gear and loathing
Bob Guccione Jr. does the time warp in his post-Spin production.
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BY MARY ELIZABETH WILLIAMS
The world needs another men's magazine like Montana needs disgruntled gun
nuts. But Bob Guccione Jr. is just crazy enough to start one anyway. He
stares from the Publisher's Letter page of his new periodical, Gear, his
fingers contorting his visage into an expression of singular
oogah-boogah-ness, as he spouts how a magazine "must grow from the soil of
the culture it plants its feet in." Guccione Jr. wants to be the wild man
incarnate, the maverick explorer staking out new territory on the newsstand.
But there's something about Gear that feels unmistakably not so fresh. The
first issue is crammed with typical men's magazine fare like booze and
stereo equipment; the great unseen gear in
Gear is the vacuum in which the magazine seems to think its readers have
lived their lives.
When the younger Guccione started Spin 13 years ago, he was met with a fair
amount of derisive snorting from the publishing world. The guy whose dad
made "Caligula" was going to take on the likes of Rolling Stone? But Junior
carved out a neat niche with Spin -- he gave it a younger, edgier vibe than
its elderly counterparts. He distinguished it as a publication that broke
new bands and covered the AIDS crisis and drug culture with a penetrating,
unsentimental eye. But in recent years Spin's luster was tainted with an
in-house sexual discrimination suit. And when Vibe, an even more upstart
music publication, came in and wanted to buy the works, Guccione Jr. decided
it was time to Spin off and move on.
Now comes Guccione Jr. seeking to reinvent the Esquire and Details circuit.
Guccione may be reinventing himself as a wild man, but he's not stupid.
Sticking with what works, he's created a mag indebted to the old Spin --
Gear looks a lot like Spin and has poached an expected amount of its talent
(William Vollmann, Celia Farber). The difference is that with Gear, Guccione
Jr. seems more willing than ever before in his career to be, well, a
Judging from the new rag's retro, below-the-waist orientation, Gear's
founder has been waiting a long time to make the leap from rock 'n' roll to
bump and grind. In a piece that reveals almost as much about himself as his
subject, Guccione Jr. interviews self-professed Viagra enthusiast Hugh
Hefner. A page devoted to Jewel and the Lilith Fair posse dismisses them as
"Granola Ryders," while the rest of the magazine teems with fantasy figure
superfoxes in near nipple-revealing dishabille. And what do you know? What
these vixens really want is just a rugged, hairy, Gear kind of dude. "Where
are all the real men?" snorts Peta Wilson, a woman who "takes big bites out
of life and laughs with zest and pleasure as the juices cascade down her
chin." Life juice -- is that what they're calling it now?
Meanwhile, Denise Richards, who Gear says "sprung from the fevered
imagination of a horny adolescent boy confined to his bedroom on a hot
summer afternoon," purrs, "I like a man man." The sensitive new age guy is
dead, long live the caveman.
When you start talking about the imaginations of horny teenage boys, you're
well into Guccione Sr. territory, and indeed at times Gear looks a lot like
a Penthouse production. Gear has lanky blond Wilson topless on a toilet; the
current Penthouse has a lanky blond bottomless on a toilet. (Only the
latter, however, is actually relieving herself.) And the hubba-hubba
description of the brunet in the black push-up bra from the Penthouse Forum
isn't far off in tone from the "stacked black girl" who fills her Lycra
T-shirt with D-cup boobage in "Sex Files," Gear's obligatory chick-penned
But a funny thing happened on the way from the Forum. Gear, for all its
ballsy swagger, understands intimately that it is not, in fact, an adult
magazine. There are no terribly naughty photos, no shockingly explicit
suggestions. Oddly, however, Guccione Jr. seems to be laboring under the
belief that "not adult" somehow means "not yet moved out of your parent's
garage." Or maybe Gear is for the lonely dude who just got divorced and
needs a comforting catch-up while he fills his empty bachelor pad. Yes, Gear
says, the world is just as you left it as a young man. Here, have a digital
There's something charmingly naive about Gear's tabula rasa approach -- it's
as if Guccione Jr. decided the way to make a mark in the men's magazine
field was to create a guide for the guy who hasn't done anything or gone
anywhere in a long, long time. If ever. There are tributes to Rod Serling
and Emma Peel. A drink section that pays homage to vodka. A cars column that
praises the Corvette, Mustang and Firebird. A fashion spread devoted to
denim. Thumbs up for Smiths albums and Chekhov stories. A roundup of the
all-time hottest movie scenes featuring "9 1/2 Weeks" and "Body Heat." All
that's missing is a cover feature on "What to do now that you've come out of
your coma." Future issues will no doubt explore the relative merits of Woody
Allen, the Beatles, pizza and sleep.
Gear does, to its credit, take stabs at the kind of serious journalism that
gave the old Spin its justified reputation for writing. But even Gear's
beefier pieces have a seriously suspended-in-time kind of funk about them.
Sadaam Hussein? George Bush Jr.? Run-D.M.C.? It all makes you want to party
like it's 1989. Gear seems barely contemporary, except when it's devoting
its considerable inches to Viagra. And hell, in another month that topic too
will seem flaccid.
In an age of musical sampling, vintage clothes and movie remakes, Gear may
be the first magazine to fully embrace the nostalgia Zeitgeist. And while it
does make Gear somewhat different, it doesn't exactly make it anything new.
"We have no idea where we're going," Guccione Jr. modestly admits in his
opening manifesto. Maybe that's because it's hard to see where you're
heading when your eyes are aimed backward.
SALON | Aug. 27, 1998