the band hadn’t chosen sophomoric sex jokes worthy of Beavis and Butthead for their last three album titles (ootchypopracked Rear Viewairweather Johnson.

To these ears, Hootie are the blandest extreme of a wave of bands for whom blame can be placed squarely on the Grateful Dead. The Spin Doctors, Dave Matthews Band, Blues Traveler, and most of the other “baby Dead” or “jam” bands try to uphold the Dead’s ideals of exploring diverse musical genres such as jazz, bluegrass, and worldbeat from a rock perspective, as well as transcending the everyday through a combination of hallucinogens, music, and community. Hootie doesn’t even attempt the first (though they do stretch things out a bit live), and they only succeed at the second if you consider Bud Lite a psychedelic drug.

But the connection to the Dead is there in a recording style that reduces American Beautyand Workingman’s Dead to their lowest common denominators: a down-home hippie folksiness, a lilting melodic approach, and, of course, that lazy, elastic groove. Hootie music never rocks, and you certainly can’t dance to it; at best, you just sort of do the awkward white-person wiggle so prominent at Dead and baby Dead shows alike. (Remember, too, that David Crosby, the Dead’s secret weapon on American Beauty and Workingman’s Dead, also crafted the harmonies on “Hold My Hand.”)

Come hear Uncle Hootie’s band, playing to the crowds. More than 8 million buyers can’t be wrong. Or can they?

Famously, Wenner also fired Lester Bangs in the ‘70s for “disrespecting musicians” after he wrote a bad review of Canned Heat. Hootie albums and Canned Heat albums, by this metric, are more important than an entire university’s worth of people who will now be best-known for a fake gang rape: Erdely—despite her radio silence and poor excuses—is here to stay.

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It’s worth pointing out that DeRogatis played a large part in breaking the R. Kelly story, and his careful, meticulous work on that story couldn’t stand in greater contrast to Rolling Stone’s UVA piece. His work gives such a lie to Rolling Stone’s excuse — we were just too sensitive to rape victims, you guys! — because he gave a real voice to victims that were being marginalized in every direction and supported them through actual journalism.