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Issue 1224/1225

December 18, 2014-January 1, 2015


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TONY BENNETT
& LADY GAGA

DECEMBER 30 & 31

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All the NEWS


THAT FITS
FEATURES
47 The Secret Deal
to Save the Planet
Inside the high-stakes drama behind
Obamas China climate talks.
By Jeff Goodell

52 Seth Rogen at a Crossroads


Can he be a responsible adult and
still make a living telling dick jokes?
By Josh Eells

58 XCX Marks the Spot


A wild night with Charli XCX,
pops most exciting new star.
By Cary n Ganz

62 The Rolling Stone


Interview: Chris Rock
The comedian on how he nally
conquered lm. By Brian Hiatt

68 Afghanistan: The Making


of a Narco State
After 13 years of war, we havent
defeated the Taliban, but we have
created a nation ruled by drug lords.
By Matthieu Aikins

2014 YEAR IN REVIEW


Albums of the Year ..............................21
Singles of the Year ............................... 32
Movies of the Year ............................... 39
Television of the Year .........................40

PETER HAPAK

DEPARTMENTS
Rock & Roll ...........15

Record Reviews ....77

Random Notes ....43

Movie Reviews .... 82

ON THE COVER Seth Rogen photographed


in New York on July 30th, 2014, by
Mark Seliger.

Set design by Rob Strauss Studio. Styling by Brian Coats at the


Wall Group. Grooming by Losi at Brydges Mackinney. Shirt by GANT.

D e c e m b e r 18 , 2 014 - Ja n u a r y 1 , 2 01 5

White entertainers dont


have a responsibility to a
community. Nobodys telling
them to keep it real.
CHRIS ROCK
RollingStone.com

| R ol l i n g S t o n e |

ROLLINGSTONE.COM
Swift:
One-woman
wrecking crew

2014: BEST AND WORST


More of the years highs and lows, from Fancy to the nightmare of Transformers 4 to Taylor Swifts war against Spotify.
Including: Peter Travers 10 worst movies of 2014, the year in
weed, and expanded lists of the best songs and albums.

WATCH

In a video bonus to our cover story, the


Interview star talks about his friendship
with James Franco and why Adaptation is
his favorite movie of the 2000s.

LIST

Beatles

Forty records that created movements,


invented genres and shook the world
from Woody Guthries Dust Bowl Ballads
to Kanye Wests 808s and Heartbreak.

MUSIC NEWS,
AROUND THE CLOCK

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CULTURE

ROB SHEFFIELD
RollingStone.com/shefeld

MOVIES

PETER TRAVERS
RollingStone.com/travers

ROCK & ROLL

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D e c e m b e r 18 , 2 014 - Ja n u a r y 1 , 2 01 5

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ANOTHER
ROUND

EDITOR AND PUBLISHER: Jann S. Wenner

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LETTERS
& ADVICE
CORRESPONDENCE LOVE

The Whistle-Blower
In The $9 Billion Witness [RS 1222], contributing editor Matt
Taibbi made a triumphant return to R OLLING S TONE , with the
explosive story of Alayne Fleischmann, a securities lawyer who
blew the whistle on massive fraud at JPMorgan Chase and
helped trigger one of the largest Department of Justice nes
in U.S. history. Thrilled and enraged, RS readers responded.

the br illi a n t m at t
Taibbi has given us another tool for understanding
our current economic mess
and who its culprits are. This
piece particularly needs to
be read by that Tea Party
uncle who likes to blame
homeowners, welfare recipients or Greece for the 2008
meltdown and the ongoing
aftereffects.

Dylans Deep Cuts


david brow nes piece on
Bob Dylans Basement Tapes
[Dylans Accidental Masterpiece, RS 1222] was sensational. Dylan has enjoyed such
a long and fascinating career
hes still touring, and his
found music is better than
99 percent of whats being produced today. Nothing but respect for a living legend.

Jim Corbin
Portland, ME

as usual, outstanding
reporting by Taibbi.
Thanks to Fleischmann
from those of us who
wish that ethics and integrity were not a commodity to be bought and
sold like those scratchand-dent securities.
Many people still believe
doing the right thing is
honorable, though the system suggests otherwise.

Daniel Bellay, via the Internet

t h e dy l a n c ov er st ory
was just the kind of insidebaseball reporting that we subscribe to Rolling Stone for.
It still floors me that the Band
crossed paths with the songwriter of our generation. Together, they made some truly
incredible music.

Jef Searcy, Seattle

how sad for the families who lost their homes


during the financial crisis that the DOJ has chosen to make tax-deductible
settlements the punishment
for banks that committed
mortgage fraud and ruined
so many lives.

david brow nes and greil


Marcus articles on the Basement Tapes were superb. The
Band keyboardist Garth Hudson, as the keeper of the tapes
for so many years, emerges as
the true savior.
Richard Thorum, via the Internet

Naomi Johns, via the Internet

10 | R ol l i n g S t o n e |

Wayne Martorelli
Lawrenceville, NJ

Sheila Stuewe
The Woodlands, TX

Stewart Speaks
gr e a t i n t e r v i e w w i t h
one of my favorite people
[Checking In With Jon Stewart, RS 1222]. Stewarts tiresome Springsteen worship

RollingStone.com

Avery Cole, via the Internet

Jack Bruce, R.I.P.


m y h e a rt r e a l ly h u rt
when I saw that Jack Bruce
had died [Tribute, RS 1222].
A truly visionary musician,
Bruce is rightly lauded as one
of the greatest bassists ever to
play the instrument. But its his
voice that always got me. Crank
White Room and hear classic
psychedelic rock at its finest.
Oscar Diaz, via the Internet

t oget her , ta ibbi a n d


Fleischmann refute the
claim that the prosecution

Allman Love
a s a l ong t i m e a l l m a n
Brothers fan and RS subscriber, I was very disappointed that
you didnt give the Brothers
the cover to celebrate the end
of their 45-year ride [The Allmans Last Stand, RS 1222].
Still, the road goes on forever!
Ed Chiusano, via the Internet

of multibillion-dollar fraud
cases are too complicated
to pursue.
Robert Porath, Boulder, CO

Michael Lien, via the Internet

i t hor oug h l y e n jo y e d
Brownes story. I learned new
details about the recordings,
and Im a devoted fan. And the
Basement Tapes documentary
on the RS website, The Return
to Big Pink, is just spectacular.
Garth Hudson is like the wise
old man of the mountain.

taibbi has always had a


talent for taking financial issues the mainstream press
proclaims are too complex for us stupid, ordinary
Americans and making them
comprehensible w ithout
ever dumbing them down.
Now what will it take for the
American people to listen?

bitingly funny comedian, the


pugilist vigorously engaging
humanitys worst offenders. But
in Andy Greenes Q&A, we also
get to see what a serious guy
Stewart is too. I cant wait to
watch Rosewater and experience how his curiosity and vision have played out onscreen.

as a canadian, i find it
worth noting where Fleischmann comes from. Maybe
it has something to do with
having a conscience. American politics and big business are now so intertwined,
theres really no hope for the
U.S. system as it stands.
John Lymer, Ottawa, Ontario

aside, we are truly lucky to have


him holding up a mirror to ourselves even when it looks ugly.
S. Shott, via the Internet

stewa rt is a ll things
the charming cable host, the

Gothams Finest
t he n e w issu e dy l a n,
Foo Fighters, Jon Stewart had
me salivating. But what did I
turn to first? The article about
Donal Logue [The Ultimate
That Guy Guy, RS 1222]. Ive
been a huge fan of his for years,
so I was happy to see this versatile actor getting his due. His rsum may be weird, but that
guy makes weird seem cool.
Kathleen Kent, via the Internet

Contact Us
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D e c e m b e r 18 , 2 014 - Ja n u a r y 1 , 2 01 5

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THE PLAYLIST

EXPERT

OPINION

OUR FAVORITE SONGS, ALBUMS AND VIDEOS RIGHT NOW

6. Jessica
Pratt

Back, Baby

Pete
Wentz

The San Francisco


folkie has a charming,
squeaky, gently aching
voice. Its perfectly
suited to this lovely
acoustic breakup tune.

We asked the Fall Out


Boy bassist whose band
has a new album due out
soon to tell us what he
thinks of five songs.
OLD

1. Beyonc 7/11 video

When an average person decides to throw a dance party in a hotel


room, its no big deal. When Queen B does it, its a major world event
as you can see in this absurdly fun video for her jumpy new jam.

2. The Decemberists
Make You Better video

The first single from the dictionary-loving folkrock crews new LP is a sweet, R.E.M.-ish love
song. The video is presented as a very funny
fake German TV show from the 1970s, starring
Parks and Recreations Nick Offerman as a seedily charming host with an atrocious accent.

3. Elvis Depressedly

4. Hudson Mohawke

This South Carolina bands latest


laid-back tune feels like gathering
around a campfire with an acoustic guitar, a lot of feelings, and
even more marshmallows. Color
us psyched for their album New
Alhambra, due in the spring.

You might have heard


the Scottish EDM producers hammer-of-Thor
beat in a TV commercial
recently, but we guarantee that it will sound
even better booming
from your stereo.

No More Sad Songs


(N.M.S.S.)

Chimes

5. Smashing
Pumpkins
Tiberius

Theres a certain kind


of grungy, proggy,
majestic rock song
that Billy Corgan
does better than
nearly anyone
else. This new
Pumpkins cut is
a prime example.

12 | R ol l i n g S t o n e |

RollingStone.com

7. Mary J. Blige
Follow

Who knew the Queen of


Hip-Hop Soul could also
be a dance-floor-rattling
house diva? This Disclosure-produced cut from
her new LP, The London
Sessions, is the proof.

Michael Jackson

Dirty Diana
One of my favorites. I
spent a lot of time trying
to imitate the guitarists
stage moves in the video.
I remember he wore a lot
of belts like, 12 or 13.
NEW

Taylor Swift

Blank Space
Oh, my God, look at that
face/You look like my
next mistake I mean,
how many times have I
thought this through my
life? Taylor nails it.

Weezer

Back to the Shack


I always feel like Rivers
Cuomo is talking to me,
and it always feels honest.
This is no exception.

FKA Twigs

Two Weeks
This feels so otherworldly.
It cuts through the noise
of whats going on now
because its so different.
It drew me in, and for the
next four minutes or so, I
closed my eyes and didnt
know where I was.

D e c e m b e r 18 , 2 014 - Ja n u a r y 1 , 2 01 5

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP RIGHT: JOHN LAMPARSKI/GETTY IMAGES; JONATHAN LEIBSON/GETTY IMAGES; C BRANDON/REDFERNS/GETTY IMAGES; NO CREDIT, 2; COLBY DROSCHER

Cheap Trick

Dream Police
From the opening synth
riff, this is a power-pop
classic. I always felt like
this one should play at
the end of a video game
when you win.

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NO-CONTRACT

Stefani
Strikes
Back
JOE STEVENS/RETNA LTD./CORBIS

How the singer reconnected


with Pharrell, discovered
emojis, and jump-started
her career By Patrick Doyle

had a couple of hard years,


says Gwen Stefani, looking back on
the sessions for No Doubts 2012
album, Push and Shove. It was the
bands rst LP in 11 years, and Stefani recorded much of it while her husband, Gavin
Rossdale, was on tour with a reunited Bush,
which left her to handle her sons Kingston,
now 8, and Zuma, 6. I would get my kids
ready for school, drop them of, go in the
studio and be home by four [Cont. on 16]

D e c e m be r 18, 2014 -Ja n ua r y 1, 2015

RollingStone.com

| R ol l i n g S t o n e |

15

ROCK&ROLL
GWEN STEFANI
[Cont. from 15] to make dinner. The
record scored no hits, and the band
didnt tour after its release. Im sad it
didnt connect, she says.
Stefani, 45, has channeled the turmoil into her new solo album (out early
next year), her rst since 2006s The
Sweet Escape. She had been thinking for
years about going solo again, but struggled to write material on par with hits
like 2004s Hollaback Girl. I wasnt
gonna bring back the Harajuku Girls,
she says, referring to her former Japanese backup dancers. You kind of run
out of ideas. After a while, youre just
competing with yourself.
Stefani points to the birth of her third
son, Apollo, in February, as the turning
point. After a rough pregnancy (I was
throwing up all the time and couldnt do
anything), she took a job as a judge on
The Voice, partly to be close to Pharrell
Williams, who helped write and produce several of her hits. Williams was
determined to get Stefani back in the
studio. It was time for her to really express herself and not have a bunch of
people telling her what to do, he says.
I held up the mirror and [said], Do you
know whos in there? Do you know how
many people respect that person? The
more she saw, the deeper she reached,
and the crazier the stuf came out.
They recorded two songs, the frenetic dance-pop cut Spark the Fire and a
punkish track on which Stefani sings
about emojis. I went, Oh, my God, its
the evolution from what I did before,
she says. After that, Stefani started recording in her living room with producer Benny Blanco. Shes an open book,
says Blanco. Shes cuckoo, shes a superhero, but theres vulnerability there.
Stefani also wrote with young hitmakers like Calvin Harris and Charli XCX
(I dont usually want to work with other
girl writers but she had my vibe).
Even the biggest people [she worked
with] were star-struck, says Blanco.
Most of the album came together
within six months unusually fast for
the obsessive Stefani. Its addictive,
she says. I can put this out, and do another No Doubt record. She probably
wont tour behind the LP, but is already
working with No Doubt on a Pharrell-produced song for the Paddington
soundtrack, and the band will play festivals this summer. Im shocked people still care, she says. Doing another solo record and recording No Doubt
music and being on The Voice and having three boys all at one time, that just
wasnt something I could dream up in
my mind.

16 | R ol l i n g S t o n e |

RollingStone.com

IN THE STUDIO

Mark Ronsons UptownFunk Extravaganza


Producer scours the South for
vocalists, recruits Bruno Mars
and Stevie Wonder for new LP

ing tracks that he imagined being sung


by a young Chaka Khan. Bhasker suggested they take a road trip to hear gospel groups in Southern churches. I just
thought he was talking shit at two in the
ts ne a rly 10 a.m., a nd m a rk morning, drunk, says Ronson. But it beRonson has just arrived 40 minutes came a reality. They spent 10 days driving
late to a session at a midtown Man- from New Orleans to Chicago. In Jackhattan studio. But its not his fault son, Mississippi, they found Keyone Starr,
its Stevie Wonders. Ronson had been a preachers daughter, singing in a club.
trying to get his hero to play harmoni- I had the voice in my head, and she emca on his new album for months, and was bodied it, Ronson says. They took her to
Memphis Royal Studios (where
even thinking of browsing YouAl Green made his best work)
Tube for a Stevie impersonator.
Getting
and recorded cuts like the deeply
But the day before, Wonder nalStevie is
funky I Cant Lose. It breathes
ly cut his part in a Chicago studio,
the musical music, Ronson says of the stuand Ronson stayed up most of the
dio. You want to start playing
night listening to the takes. He highlight
the minute you walk in.
cues up a track, and Wonders un- of my life.
From there, Ronson recruitmistakable harp oats through
the room. Ronson gets a little misty. Its ed Pulitzer Prize-winning author Michael
probably the peak musical highlight of Chabon to write lyrics and vocalists like
my life, he says. Im ne if I never top it. Bruno Mars and Mystikal to deliver them.
Wonders cameo is the final piece of Tame Impalas Kevin Parker sings DafoUptown Special (due January 27th). Its dils, a psychedelic epic about a made-up
my best record, for sure, says Ronson, drug. I started it, but he developed it furthe dance-pop guru whose past LPs have ther to this weird, progressive disco, great
featured everyone from DAngelo to Boy pop track, says Parker. Mars ew to MemGeorge to Amy Winehouse (Ronson co- phis to write Uptown Funk, which is getproduced her Back to Black LP). Ronson ting heavy radio airplay. I got in an Uber
says he went through a musical identity last night, and I was like, Thats . . . holy
crisis after 2010s Record Collection. He shit, thats me! Ronson says, laughing.
started writing with producer Jef Bhask- The driver was probably like, Who the
er (Kanye West, Bruno Mars) craft- hell are you?
PATRICK DOYLE

Photograph by Griffin Lotz

AVAILA
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ROCK&ROLL
ENCOUNTER

Aretha
Franklin

Lunch with Lady Soul: A revitalized


Aretha on feminism, Beyonc and who
should star in her biopic By Patrick Doyle

isten, aretha fr anklin says to a waiter


as she points at her sh sandwich. Dont you have
the smoked salmon? Shes sitting in the restaurant at New Yorks Ritz-Carlton on a rainy Friday
afternoon, wearing a bright fur coat, hair spilling out of a winter cap. The waiter explains that Franklins lunchtime staple
salmon and cream cheese on whole-wheat bread isnt
on the menu anymore. But I will talk to the chef, he adds
quickly. He will do it for you right now.
Franklin, 72, just nished signing a stack of copies
of her new album, Aretha Franklin Sings the Great
Diva Classics, her rst recording since she was reportedly diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2010.
Franklin canceled several shows at the time; tabloids had her on deathwatch. When she was honored at the Grammys the
next year, she looked noI met the
ticeably thinner. Frankproducers of
lin denied the diagnosis,
the James
but last June, onstage at
Brown movie.
Radio City Music Hall,
If we had seen
she recalled receiving
eye to eye, it
a grim diagnosis from
would have
doctors: [I told them,]
been my movie.
You burn the midnight
oil, you read books, but
you really dont know that much about me. You
see, I come from a praying family. . . . A couple of
years later, I went back to the hospital, and those
same doctors are saying, Miss Franklin, the thing
we saw before, we dont see no more. Hallelujah!
This week, Respect, a new biography by David
Ritz, has been getting a lot of publicity and Franklin
is not happy about it. Ritz ghostwrote Franklins 1999
autobiography but was unsatised with the results. Selfreection doesnt come easy to her, Ritz says. So, drawing
from his interviews with her and her close family, he published a book that details the wild ofstage promiscuity of
the Fifties gospel circuit as well as Franklins troubled marriage to Ted White, who managed her before their divorce
in 1969. [Its] a very trashy book all lies, she said recently.
Today, Franklin is careful with her words and at times combative. When I ask if I can record our conversation, she atly declines. You can take notes, she says. When I mention praise in
the book from her sister Carolyn She slips into a zone when she
sings . . . and connects to the Holy Spirit Aretha [Cont. on 19]

18 | R ol l i n g S t o n e |

RollingStone.com

Illustration by Tyler Jacobson

J. COUNTESS/GETTY IMAGES

ARETHA FRANKLIN

though Franklin downplays her inf lu


ence on the latter: I think thats Gloria
Steinems role. I dont think I was a cata
[Cont. from 18] cringes. I dont think
Carolyn ever said anything like that. That
lyst for the womens movement. Sorry. But
doesnt even sound like Carolyn.
if I were? So much the better! Today, she
Franklins new album on which she
praises Beyonc for carrying the torch for
covers Gladys Knights Midnight Train to
feminism in pop. Astrologically, for what
Georgia and Adeles Rolling in the Deep
its worth, shes a Virgo, like Michael Jack
reunites her with Clive Davis, who helped
son, Franklin says. A very hard worker.
revive her career in the Eighties with a se
Franklins classic work earned her the
ries of hits on his Arista label. Davis had
top spot on Rolling Stones list of the
been pushing Franklin to record an album
greatest singers of all time, in 2008. I
of diva classics for years, sometimes over
went, What? I did a triple take! Its one of
dinner at the Four Seasons. According to
dozens of accolades shes earned in recent
Davis, Franklin hasnt lost any re. Shes
years: There are also honorary doctorates
come back in peak form, he says. The
from Harvard and Yale, and the Presi
wonder of Aretha is she can do any song.
dential Medal of Freedom in 2005. Hard
And with very, very few excep
to beat that, she says. But 20
tions, two takes is as close to the
Grammys is not bad either.
maximum as she does.
These days, Franklin does her
For Franklin, the album is a
best to keep up with pop culture.
chance to prove herself in a pop
(If you missed something, you
world with more divas than ever.
can always go to YouTube.) She
It was never as competitive as
listens to a lot of pop radio. I like
it is now, Franklin says. Peo
Bang Bang, she says. Ariana
ple are being very selective about
Grande I like her a lot. Shes
what they spend their money on.
not as keen on Taylor Swift, who
I understand that this year they
ended up beating Franklin to
havent had any platinum rec
the rst platinum album of the
ords. I hope to have the rst one.
year. I heard Shake, Shake is
That would be fabulous.
that what its called? she says.
Soon, the salmon hors doeuvre
What does she think? I love her
arrives, which she ofers me. A
gowns. I went to her website and
little caviar, too, she says, savor
saw she wore Oscar de la Renta.
ing a bite. Great!
I tried to order that gown. I love
whoever is dressing her. She
fr anklin has lived in dewears some beautiful clothes.
troit for most of her life, but vis
The last movie she saw was
iting New York reminds her of OLD FRIENDS With Clive Davis at a party for her 72nd birthday.
Get On Up, the James Brown bi
when she moved there in 1960. Centuries from now, people will be listening to Aretha, Davis said.
opic. It was good, up to a point,
She was 18 and had just been
she says. I met with the produc
signed to Columbia Rec ords. I always could call my piano my trademark, or one ers prior to that movie. Had we agreed on
had a chaperone, she says with a smile. I of my trademarks.
a creative approach, it wouldve been my
was working with the jazz greats Char
Soon, Franklin was topping the charts movie. She says shes in negotiations again
lie Mingus, John Coltrane, Blue Mitchell. with songs like 1967s I Never Loved for her own biopic she even has someone
All of the best of the best.
a Man (the Way I Love You) and Re in mind for the lead role: Audra McDon
Franklin had been a star in the gospel spect, which she singles out as her two ald, who won a Tony for portraying Billie
world for years before signing to Columbia. favorite songs in her catalog. Everybody Holiday in Lady Day. It would be her job
At 12, she joined her father, the Rev. C.L. wants respect, she says. In their own to bring it home, Franklin says. The ques
Franklin whose sermons sold millions way, threeyearolds would like respect, tion is whether she has that ability.
of copies on Chess Records on the road. and acknowledgment, in their terms.
Franklin has some other big plans in
His delivery was very dynamic, she says. As for the sock it to me backing vocals mind: She hopes to teach a master class
If he had chosen to be a singer, he wouldve in Respect, she clarifies: There was at Carnegie Hall and would like to record
been a great one. Her favorite sermon of nothing sexual about that. Some people with both Smokey Robinson (the fact
his was A Wild Man Meets Jesus, about a thought that, but it wasnt.
that we havent yet is crazy) and Stevie
man who goes insane, abandons his fami
Franklin lights up when she remembers Wonder. I saw him play Robert De Niros
ly and winds up living in a graveyard. Jesus February 16th, 1968. The mayor of Detroit tribute the other night, and Stevie was so
sails through a rainstorm to meet him and christened it Aretha Franklin Day, ahead good. The level of music was Whoa! You
exorcises him of demons, to the dismay of of her show that night at Cobo Hall. Dr. shouldve been there.
townspeople who prefer the man as the King was there, my dad was there, she re
Franklin w ill play oneoff shows
village idiot. The man walks into some calls. When we walked into the arena and throughout the coming year, sprinkling in
one he immediately knows is superior and became visible to the audience, then the covers from the new album alongside her
supreme to him, without any words, says crowd erupted. It was like the ceiling was biggest hits. I nd new ways to just keep
Franklin. Thats what I love about that. It coming down.
it fresh for me, she says. I still dont think
underscores a supreme being.
Songs like Respect, Chain of Fools I would do anything else. I guess I couldve
Franklin was no stranger to big person and Think became anthems for the civil been a prima ballerina. Or a nurse. Aretha
alities growing up her parents parties rights and womens liberation movements, Nightingale!

D e c e m b e r 18 , 2 014 - Ja n u a r y 1 , 2 01 5

included Nat King Cole, Duke Ellington


and Sam Cooke. I had a teenage crush on
him, Franklin says of Cooke. Very classy,
very classy. He came from the church, so it
would be hard not to have class.
Franklins early records sold poorly
her Columbia material was loungey and
overly slick, and she was mistakenly mar
keted as a supperclub soul singer in the
mold of Dinah Washington. She didnt be
come the Queen of Soul until she signed to
Atlantic Records in 1966. There, she was
backed by the Muscle Shoals rhythm sec
tion and produced by Jerry Wexler, who
added a funky, psychedelic edge to match
her gospel fervor. Jerry asked me to play
the piano [in the studio], she says. You

RollingStone.com

| R ol l i n g S t o n e |

19

ALBUMS
YEAR

OF
THE

U2 unleashed a brilliant
surprise, Bruce Springsteen hit
a new peak, St. Vincent made
deliciously weird noise and
Taylor Swift went full pop

Guess whos
back: Edge,
Clayton, Bono,
Mullen
(from left).

U2

Songs of Innocence

There was no bigger album of 2014 in


terms of surprise, generosity and controversy. Songs of Innocence is also the rebirth
of the year. Bono, the Edge, Adam Clayton
and Larry Mullen Jr. put their lives on the
line: giving away 11 songs of guitar rapture
and frank, emotional tales of how they became a band out of the rough streets and
spiritual ferment of Seventies Dublin. This
Photograph by Mark Seliger

is personal history with details. In the furiously brooding Cedarwood Road, named
after Bonos home address as a boy, he recalls the fear and rage that
drove him to punk rock. The
Miracle (of Joey Ramone) is
a glam-stomp homage to the
mist voice that inspired Bono
to sing. And thats his mother, who died when Bono was
14, still guiding and comforting him in the chorus of Iris
(Hold Me Close).
This is a record full of the bands stories and triumph, memory and confession
detonated with adventure and poise. In

its range of sounds, there may be no more


complete U2 album: The band bonded its
founding post-punk values with dance
momentum in Volcano
and the raw, jagged Raised
by Wolves, and humanized
the digital pathos of Every
Breaking Wave and the harrowing Sleep Like a Baby
Tonight with the vocal folksoul warmth of The Joshua
Tree. I have a will for survival, Bono sings in the closing
track, The Troubles. Songs of Innocence
is the proof and the emotionally raw rock
album of the year, at any price.
rollingstone.com

| R ol l i n g S t o n e |

21

ALBUMS OF THE YEAR

Bruce Springsteen
High Hopes

This new peak in Springsteens


21st-century hot streak is his
most gloriously loose, vibrant
album in years. In the past,
Springsteen would never have
allowed himself to release an
album that includes two covers and reworked versions of
his own older tunes, let alone
give Tom Morello license to
splatter virtuoso wah-wahed

Charli XCX
Sucker

Charli XCX is the pop star 2014


was waiting for: a badass songwriting savant whos the most
fun girl in any room she steps
into. The 22-year-old Brit came
into her own with Sucker, a
middle-nger-waving teenage
riot packed into 13 punky gems.
Its a dance party, a mosh pit
and a feminist rally Charlis
denitely in charge.
22 | R ol l i n g S t o n e |

Lana Del Rey


Ultraviolence

Del Rey silenced her detractors


with an intoxicating collection
of indie-noir anthems. With
more live instrumentation in
her smoky glam grooves, she
plays enough characters to ll
a Raymond Chandler novel: On
Sad Girl, shes a sultry mistress; on Brooklyn Baby, shes
a snarky kid. Most of all, shes a
pop voice like no other.

RollingStone.com

in the early 1990s by an obscure L.A. punk crew called the


Havalinas), the bar-band romp
Frankie Fell in Love and the
gangsters portrait Harrys
Place. The revamped version
of American Skin (41 Shots)
a song about police shooting
a young black man, originally
echoing the killing of Amadou
Diallo in 1999 proved to be a
tragically prescient choice for
the year of Ferguson. But the
albums high point is the Morello-Springsteen duet on The
Ghost of Tom Joad, where Morellos rage-lled, celestial solo
is a song in itself. The whole
thing runs together like a marathon gig, united by a hard eye
on the national condition and
the re in Springsteens voice.

The Keys and Danger Mouse


spool out everything from Seventies funk to disco throb to
drive-time guitar grind, making music that could evoke
lonely late nights or burntrubber desert highways, jittery
paranoia and boundless possibility. Its the sound of Americas most innovative arena
rockers in full command.

St. Vincent
St. Vincent

The Black Keys


Turn Blue

Miranda Lambert
Platinum

After her string of increasingly


excellent records, indie guitar
heroine Annie Clarks fourth
solo album felt like a coronation: a masterful set of skewed
but sticky pop hooks, subtly
sexy electro-funk grooves and
Dada poetry that aches for real.
And her ery guitar solos are
sharper and more surprising
than ever. Bow down.

Lambert began as a mainstream-country bad girl. This


year, she became an institution. Platinum smoothly balances solo-act introspection
with A-list ring grabs, co-starring the likes of Carrie Underwood and Little Big Town.
Notably absent, though, is superstar hubby Blake Shelton
sisters doin it for herself.

Run the Jewels


Run the Jewels 2

El-P and Killer Mike made


2014s greatest hip-hop record. Guest shots f lare in the
avant-noise darkness: Zack de
la Rocha rifs on Philip K. Dick;
Gangsta Boo ips a porn-rap
script. But its the chemistry
between Mikes on-the-ground
Dirty South ow and Els bigpicture indictments that lights
this up like a Brooklyn bridge.

Mac DeMarco
Salad Days

The 24-year-old Canadian


singer-guitarists second album
a warm, polished set of sundrenched folk-rock jams feels
like it could have been a lost
used-vinyl-bin treasure from
the Seventies. DeMarco channels Harry Nilsson, the Beach
Boys, Steely Dan and the Beatles, but the of beat stoner vibes
are all him.

D e c e m b e r 18 , 2 014 - Ja n u a r y 1 , 2 01 5

WINNIE AU

madness over much of it but


Springsteen was so much older
then. Now hes more unpredictable than ever, and its working: Despite the varied origins
of the songs, High Hopes hangs
together with striking sonic
and thematic consistency, nding fresh angles on his central concern: the fault lines in
the American dream. Springsteen worked on much of the
album during his year-and-ahalf-long Wrecking Ball world
tour, and the expansiveness of
that tours 19-piece incarnation of the E Street Band featuring a horn section, backup singers and a percussionist
carries over to the big, bold
arrangements of tracks like
High Hopes ( rst recorded

2014 FX Networks, LLC. All rights reserved.

ALBUMS OF THE YEAR

11

Taylor Swif
1989

Americas sweetheart has been


writing perfect pop tunes since
the day she hit Nashville. Yet
its still a delectable shock to
hear her ditch the banjos for an
album of expert Top 40 gloss
like Dylan going electric, except with more songs about
Harry Styles. She sounds right
at home over these Max Martin
beats, sick and otherwise.

14

Flying Lotus
Youre Dead!

Step inside of my mind and


youll nd/Curiosity, animosity, high philosophy. Its a guest
rap from Kendrick Lamar, but
it could also be a mission statement for Flying Lotus. The
tripped-out producers latest is
an LP about mortality that explodes with life jazz that respects no dogma, and pop that
reveals more with each listen.

12

Sonic Highways

This multifaceted travelogue is


the most ambitious album Foo
Fighters have made in their 20year career. Whether theyre
celebrating Buddy Guy in Chicago or getting in touch with
their punk-rock roots in D.C.,
the bedrock force remains their
anthemic guitar charge. By
now, thats a classic American
sound in its own right.

Everything Will Be
Alright in the End

17

FKA Twigs
LP1

For many, there was no sexier pop listen in 2014 than FKA
Twigs full-length debut. Its a
feminist take on the Weeknds
druggy avant-R&B, with selfloathing and sleaze replaced
by self-possession and hunger.
The haunting mix of pop and
EDM weirdness takes a while
to kick in which only makes
it more delicious when it does.
24 | R ol l i n g S t o n e |

Back to
the shack:
Cuomo

Jenny Lewis
The Voyager

It took the ex-Rilo Kiley frontwoman six years, but Lewis nally returned to the studio to
make the kind of sweetly biting solo record that earned her
a permanent place in the indie
canon. Blending Laurel Canyon sensibilities with modern
wit, The Voyager shows shes
stronger and wiser and can
still draw blood.

RollingStone.com

18

Sturgill Simpson
Metamodern Sounds
in Country Music

Marijuana, LSD, psilocybin, DMT, they all changed


the way I see/But loves the
only thing that ever saved my
life, sings Simpson. The Kentucky-born singer-songwriters
breakthrough album features
plenty more folk wisdom, delivered in a singular barrel-aged
baritone.

Ought
More Than Any
Other Day

I feel a habit forming, sings


frontman Tim Beeler, and so
did we. On the years most irrefutable rock debut, you can
hear Talking Heads in the
vocals and Voidoids in the guitars. But this Montreal crews
post-punk panic attacks have
a doomed optimism that feels
utterly of the moment.

15

Weezer

After a few hit-or-miss records, Weezer fans needed


some reassurance from Rivers
Cuomo. He delivered big-time
on the bands cheeky, ambitious ninth LP rediscovering the art of the three-minute girl jam (Lonely Girl) but
stretching out in fruitful new
ways, too.

16

13

Foo Fighters

Against Me!
Transgender
Dysphoria Blues

Transgender f ront woman


Laura Jane Grace poured all of
her own deep pain and hardwon pride into a bold new start
for one of Americas greatest
punk-rock bands. Its a roiling
attack with a fragile, beating
heart few albums this year
were as relentlessly heavy and
ercely melodic.

19

Jackson Browne
Standing in
the Breach

Browne conrmed his place as


an essential voice in the wilds of
the 21st century with this powerful set of songs about love and
progressive ideals forces that
a corrupt world can never truly
defeat. Songs like The Long
Way Around are the most eloquent protests against apathy
youll hear this year.

D e c e m b e r 18 , 2 014 - Ja n u a r y 1 , 2 01 5

TIM MOSENFELDER/GETTY IMAGES

10

ALBUMS OF THE YEAR

Sharon Van Etten


Are We There

On her fourth album, the New


Jersey-native singer-songwriter took the heartbreak shed explored on past records and blew
it up to massive scale. Bringing
chilly synth beats into her mix
for the first time, Van Etten
gives songs like Your Love Is
Killing Me a morbid grandness, all the better to complement her passionate vocals.

24

21

Eric Church
The Outsiders

In an era teeming with brocountry, Church made a great


record by following his rock
& roll rebel heart. Prog rifs,
bourbon-drawl raps and stoner funk sit straight-faced next
to radio-friendly takes on NASCAR good times and broken
hearts styles and subjects that
connect because Church obviously loves every one of them.

22

Recess

Skrillexs whirling neon knifestorm was the album of the


year for modern EDM a genre
that can currently ll arenas
without albums at all. After
a four-year run of killer singles, the drop-aholic DJ made a
surprisingly varied full-length
packed with mind-blowing experiments with two-step, jungle, vintage techno and more.

Popular Problems

Tom Petty and the


Heartbreakers
Hypnotic Eye

Petty and Co. made their rst


Number One album by tightening their Sixties-punk clang
and firing it through f linty
songs about a nation on the
ropes and Pettys determination not to take it lying down. I
got a dream, he sings in American Dream Plan B. Im gonna
ght till I get it right.
26 | R ol l i n g S t o n e |

Hypnotist:
Petty

27

Alt-J
This Is All Yours

The English prog-folk rockers grew to arena scale without


losing their weirdness like the
Incredible String Band via Kid
A, Joe Newmans Bilbo Baggins warble wanders through
monkish choirs, electronic
squelches and woodland chirping, with a Miley Cyrus sample
representing the world outside
the bands cozy hideaway.

RollingStone.com

28

Parquet Courts
Sunbathing
Animal

These Brooklyn jokers stepped


up their game something erce,
romping from the twin-guitar
heroics of Shes Rolling to the
psychedelic love buzz of Raw
Milk. They make it all sound
so easy, you wonder why there
arent a dozen bands this great
in every town. But these guys
are in a league of their own.

War on Drugs
Lost in the Dream

These Philly dudes broke


through by tripping out on a
classic-rock vibe, Eighties style:
Boys of Summer melodies, Nebraska harmonica, Brothers
in Arms guitar shimmer. But
the albums pleasant aimlessness as songs choogle past the
ve-minute mark and lead lines
curlicue across the sky says
plenty about right now.

25

Leonard Cohen

What a year for footloose


eightysomethings: Yoko Ono
topped the club charts, Robert Morse stole Mad Men, and
Cohen danced to the end of love.
He whispers a dusky farewell
on Almost Like the Blues. Yet
in the sensual sway of Slow,
hes got time for one more
round: A weekend on your
lips/A lifetime in your eyes.

26

23

Skrillex

YG
My Krazy Life

Most rap fans probably didnt


expect the Cali guy behind
2010s goofy minor hit Toot
It and Boot It to make a debut
album this rich and ambitious.
My Krazy Life is a detailed dayin-the-life tale of robbery and
regrets, with YGs charming
ow set against DJ Mustards
new-school bounce like a longlost sequel to The Chronic.

29

Spoon
They Want My Soul

Vintage ooh-las, ar t-brut


rhythm guitar and head-crack
drum beats fit together like
idealized Ikea furniture on the
latest jewel from Britt Daniels
crew; its all clean lines and formal balance. And co-producer
Dave Fridmanns discreet
splashes of color and texture
add new avor to the minimalist feng shui.

D e c e m b e r 18 , 2 014 - Ja n u a r y 1 , 2 01 5

PAUL R. GIUNTA/GETTY IMAGES

20

ON NEWSSTANDS NOW
Also available at bn.com/rsneilyoung .

ALBUMS OF THE YEAR


Portlandia:
Young
Thug

31

Thom Yorke
Tomorrows
Modern Boxes

The Radiohead mans second


proper solo album got oddly
slept on, but these are his most
intense songs since In Rainbows. Yorke puts on the chill in
Truth Ray and Nose Grows
Some even when he sings
about a dystopian future, the
anxious yearning in his voice
is all too immediate.

33

The Ghost of a
Saber Tooth Tiger
Midnight Sun

34

Prince

Art Ofcial Age

32

Young Thug

Black Portland

Damon Albarn

Everyday Robots

Young Thug was 2014s most


exciting new weirdo, an ATL
star-child who stretches his
Lil Wayne yelp like Silly Putty
until youre hanging on every
mangled syllable. This mixtape
(with buddy Bloody Jay) is his
nest hour: catchy, woozy, ideastufed songs about sex, gangs
and not giving a damn whether
what he says bothers you.

Modern British pops most


obsessive explorer turned his
curiosity inward on this intimate solo triumph. There are
hints of his bands Blur and
Gorillaz and of his African forays in the hooks and rhythms.
But Albarn mostly evokes
Brian Eno and that Brit-pop
ideal, the Kinks Ray Davies, in
Everyday Robots stark grace.

35

36

Lenny Kravitz
Strut

Alvvays
Alvvays

Sean Lennon nally found his


own voice as a singer-songwriter in late-Sixties British psychedelia. His second full LP
with partner Charlotte Kemp
Muhl has disarming emotional
intimacy (inherited from Lennons parents) draped in the
bright, surrealist magnetism
of Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd.

Prince proved himself as brilliant and confounding as ever


in 2014, releasing this fantastic
old-school funk record in tandem with a weird, at album
recorded with his new group,
3rdEyeGirl. Art Ofcial Age recalls the plush swagger and pop
mastery of his Eighties classics
all psychedelic pimp style and
spectacular balladry.

He may keep homes in Paris


and the Bahamas, but Kravitz
has never stopped being a New
Yorker. Strut looks back on
the 1970s metropolis of his
youth with funky after-hours
grooves and soulful hooks.
New York City is the best
tune Mick Jagger didnt get
around to writing in his Studio 54 days.

The lyrics on this Toront o b a nds a c c ompl i s he d


debut read like a great shortstory collection, full of wild romance, quarter-life confusion
and sly humor. Set to exquisitely yearning melodies and pitchperfect guitar jangle and fuzz,
songs like Party Police, Next
of Kin and Archie, Marry Me
are as catchy as they are clever.

37

38

39

40

Benjamin Booker
Benjamin Booker

This 25-year-old punk-blues


guitar hero bowled over future tourmate Jack White, and
you can see why. Bookers rawthroated boogie blues proves
rock & roll can still function as
crazy-ass party music when
he confesses to wasting time on
a ve-year bender in the midst
of Violent Shiver, you may be
tempted to join him.
30 | R ol l i n g S t o n e |

Hurray for
the Rif Raf
Small Town Heroes

Alynda Lee Segarra was raised


on the New York punk scene before nding her folk-rock muse
in New Orleans. Her bands
breakthrough ips the script
on woman-hating murder ballads and ponders the romance
of dangerous behavior, over ngerpicking and ddling. Somewhere, Pete Seeger is smiling.

RollingStone.com

Caribou

Our Love

Dan Snaiths psychedelic dance


grooves have always had a deep
emotional core. This year, the
Canadian producer supersized both sides of his music:
The beats on Our Love are his
biggest, shiniest, rave-iest creations ever, backing a heady
set of songs about the mindexpanding possibilities of longterm partnership.

Jack White
Lazaretto

Whites second solo album is a


paranoid palace of earth-shaking blues rifs and weird vibes
the long, high howl of a lone
wolf. Whether hes hulking out
on the unstrung instrumental
High Ball Stepper or laughing
to himself on the honky-tonky
lark Alone in My Home, this
is an album only one man could
have made.

D e c e m b e r 18 , 2 014 - Ja n u a r y 1 , 2 01 5

KENDRICK BRINSON

30

AND THEY

SAY YOU
CANT BUY

GOOD

TASTE

SINGLES YEAR
OF
THE

Beyonc made the best drunken-hookup song ever, DJ Snake and Lil Jon
refused to turn down for any reason, and Sia swung from the chandeliers

Beyonc
feat. Jay Z

Queen of
hearts:
Beyonc

Drunk in Love

Of all Beyoncs f lawless accomplishments over the past


12 months pulling of the ultimate surprise-album stunt;
raking in millions on one of the
years hugest stadium tours;
coming out as a proud feminist on national TV this one
stands out as the awless-est:
She managed to make marriage
sound ridiculously hot. This future-pop fantasy was the sexiest thing on the radio, from the
heavy bass throb to the wild
thrill in her voice when she sings
about juicy nights (I get lthy
when that liquor get into me),
hung-over mornings and, uh,
surfboards. So steamy, even her
famous husbands uncomfortable Ike Turner joke couldnt
kill the vibe.

DJ Snake
feat. Lil Jon

Turn Down for What

The years nutsiest party jam


was also the perfect protest
banger for a generation fed
up with everything. DJ Snake
brings the synapse-rattling
EDM and Southern trap music;
Lil Jon brings the dragon-re
holler for a hilarious, glorious,
glowstick-punk fuck you.

U2
Every Breaking Wave

The emotional centerpiece of


Songs of Innocence is a stark,
shimmering ballad that recalls
With or Without You in its
searching power. Are we so
helpless against the tide? Bono
asks, staring down times passage. The music answers back
with gently heroic uplift, giving him the salvation he seeks.
32 | R ol l i n g S t o n e |

Future feat. Pusha


T, Pharrell, Casino
Move That Dope

A rap song about dealing drugs?


How novel! In fact, Auto-Tuned
ATLien Future turned wellworn boasts about the gold on
his links and the coke in his sink
into an irresistible anthem. The
beat makes you feel high as hell;
the joy in the hustle makes you
wanna be a customer.

RollingStone.com

Jenny Lewis
Just One of the Guys

The sharp-witted, goldenvoiced queen of L.A. indie pop


dropped a beautiful, Beckproduced truth bomb about
midlife malaise from not yet
having kids to dealing with
her aging guy friends forever-24 girlfriends. Just like that,
Lewis f lips the script on the
male gaze. Checkmate.

Taylor Swif
Blank Space

Theyll tell you Im insane,


Swift sings. No way! The high
point of 1989 was a superstorm
ballad that hits like a pitching wedge through your windshield. And in inventing her
own sound between Beyonc and the Pet Shop Boys, she
brings the cray-Tay with as
much elegance as vengeance.

D e c e m b e r 18 , 2 014 - Ja n u a r y 1 , 2 01 5

GARETH CATTERMOLE/PW/WIREIMAGE

SINGLES OF THE YEAR


Bruce Springsteen
Frankie Fell in Love

A rock-soul riot that boils the


worlds wisdom down to one
simple phrase It all starts
with a kiss and proceeds to
drive home that gospel truth
with re-starting fury.

Sharon Van Etten


Every Time the Sun
Comes Up

I washed your dishes/But I shit


in your bathroom, Van Etten
sings on this majestic stomper bad-mood indie folk that
hits as hard as any rock all year.
Staying
power:
Sam Smith

15

16

Sia
Chandelier

Beck
Blue Moon

10

Future Islands
Seasons (Waiting
on You)

Kendrick Lamar
i

Synth-pop to send a chill up


your spine: Singer Samuel T.
Herring walks a ne line between Erasure and Tina Turner, oozing sad-white-boy soul.

Hip-hops most exciting young


voice rocks some spiritual selflove over a classic Isley Brothers
lick: Peace to fashion police, I
wear my heart on my sleeve.
He wears it well.

11

12

Alvvays
Archie, Marry Me

Sam Smith
Stay With Me

Three minutes of uncut indie-guitar bliss: Singer Molly


Rankin takes the initiative and
promises her boy a lifetime of
trouble over swirls of hopeful noise, to give us the fuzzycardigan Drunk in Love we
never knew we needed.

The breakout hit from U.K.


soulman Smith is a slowburn ballad about a romance
he knows wont last. But between the gospel-choir backing and Smiths achingly gorgeous singing, you might just
fall in love to it anyway.

13

14

Foo Fighters
Outside

Grimes
Go

On this powerful Sonic Highways track, the Foos peel


out searing alt-rock, and Eagles guitarist Joe Walsh adds
a mythic Seventies-L.A. solo,
making for a stadium-size,
cross-generational blowout.

Canadian electro-R&B singer Grimes doesnt push at pops


boundaries she torches them.
Go is a club hallucination
somewhere between Rihanna
and Skrillex, sung with a ravenous desire thats all her own.

17

18

Rae Sremmurd
No Flex Zone

Bleachers
I Wanna Get Better

Aussie songwriter Sia had her


rst U.S. hit with this skyscraping ballad, inspired by her battle with alcoholism. The massive chorus captures the exact
moment boozing stops being
fun and starts to get terrifying.

No one does heartsick California folk rock like Beck. This


isnt his version of the pop classic so much as an all-new sance that sends its lonely-world
desolation through a mellow
haze of Laurel Canyon beauty.

This Mississippi hip-hop duo


sound like theyre still in junior
high. But that boyish hypeness
and an eerily sparkling beat
from Mike Will Made-It make
for a zany baller anthem that
pops like bubble gum.

Therapy rock thats as fun as


it is cathartic: Jack Antonof
shouts about fear and desperate loneliness, while the crazycatchy group chorus and hyperactive synths suggest hes going
to be just ne.

19

20

21

22

Iggy Azalea feat.


Charli XCX
Fancy

Old Crow
Medicine Show
Sweet Amarillo

Weezer
Back to the Shack

Lana Del Rey


Brooklyn Baby

On paper, it sounds ridiculous:


a Dirty South throwdown by
way of . . . Australia? But Fancy
ruled the summer of 14, thanks
in no small part to Charli XCXs
weapons-grade hook.

Ten years ago, Old Crow turned


a Dylan fragment into Wagon
Wheel. Heres the sequel: a
pristine cowboy ballad based
on an outtake from the Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid sessions.

Imagine theres no Raditude. Its easy if you try: On


this comeback single, Rivers
Cuomo apologizes to the fans
hes tortured for years by rockin out like its 94 with some
perfect power-pop guitar buzz.

Lana making fun of hipsters is


sorta like Ted Cruz making fun
of assholes. But when she pouts,
My boyfriends in a band/He
plays guitar while I sing Lou
Reed, she speaks for generations of cool-kid dreamers.

23

24

25

26

Tove Lo
Habits (Stay High)

This ode to self-medication is


both a little bit Lorde (the cushy,
post-hip-hop beat) and a little
bit Kesha (opening lines: Eat
my dinner in the bathtub/Then
I go to sex clubs).
34 | R ol l i n g S t o n e |

The Black Keys


Gotta Get Away

The closing track on Turn


Blue is a dazed and confused
Seventies-radio scorcher, right
down to the Stones guitar strut,
bell-bottom-blues grind and
cowbell thump.

RollingStone.com

Caribou
Cant Do
Without You

Canadian avant-pop experimenter Dan Snaith (a.k.a. Caribou) goes all-in on dance-oor
soul and shows us how smooth
and subtle EDM can be.

Drake
0 to 100/
The Catch Up

The years most bodacious


bragfest: six minutes that pan
across the whole Drake saga.
He even claims hes got as good
a jump shot as Steph Curry.

D e c e m b e r 18 , 2 014 - Ja n u a r y 1 , 2 01 5

PHIL BOURNE/REDFERNS/GETTY IMAGES

Started my Camry.
Rescued a dog.
Searched for the owners.
Uncovered a plot.
Escaped with the evidence.
Took a leap of faith.
Left them all behind.
Kept the dog.

ONE BOLD CHOICE LEADS TO ANOTHER.

The 2015 Camry. Our boldest Camry ever.


toyota.com/camry
Prototype shown with options. Production model will vary. 2014 Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc.

Grace Lake
Seven wordless minutes of
pure guitar bliss and blaze,
as only Moore can do it.

28. Prince
This Could Be Us
Prince turned a jokey Twitter hashtag into a sparkling
sex jam. Voil!

29. Miranda Lambert


Smokin and Drinkin
The country star teams with
Little Big Town for this lovely, bittersweet ballad.

30. Coldplay Magic


A gently burbling beat and
an aching chorus made this
2014s chillest love song.
31. EMA So Blonde
Scream yourself hoarse on
the most empowering altrock rager Hole never made.
32. Maroon 5 Animals
Dont even bother trying to
resist this hook. Itll be in
your head until 2016.

33. Jackson Browne


The Birds of St. Marks
Memories of youth in the
Sixties, ref lected through
decades of lived truth.

34. Sylvan Esso Cofee


We havent loved a trip-hop
vibe-out this much since the
summer of 1997.
35. First Aid Kit
Master Pretender
These alt-country-loving
Swedes sing like true sweethearts of the rodeo.

36. Beverly Honey Do


A garage-pop treat with the
perfect ratio of fuzzed distortion and melodic sugar.

37. Tom Petty and


the Heartbreakers
Fault Lines
A barreling groove with a
winningly sour narrator.

38. YG feat. Young Jeezy


and Rich Homie Quan
My Hitta
Monumentally chronic beat
plus extra-slick rhymes.

39. Priests Doctor


A furious, exhilarating blast
of punk-rock snarl.

40. Sleater-Kinney
Bury Our Friends
A great bands guns-blazing
return to form after nearly
a decade apart. Hallelujah!
36 | R ol l i n g S t o n e |

REISSUES YEAR
OF
THE

Dylan let the world into his basement, CSNY revisited their wildest tour, plus
denitive sets from Chuck Berry, the Allmans and more By David Fricke

Finally
released:
Dylan in
1968

Bob Dylan
The Basement Tapes
Complete: The Bootleg Series Vol. 11

In 1967, Dylan was far of the


pop-star grid: writing and
recording with his 66 road
warriors in upstate New York
seclusion. The rough clatter
of bar-gig covers, acutely reective ballads and apocalyptic surrealism that emerged
became the greatest accidental album ever made. This box
set is that season of discovery
complete: Dylan in extended, pivotal rebirth as a singer,
storyteller and, with the Band,
collaborator. Rocks greatest
songwriter was, after a rocket ride through protest and
electricity, becoming a voice
for all America.

The Beatles
The Beatles

Mike Bloomeld
From His Head to His
Heart to His Hands

The Allman
Brothers Band
The 1971 Fillmore East
Recordings

The Beatles longest, most


eclectic album was the last to
be mixed by them in mono and
issued that way in Britain in
1968. This vinyl reissue marks
its rst American release, as
they intended you to hear it.

The late guitar heros friend


Al Kooper curated this incisive retrospective, drawing on a
lifetime of treble, grit and majesty, right up to a last, searing
1980 live show with Bob Dylan.

In the year that rocks hardiest


improvising band finally retired, the March 71 weekend
that produced At Fillmore East
was unleashed in full.

Chuck Berry
Rock and Roll Music
Any Old Way You
Choose It

Sly Stone
Im Just Like You: Slys
Stone Flower 1969-70

Crosby, Stills,
Nash and Young
CSNY 1974

Here is rocks Book of Genesis:


16 CDs of prime and rare Berry
from 1954 to 79. Paul McCartney wrote the liner-notes intro.

After Stand!, before his 1970s


free fall, Stone previewed the
future of R&B an eerie electro-hip-hop in this brief run
of funky, dynamic productions.

This sprawling account of


CSNYs 74 tour caught Americas only true supergroup at a
blazing, prolic high, making
magic on the edge of chaos.

10

The Posies
Failure

The 1988 debut of this indiepower-pop duo was classicist


jangle and chorales with altrock edge. Failure was so good
that the Posies later became
half of the revived Big Star.

RollingStone.com

The Seeds
Singles As and Bs
1965-1970

This L.A. band stretched the


pummeling minimalism of its
signature mantra, the 66 hit
Pushin Too Hard, over nearly a dozen hot, terse 45s.

Bob Carpenter
Silent Passage

Carpenters unissued 1974


debut was a Canadian country-folk union of Nick Drake
and Gram Parsons, with help
from members of Little Feat. It
is now rescued treasure.

D e c e m b e r 18 , 2 014 - Ja n u a r y 1 , 2 01 5

ELLIOTT LANDY/CORBIS

27. Thurston Moore

rollingstone.com/subscribenow

MOVIES YEAR
OF
THE

From a boy to a birdman, from a gone girl to the potently present talents
of two women directors, 2014 hit hardest by going rogue By Peter Travers

1 Boyhood

7 The Grand
Budapest Hotel

The smallest, quietest, least


pushy lm of 2014 is also the
years best and biggest emotional powerhouse. For Boyhood, writer-director Richard
Linklater carved out shooting time over 12 years to tell
the story of a then-six-yearold Texas boy (stellar newcomer Ellar Coltrane) growing up
as the child of divorced parents, indelibly played by Ethan
Hawke and Patricia Arquette.
But what about the risk if the
actors got sick or worse? Who
does that? Linklater does that.
Boyhood, sculpted from the
highs and lows of his own life,
is his landmark, his purest personal expression.

2 Birdman
Nothing this year had the
power to make us drunk on
movies again like Birdman,
Alejandro G. Irritus cinematic roller coaster about a
Hollywood superhero (Michael
Keaton) trying to get respect
on Broadway. Keaton gives the
performance of the year in this
whirling comic assault in which
the laughs leave bruises.

FROM TOP: MATT LANKES/IFC FILMS, 4; FOX SEARCHLIGHT

3 Foxcatcher
This true story of wrestling,
wealth, insanity and murder
becomes a chilling work of art in
the hands of lmmaker Bennett
Miller, and performances from
Steve Carell, Channing Tatum
and Mark Rufalo that mark
high points in their careers.

Wes Anderson doesnt make


movies like other people. Bless
him. Beneath the confection
of The Grand Budapest Hotel,
set in a luxury spa between the
two world wars, is a deep melancholy personied by a concierge, wonderfully played by
Ralph Fiennes, who believes etiquette helps dene civilization.

8 Unbroken

BOY TO MAN Ellar Coltrane grows from ages six to 18, from kid stuf
to the brink of college, in Boyhood, 2014s crowning achievement.

(David Oyelowo) and his famed


1965 voting-rights march from
Selma, Alabama, to Montgomery. Oyelowo is magnificent,
and DuVernay makes every
moment intimate and electric.

5 Gone Girl
Gillian Flynns bestseller about
a marriage gone lethally wrong
becomes, in the hands of director David Fincher and Flynns
incisive script, a searing social
satire about the lost art of making a relationship work. Rosa-

mund Pike, in a reball turn as


Ben Afecks cheated-on wife,
takes us to hell and back.

6 Whiplash
In only his second film as a
director, Damien Chazelle
scores a breakout by dipping
into his own musical education to show us a young jazz
drummer (Miles Teller) damn
near destroyed by an instructor (an Oscar-bound J.K. Simmons) whos never happy unless theres blood on the sticks.

D e c e m b e r 18 , 2 014 - Ja n u a r y 1 , 2 01 5

9 Under the Skin


This year brought many under-the-radar gems, including Snowpiercer, Locke, Love
Is Strange, Nightcrawler, Force
Majeure, Dear White People,
Mr. Turner, A Most Violent
Year, Leviathan and Citizenfour, but the one I cant get out
of my head is Jonathan Glazers
Under the Skin, in which a never-better Scarlett Johansson
plays an alien cruising Scotland
for men she can understand.

10 Interstellar

4 Selma
Kudos to director Ava DuVernay, who blows the dust of history in Selma and cuts straight
to its beating heart. Its a big
subject: Martin Luther King Jr.

Heres a stirring love letter


from director Angelina Jolie
to Louis Zamperini, an Olympic runner who found his courage sorely tested in a Japanese
POW camp. Jack OConnell as
Louis and Miyavi as his sadistic guard are both superb, but
its Jolie who took a story Hollywood ignored for decades, got
it done and made it resonate.

Michael
Keaton hits
an acting
high in
Birdman.

Christopher Nolans space odyssey is the only epic on my list.


His lm is as concerned with
a relationship between parent
(Matthew McConaughey) and
child (Jessica Chastain) as Boyhood is. Both lms make perfect
bookends for a movie year that
got good when it got personal.

RollingStone.com

| R ol l i n g S t o n e |

39

BEST TV YEAR
OF
THE

True detectives, breakout broads, scathing political satire, and Shonda


Rhimes asking the question on everyones mind By Rob Shefeld

True Detective

Damn, just look at those eyes.


The way he fiddles with a
crushed Lone Star beer can and
muses, Time is a at circle.
Matthew McConaughey faces
all the horror of True Detective with his vacant Joe Walshafter-electroshock stare, which
only makes it more chilling.
Nothing else this year could
top True Detective. The Southern Gothic noir got some new
shivers out of the cop-show clich: Fighting monsters turns
you into one. But the most terrifying monster in it? The one
lurking in McConaugheys eyes.

Abbi and Ilana


Hit the Big Town
Broad City

Abbi: Whats an Arc de Triomphe? Ilana: Its when two


dudes go down on us, butt to
butt, then you and I do Oprah
hands. How did the rest of us
function before we met these
two ladies? The Broad City
BFFs were the comedy rookies
of the year. To celebrate Abbis
26th birthday, they raise hell in
a fancy restaurant and get the
busboy stoned. It all ends with
them cuddling in a hospital bed
at 3 a.m., eating cake while listening to the old man in the
next bed die. A perfect Broad
City moment brutal, tender,
hilarious. More, please.

The Trial of Tyrion


Game of Thrones

If TV shows are the new rock


bands, and seasons are the
new albums, Game of Thrones
fourth season is some kind of
blood-crazed Led Zeppelin
IV epic. And Peter Dinklages
courtroom rampage of bile
40 | R ol l i n g S t o n e |

Crazy eyes:
McConaugheys
True Detective

peals like Jimmy Pages Stairway to Heaven solo. On trial


for his life, with his despised
father as judge, Tyrion nally
snaps and rails against his family: I wish I had enough poison for the whole pack of you!
Only Dinklage could pull it of.
A true mind-blower. And not
just in that your skull in the
Mountains hands kind of way.

Bert Coopers
Dancing Farewell
Mad Men

It was sad to see Bert Cooper


take a final bow. But what a
farewell: Ghost Bert gives Don
Draper one last piece of advice,
singing The Best Things in
Life Are Free, dancing in socks
with the kind of footwork that
made a Broadway star out of
Robert Morse, now 83. As Bert
himself would say: Bravo.

Morello Goes
Gangsta

John Oliver Goes Long


Last Week Tonight

Last Week Tonight was the


years triumph, as Oliver
deed our click-click-click attention spans with long-form
rants about political crises,
from Net neutrality to Right
Said Fred. What do you know
somebody scored a hit betting
on the intelligence of the American people. It gures it took a
British geek to make it happen.

Lizzy Caplans
Heartbreak Hotel
Masters of Sex

Orange Is the New Black

All the jailbirds at Litcheld


womens penitentiary have
some dark shit in their past
thats how they got there. Even

RollingStone.com

Yael Stones Morello, who used


to seem like a harmless nitwit. Until we get a ashback
to her previous life as a psychotic stalker. Its a profoundly sad, cruelly funny highlight
from Orange Is the New Black
the superb second season of
the prison drama everybody
assumed was just a one-shot.

A couple of Fifties sex researchers Michael Sheen and Lizzy


Caplan sneak of to a posh
hotel for a little horizontal lab
work. Its supposed to be all in

Selina Meyer Hails


to the Chief
Veep

Armando Iannuccis political


satire had a daring plot twist
nobody saw coming Julia
Louis-Dreyfus toxic-tongue
vice president somehow stumbles into the Oval Ofce, with
her path nally clear to take
over. Hopefully, now she can
implement her domestic agenda: God, I would love to fuck
a reghter.

Amy Schumer
Declares War
Inside Amy Schumer

A woman watches her boyfriend play a Call of Duty-style


combat video game. Hey, that
looks fun. So she takes a turn.
Except she nds out that her
adventure as a female soldier
is a little diferent. (My character was just raped. Thats
never happened to me you
must have pressed the wrong
button!) In an abundant year
for comedy, Schumer really
dropped the bomb.

10

ShondaLandia!
How to Get Away
With Murder

If anything could sum up the


madness of 2014, it would have
to be the pivotal scene from
Shonda Rhimes latest sexand-murder soap. Law professor Viola Davis holds up a
phone and utters the immortal
words: Why is your penis on a
dead girls phone? The question of the year. Anyone got an
answer?

D e c e m b e r 18 , 2 014 - Ja n u a r y 1 , 2 01 5

MICHELE K. SHORT/HBO

the name of science. But the


bedroom role-playing opens up
the NSFW feelings they spend
the rest of their lives ignoring.
An hour of erotic agony, from a
drama that never plays it safe.

McConaugheys
Manson Lamps

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registered trademarks of Amazon.com, Inc. or its afliates.

The female species is, like, one of the most essential reasons why our race still continues. Pharrell Williams

Geldofs Anti-Ebola All-Stars

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: BAND AID TRUST/BRIAN ARIS/CAMERA PRESS/REDUX, 2; KGC-375/STARMAXINC.COM/NEWSCOM; BAIJU
SUNDER/AP IMAGES; MARK THOMPSON/GETTY IMAGES; MICHAEL REYNOLDS/EPA/LANDOV; KOURY ANGELO; INFPHOTO.COM

Chris Martin channeled


Stevie Wonder.

Its been 30 years since David Bowie, Bono, Phil Collins and a lot of other
awesome 1980s U.K. stars recorded Do They Know Its Christmas? to ght
famine in Ethiopia. In November, Bob Geldof called up Bono, One Direction, Ed
Sheeran, Chris Martin and Ellie Goulding to record a new version for the Ebola
crisis. Geldof admits its not his favorite tune: I associate it with the meat counter
at my local supermarket. Im like, Yeah, yeah. Give me the fucking turkey, dude.

KATY ROARS
BACK Katy Perry
lashed out at the
paparazzi on tour in
Australia: You have
no respect, no
integrity, no
character.

POP, ROYALTY
Harry Styles met a 16-weeks-pregnant
Kate Middleton at a London theater. I
said, Congratulations on the bump, said
Styles, adding, She didnt look bumpy.

AB-WHO DHABI
The Who kicked
of their 50thanniversary
tour at an Abu
Dhabi arena.
Highlight: rst
Squeeze Box
performance
in 32 years!

High Bleachers

CAPTION
LEDE their big hooks to a party
Bleachers
brought
tktkt
at Dummy
L.A.s Boulevard3
nightclub, hosted by
TONE
and Fiat. Ive never played
R OLLING
festivalSgig,
Dylan
onharped
a stageon
that high, says frontman Jack
Antonof
, who
up his fall tour this
Tangled
Upwraps
in
month.
to incorporate something
BlueIm
andgoing
played
like that into the stage show for the next tour.

D e c e m b e r 18 , 2 014 - Ja n u a r y 1 , 2 01 5

FULFILLINGNESS President
Obama honored hero Stevie
Wonder with the Presidential
Medal of Freedom. It was
one of the greater days of
my life, says Wonder.

Pharrell
was also in
town, for the
Formula 1
Grand Prix.

RANDOM NOTES

I Knew You Were Dribble


Ofcial NYC tourism ambassador Taylor Swift was liking her new
job, until she had to sit through a loss by the hapless New York Knicks
at Madison Square Garden. The dancers came out to Shake It Of,
and she got a little red. It was kind of sweet, said Howard Stern, who
was at the same game. Shes like Cinderella or something.

Solanges
Joy Ride

Solange Knowles tied the knot


with 51-year-old video director
Alan Ferguson at a big white
wedding in New Orleans. The
couple planned to enter the
church on white bicycles, but
the groom got a at tire and
had to walk (doh!). Later, they
celebrated with shrimp, grits
and an all-star dance party.

GARDEN STATE
BRO-DOWN Jon
Bon Jovi attended
the premiere of
Jon Stewarts lm,
Rosewater. Its
the New Jersey
connection, said
Stewart. We have
to stick together.

COME
TOGETHER Paul
McCartney and
Dhani Harrison
hung out at an
event honoring
Stella McCartney
at New Yorks
Lincoln Center.
MILEY SMILES Miley
Cyrus and a distracted
Patrick Schwarzenegger
got close before Mileys
phallus-themed 22nd
birthday in West
Hollywood.

WEIR ARE FAMILY


Bob Weir took
daughters Shala and
Chloe and wife
Natascha (from left)
to the American
Music Awards.

44 | R ol l i n g S t o n e |

RollingStone.com

D e c e m b e r 18 , 2 014 - Ja n u a r y 1 , 2 01 5

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IMAGES/GETTY IMAGES; PATRICK MCMULLAN/SIPA USA; HARRY HOW/
GETTY IMAGES; JEFF KRAVITZ/AMA2014/FILMMAGIC; JOSH BRASTED/
WIREIMAGE; MARION CURTIS/STARTRAKSPHOTO.COM

Jay Z and Beyonc danced the


night away. They both kept
putting their hands on each
others butts, said one guest.

Put the happy in holidays.


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THE SECRET DEAL


TO SAVE THE PLANET

Inside the high-stakes drama behind Obamas China climate talks


H By Jeff Goodell H

w eek a f t er de mocr ats


took a drubbing in the midterm
elections, as pundits were suggesting President Obama should
start packing up the Oval Ofce,
he stood beside Chinese President Xi Jinping in the Great Hall of the
People in Beijing and announced a historic climate deal that may be one of the most
signicant accomplishments of his presidency. In the works for nearly a year, the
agreement unfolded in a series of secret
meetings in the United States and China
and was carried out with the brinkmanship and bravado of a Vegas poker game.
The agreement comes at a time when
awareness of the risks of climate change
has never been higher, thanks to the sobering accretion of extreme weather events
around the world. But the prospects for
signicant action to reduce carbon pollution have never been lower. Which is why
virtually everyone in the climate world
Illustration by Victor Juhasz

was stunned when the agreement was announced on November 12th.


Negotiations started in February when
Todd Stern, the State Departments lead
climate negotiator, put in an exploratory phone call to his counterpart in the
Chinese government, Xie Zhenhua. Stern
was in Seoul, South Korea, and would
soon be joining his boss, Secretary of State
John Kerry, in Beijing for a series of highlevel meetings with the Chinese leadership,
including Xi Jinping. Kerry, long a forceful advocate for action on climate change,
simply wanted Stern to see if there was
any possibility the upcoming talks might
yield a joint public statement on the issue.
Beyond that, the State Department team
sensed that the Chinese were looking for
areas of common ground to help improve
relations. White House counselor John Podesta, President Obamas de facto point
person on climate, agreed that it was an
idea worth pursuing.

Stern knew that Xie, with whom he has


shared many dinners at climate conferences all over the world, was a straight shooter whose goal, like his own, was to actually
make progress on solving the climate crisis. I made the case that if the deal were
done well, and it had enough ambition,
it could help to build momentum for Paris
next year, recalls Stern. Xie was interested. But there were obviously a lot of issues
to work out. So we proceeded cautiously.
Obama arrived in the White House
in 2009 determined to take on climate
change. In his rst term in ofce, he instituted tough new automotive fuelefciency standards and pushed through
$90 billion for clean energy in the stimulus
bill. But after legislation to limit CO2 pollution failed to pass in the Senate in 2010,
climate change seemed to slide down the
list of issues that engaged the president.
That changed after his re-election, when
he ordered the Environmental ProtecRollingStone.com

| R ol l i n g S t o n e |

47

tion Agency to write new rules to govern


carbon emissions from power plants and
brought in Podesta. Early this past summer, those plans took shape when the
EPA nally announced its plan to crack
down on carbon pollution from existing
power plants.
But Podesta understood that no matter what the U.S. did, it wouldnt matter
without larger global cooperation. The
last major round of international climate
negotiations in Copenhagen in 2009 had
been a festival of conspiracy and betrayal, ending with an 11th-hour, closed-door
confrontation between rich and poor nations that only deepened the cynicism
among many that the world would ever
strike an agreement to cut carbon pollution. A year from now, the world is set to
meet in Paris for another summit. Would
this next meeting be any diferent? Probably not, concluded Podesta and the State
Departments climate negotiators, unless
they could get China to the table.
It was not just because China was the
worlds biggest polluter (an honor the U.S.
had held until about 2006), but the Chi-

But for the U.S., nothing with China


comes easy. The relationship between
China and the U.S. has been on a downhill
slide, says author Orville Schell, who has
been writing about China since the 1970s
and now heads the Center on U.S.-China
Relations at the Asia Society in New York.
The Chinese fear the U.S. has a long-term
strategy to contain China, while the U.S.
fears Chinas increasing strength means
trouble for American interests in Asia
and beyond.
On top of the rising superpower tensions, climate negotiations are made more
difcult by the fact that China is a developing nation. It may be the worlds numberone polluter by volume, but its per-capita
emissions are far lower than ours. The Chinese argue (with some justication) that
global warming is a problem that has been
largely caused by 200 years of fossil-fuel
burning, mostly in the U.S. and Europe,
and so it is the West that bears most of the
responsibility for xing it. Which meant
that if U.S. negotiators were going to entice
China into making a commitment to cut
carbon emissions, the U.S. needed to jump

traveled to Rancho Mirage, California, to


meet with Obama for two days of informal talks, where, among other things, they
struck a deal to limit emissions of hydrouorocarbons, a climate-eating gas. Schell
describes their relationship as wary, but
pragmatic. There is no warmth between
them, he says. There is a lack of trust,
a paranoid attitude toward each other.
But also an awareness that they have to
work together.
Obamas hand was strengthened in early
June, when the EPA formally announced
the Clean Power Plan, which would cut
carbon from power plants by 30 percent
by 2030. The result of a 2013 executive action in which Obama instructed the agency to come up with new regulations on
power-plant emissions, the plan was wellconstructed and would likely hold up in
court. It was an important sign of the seriousness of the administrations efort, and
it gave U.S. negotiators leverage to say to
the Chinese, Hey, we mean business.
A few weeks later, a swarm of U.S. diplomats, including Kerry, Podesta and Stern,
ew to Beijing for the Strategic and Eco-

IT IS VERY HARD FOR ONE SIDE TO BELIEVE WHAT THE


OTHER IS SAYING, SAYS ONE CHINESE OBSERVER. THERES
A LONG HISTORY OF SUSPICION ON BOTH SIDES.
nese also hold tremendous sway over developing nations of the world. Get China
to take action, and chances were good
that India, Brazil, South Korea, Mexico,
Indonesia and other increasingly prosperous nations would come along too.
But moving climate to the top of the
agenda, Podesta realized, would be difcult. In China, the politics of climate
change are diferent than in the U.S., says
Li Shuo, a Greenpeace activist in Beijing.
No one in China denies climate change
is a problem. But we have more immediate problems like air and water pollution, most of which come from our dependence on coal. According to one study,
air pollution contributed to the premature death of 1.2 million people in China
in 2010. China today is a lot like America was in the 1960s and Seventies the
rivers are on re, the sky polluted, and the
rising middle class is not going to put up
with it anymore, says Jigar Shah, a solarindustry pioneer. For U.S. negotiators, it
was important to convince the Chinese
that cutting carbon pollution would not
only clean up the air but also lead to more
political stability for the regime. They
will have a social revolt on their hands if
they dont come up with a way of dealing
with this, U.S. Ambassador Max Baucus
told me bluntly when I was in Beijing this
past summer.
48 | R ol l i n g S t o n e |

RollingStone.com

rst. But Obamas hands were tied. The


U.S. Congress was not going to pass globalwarming legislation, so the only option
was executive action. Everything depended on the EPA rules on power-plant pollution, which were still in the works, and
dependent on withstanding court challenges not at all a sure thing.
Still, after some discussion between the
White House and the State Department,
Obama gave them the go-ahead to pursue a deal. After Stern made the phone
call to Xie in February, Kerry broached
the idea with many key gures in the Chinese leadership, including President Xi,
on his swing through Asia a few days later.
The response: Oh, this is interesting, but
they were not eager to pursue it, Podesta says. It became clear it would take presidential muscle to get any kind of a deal
moving. In mid-March, Obama sent a private letter to President Xi that brought
up a range of subjects, from the nuclearization of North Korea to territorial disputes in the South China Sea, but which
also pushed for a climate agreement between the two nations. The gist of the letter, according to Podesta, was that this
could be meaningful, if we both make
serious post-2020 contributions.
Soon after Xi, whom Schell describes
as a ruthless utilitarian, ascended to the
role of Chinas president in 2013, he had

nomic Dialogue, a high-level diplomatic meeting between the United States and
China. I accompanied the U.S. delegation on this trip. There was a lot of talk
about what kind of commitment the Chinese might make in Paris and about what
the U.S. could do to strengthen that commitment, but no indication, on or of the
record, that a secret deal was in the works.
But clearly, talks were serious. The day
before the ofcial meeting, Podesta and
Stern, as well as U.S. Energy Secretary
Ernest Moniz, spent a full day at the Diaoyutai State Guest House with their Chinese counterparts, going over economic
modeling results and various technological options, trying to get a sense of what
the costs of various levels of carbon reductions would be.
In addition, Stern and Podesta had
one-on-one meetings with Xie Zhenhau
and Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli (the man
with the portfolio, Podesta says). They
told us we might be able to put a deal together, but not until 2015, Podesta recalls. But Todd and I both thought there
was potential to do something earlier.
U.S. negotiators knew that the sooner the
deal could be announced, the more leverage they would have to shape the outcome
of the Paris negotiations.
But the complexity of these negotiations
is hard to overestimate. For one thing, CO2
D e c e m b e r 18 , 2 014 - Ja n u a r y 1 , 2 01 5

FROM TOP: U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT; GA LA/IMAGINECHINA/AP IMAGES

A NEW CLIMATE
The U.S. and China
are pulling in the
same direction, says
White House climate
adviser John Podesta
(far right), with
Secretary of State
John Kerry this past
July in Beijing. Below:
Heavy pollution in
October prompted
China to raise its
smog alert to the
second-highest level.

pollution is on some level a proxy for economic development, so agreeing to cut


carbon emissions is tantamount to calling for limits on economic growth a tall
order on its own, but even more difcult in
an atmosphere of deepening distrust. It
is very hard for either side to believe what
the other is saying, says Li Shuo. There
are many cultural barriers, and a long
history of suspicion on both sides.
On the final day of the conference, I
took a walk around the grounds of the Diaoyutai State Guest House with Stern.
He seemed tense, unsure any deal could
be worked out, and not even clear what
kind of goal the Chinese might be willing
to commit to: Will it be a carbon cap? A
coal cap? A renewable-energy quota? We
are not sure.
The U.S. negotiators left China in a
somber mood. During the rst week of
September, Obama sent President Xi a
second letter. It was a focused two-page
letter on what could be delivered during
the November APEC visit to Beijing, and
it emphasized the climate joint announcement, Podesta told me. But if Xi was serious about pursuing this deal, he didnt
show it by appearing at the U.N. Climate
Summit in New York later that month.
It was interpreted by some outsiders as
a signal that the Chinese were not gearing up to make a serious commitment in
D e c e m b e r 18 , 2 014 - Ja n u a r y 1 , 2 01 5

Paris next year. Instead Xi sent Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli, who asked to meet with
Obama in New York, which, Podesta said,
was unusual.
At that meeting, Zhang told Obama that
Xi had decided to do the deal and that he
wanted to announce it in Beijing around
the time of the APEC summit. But many
details were still unresolved including
the all-important question of how strong
the targets would be. For an agreement to
have any meaning, the U.S. and the Chinese had to commit to carbon reductions
that were both signicant and credible.
During the last week of October, Podesta
and Stern traveled to Beijing to meet with
Xie Zhenhau and others at the National
Development and Reform Commission.
It was there that the Chinese nally put
numbers on the table. The key gure was
their pledge to cap carbon emissions by
2030. While carbon restrictions that dont
go into efect for 16 years in the future may
not sound signicant, for a country as big
and fast-growing as China, such a promise
translates into huge reductions over time.
(Climate scientist Raymond Pierrehumbert estimates that the cap, if extended
out to 2060, would reduce Chinas carbon
pollution by 790 gigatons over business as
usual.) U.S. negotiators were not overjoyed
by Chinas ofer. We wanted sooner than
2030, but they told us that 2030 had been

cleared by the Standing Committee [i.e.,


the leaders of Chinas Communist Party],
Podesta says.
For the U. S. team, the carbonreduction targets that they put on the table
were a mix of technical capacity and political aspiration. They had to be deep enough
to be meaningful, but they also had to be
politically plausible, given the fact that
there is no chance of anything moving
through Congress in the next two years
and the unpredictability of the 2016 presidential election. The number they came
up with, 26 to 28 percent by 2025, represents the greenhouse-gas reductions proposed under existing U.S. law, plus possible further reductions based on executive
actions the president may take during the
rest of his term. Its a serious commitment, says Stern, essentially requiring
the United States to double its rate of carbon reductions in the next decade. Twenty-eight percent, says Stern, puts the U.S.
on a straight-line path to 80 percent reductions from 1990 levels by 2050, a
broadly shared goal within the international climate community.
Still, these targets which were voluntary, after all were nowhere near enough
to put the world on track to limit warming to 2 degrees Celsius (about 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), which is the level scientists have identied as the threshold for
dangerous climate change. But negotiators on both sides knew the deal could be
nonetheless deeply signicant, for it could
shift the political calculus of international climate negotiation and virtually assure
some kind of success in Paris next year,
when an agreement to replace the 1997
Kyoto Protocol is supposed to be nalized.
The question was, once we settled
on the targets, was this deal signicant
enough for an announcement from the
presidents of both countries? says Podesta. Stern and Podesta werent sure.
By China refusing to cap CO2 emissions
until 2030, the U.S. team knew it would
be open to the charge that we were giving China license to increase its carbon
pollution for 16 years, while making costly promises to double our own reductions in the same period. But they saw
a solution: The Chinese had mentioned
theyd set an internal goal of generating
20 percent of their nations power from
nonfossil fuel sources by 2030. (To meet
the goal, the Chinese will essentially have
to build the equivalent of the entire U.S.
electrical system in the next 16 years and
do it with wind, solar and nukes.) U.S. negotiators pushed the Chinese to make this
goal part of the agreement. But the Chinese were hesitant to go public with it.
In addition, they wanted language in the
agreement about diferent obligations between the developed and the developing
world that the U.S. team couldnt live with.
RollingStone.com

| R ol l i n g S t o n e |

49

For the second time in just a few months,


Podesta and Stern left Beijing not sure
theyd be able to make a deal at all.
In the next few days, there was a urry
of e-mail and phone exchanges. The APEC
summit in Beijing was just a week away,
and the Chinese clearly wanted to have
something big to announce. But as Obama
ew to Beijing, there was still no deal. Podesta told the president they were close to
an agreement, but they were still juggling
the language. The deal had to be something we could feel good about, says Podesta. Otherwise, we could still walk away.
The day before the summit began, Podesta and Stern hammered out the last
details. The Chinese agreed to go public with the 20 percent renewable goal,
as well as agreed to language that they
would work to hit the 2030 CO2 cap earlier and to make clear that these reduc-

through. In one move, Obama and Xi


broke the logjam of climate politics, says
Jairam Ramesh, a member of Indian Parliament and a longtime climate negotiator. Until now, China has insisted that the
U.S. and the EU are largely responsible for
climate change. But this raises the bar for
other nations.
The deal also has huge economic implications both for fossil-fuel industries that
dominated the 20th century (i.e., the losers) and the alternative-energy entrepreneurs poised to grab a much bigger piece
of the worlds energy mix (i.e., the winners).
There is no question where the world is
headed, says Podesta. Instead of thinking of the U.S. and China as two captains
on two diferent teams, its a sign to everyone that we are both pulling in the same
direction. For tech investors, this kind of
high-level alignment has a powerful im-

A CANDIDATE WHO DENIES THE


REALITY OF CLIMATE CHANGE, SAYS
PODESTA, WILL HAVE A HARD TIME
GETTING ELECTED PRESIDENT.
tions were made in the context of a longterm deep decarbonization efort (a point
that Podesta says was very important to
the president). In return, Chinese negotiators made sure the distinction between the
obligations of the developed and the developing world was not lost in the agreement.
The next evening, Obama and Xi met
privately to discuss the agreement. It was
important to both Obama and Xi to have
real understanding where they were going
with this, and to agree to keep talking
throughout the year as we head toward
Paris, says Podesta, who briefed Obama
beforehand. The thing everyone wants to
avoid is a last-minute Perils-of-Pauline situation like we had in Copenhagen.

n china, response to the deal


was straightforward: President Xi
had not only pledged to clean the air
and reduce carbon pollution, he had
proved his diplomatic chops by striking a deal with the most powerful nation
on Earth. Xi was like a hedge-fund manager who just acquired a trophy wife, one
experienced Chinese observer notes. Its
an affectation of being a great power.
In the developing world, there was criticism of the low ambition of the carbonreduction targets. These commitments
are nowhere near the kinds of reductions
we need to limit warming to 1.5 degrees
Celsius or even 2 degrees Celsius, one
South American activist told me.
But more practical-minded observers
saw the announcement as a major break50 | R ol l i n g S t o n e |

RollingStone.com

pact on strategic decisions about where to


put their money. It will particularly benet clean-tech companies that can help the
Chinese gure out ways to integrate massive amounts of renewable energy into
their grid. This is not some bullshit deal
between [former U.S. Secretary of Energy]
Steven Chu and Tsinghua University, says
Shah. This is the U.S. government saying
to American companies, Go ahead, set up
shop in China weve got your back.
Finally, the agreement eviscerates one
of the favorite talking points of climate deniers. Their argument has always been
we cant do anything to cut emissions because China is not doing anything, says
Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of
Rhode Island. Well, now China is doing
something pretty significant, while Republicans are still huddled in the dark castle of denial.
Of course, in the U.S., it took conservatives 30 seconds to begin hammering the deal as an economic suicide
pact, arguing that the U.S. had committed to deep carbon reductions over the
next decade, while the Chinese agreed
to basically do nothing until 2030. In a
column titled The Climate Pact Swindle, Fox News regular Charles Krauthammer called the agreement the most
one-sided deal since Manhattan sold for
$24 in 1626. Among other things, Krauthammers argument ignores Chinas commitment to 20 percent nonfossil fuel power
by 2030. As Sen. Whitehouse told me, The
idea that China has committed to doing

nothing for the next 16 years is only true if


you believe that Chinese leaders are going
to wake up on New Years Eve in 2029 and
suddenly build 1,000 gigawatts of clean energy in one night.
The more substantial question is whether China and the U.S. can follow through
on their commitments. Ironically, the Chinese may have more credibility than the
U.S. Face is very important to the Chinese, says Schell. When they commit
to something publicly, they do it. Podesta agrees: The Standing Committee has
approved this commitment. The Peoples
Congress will approve it. It will be imbedded in Chinese law. That is signicant.
The U.S. commitment, on the other
hand, stands on shakier political ground.
As David Victor, professor of International Relations at the University of California,
San Diego, and author for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, puts it,
Its not clear yet if it is an Obama climate
agreement or a U.S. climate agreement. In
the Senate, Mitch McConnell has already
said that he will use his new powers as majority leader in 2015 to launch a full-scale
attack on the EPA rules on power-plant pollution if that attack is successful, it would
be all but impossible for the U.S. to meet its
carbon-reduction commitment.
Podesta, who will leave the administration in early 2015 and will likely play
a senior role in Hillary Clintons not-yetannounced presidential campaign, relishes
the ght. They can investigate us, harass
us, try to defund us, warns Podesta. But
the president wont inch on this. This is
our line in the sand.
The fact that implementation of the EPA
rules is likely to come in the middle of the
2016 election campaign is just another
part of the White House political strategy.
What will become more apparent is that
a candidate who denies the reality of climate change will have a hard time getting
elected president, Podesta says. The candidate who says, Hey, weve got a problem,
I think we can work to solve it is going to
win. I dont think you ever go wrong playing for higher ground.
However this plays out in the U.S., it
is an indisputable fact that this deal has
changed the odds for a new global climate agreement in Paris in 2015. Big questions remain about how much cash the
West will pony up to help the developing
world nance clean-energy projects and
adapt to climate change, but that can be
resolved. This is a sea change in how we
think about solving the problem, says Mohamed Adow, Christian Aids senior climate-change adviser in London. We will
get a deal in Paris now, Im certain of it.
Will it be enough? No. But it will lay the
foundation for the future. And it will say
to the world, for the rst time, We are serious about this.
D e c e m b e r 18 , 2 014 - Ja n u a r y 1 , 2 01 5

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||| 53

SETH ROGEN
ts not every day you get
to sit down with the guys who
might be responsible for starting World War III. And its denitely not every day that theyre
getting baked when you do.
Hell-o! booms Seth Rogen
on a June afternoon as the door
to his L.A. ofce swings open,
revealing him and comedy partner/hetero lifemate Evan Goldberg preparing to take a mighty
hit from a bong. The pair cowrote and directed the new
movie The Interview, in which a
pair of bumbling entertainment
journalists played by James
Franco (a Ryan Seacrest-ish
celebrity talk-show host) and Rogen (his
faithful, somewhat put-upon producer)
land an interview with Kim Jong-un and
are enlisted by the CIA to assassinate him.
Its a movie no one expected to be wellreceived in North Korea, where even taking a picture of a statue of the Supreme
Leader could land you in a prison camp.
But the trailer came out earlier that week,

the second is: Seth Rogen? That lovable


man-child who makes dopey movies with
his friends? The one whos probably too
stoned to play a video game about a nuclear war, much less incite a real one? Whats
a nice guy like him doing in a diplomatic
crisis like this?
Its funny, because weve been in the
world of North Korea for so long that
when we heard it, we were like, Yeah,
OK, Rogen, 32, says. They say crazy shit
about America all the time. Literally, the
opening scene of our movie is a little girl
singing pretty much the exact thing they
said about us.
We have a le in the building somewhere of all the insane shit they say, adds
Goldberg. They called Obama, like, an
evil monkey you have to look up the
exact wording, because whatever I say
wont be as crazy as what it actually was.
(It was actually wicked black monkey.)
Rogen admits that they did get called in
for a meeting with Sonys North American
CEO (Any time a movie causes a country
to threaten nuclear retaliation, the higherups wanna get in a room with you), but

h e of f ic e s of ro ge n a n d
Goldbergs production company a Spanish-style bungalow
near the back of Sony Pictures
Studios, right next door to Adam
Sandlers used to be Louis B.
Mayers private dining room, back when
the lot belonged to MGM. Later on, it
was a classroom for MGMs child stars
like Judy Garland, Mickey Rooney and
Elizabeth Taylor. (This is where the kids
all got hooked on drugs, Rogen jokes.)
Now, theres a big whiteboard with a note
about a jerk-of challenge, and an exercise ball that doesnt seem to get much
use. A dozen multicolored index cards
are thumbtacked to a bulletin board
the outline for their next movie and the
sounds of NBA Jam ll the air.
Rogen is dressed in his typical work
uniform of a worn T-shirt and ip-ops,
accessorized with several days of scruf.
In person, hes trimmer and more kempt
than youre conditioned to expect, but
with the same doofily expressive face
and bowling-league physique that plays
so well onscreen. (His friend and men-

and it turns out North Korea is way more


pissed than anyone saw coming.
A spokesman for North Koreas foreign ministry has declared the movie a
most wanton act of terrorism and war.
The gangster lmmaker has incited a
gust of hatred and rage among the North
Korean people, and if the U.S. government allows the lm to proceed, merciless countermeasures will be taken. The
threats made headlines from Al Jazeera
to the BBC; coincidentally or not, a few
days later the real Kim Jong-un launched
a few ballistic test missiles. Our stuf is
in the news sometimes, says a slightly
dazed Goldberg, a rumpled 32-year-old
in shorts and New Balances. But this is
diferent this is real news.
Upon hearing all this, you may be
struck by two simultaneous thoughts.
The first is: classic North Korea. And
Contributing editor Josh Eells wrote
about Taylor Swift in September.

54 ||| Rolling Stone

otherwise hes taking the bluster in stride.


He says he might stay away from South
Korea for a while, just in case (although
Franco is attending an event at a Gucci
store in Hong Kong, which is supposedly safe). And in terms of getting the word
out about the movie, its not bad, Rogen
points out. If they actually make good on
it, it would be bad for the world but luckily that doesnt seem like their style.
Although it did worry my mother, he
says. For a Jewish mother, having a country wage war on your son is the worst. No
Jewish mother should have to deal with
that. He pulls out his phone and reads
the texts she sent him yesterday.
Mrs. Rogen: Did you hear the news
today? An act of war?
Seth: Dont worry. Its crazy rhetoric.
Mrs. Rogen: But how can we be sure?!
Rogen laughs. If Kim Jong-un only
knew what he was doing to my mother! He would know he had exacted his
revenge.

tor Judd Apatow says Rogen is built for


comedy the way LeBron is for basketball.) He laughs constantly, that trademark Beavis-meets-Butt-Head cough,
like a motorcycle engine that wont turn
over. (Goldberg says he would have made
a great voice for a Muppet.) On his desk is
a hot-pink prescription bottle lled with
some of Southern Californias nest medicinal cannabis, which he absent-mindedly rolls into a tight joint.
Rogen and Goldberg are on their way
to a theater across the lot, where theyre
going over some special effects for the
movie. The Interview features hundreds
of visual efects even more than their
apocalyptic comedy This Is the End,
which literally showed the Hollywood
Hills being Raptured. My respect for
Michael Bay quintupled when we started doing this shit, says Goldberg, splitting the joint with Rogen as they walk.
They arrive in a theater with leather armchairs and small bowls of pita and hum-

December 18, 2014January 1, 2015

OPENING SPREAD: SHIRT BY TURNBULL & ASSER, PANTS BY TOM FORD,


SUSPENDERS BY WHAT COMES AROUND GOES AROUND, TIE BY RALPH LAUREN,
UNIFORMS FROM EARLY HALLOWEEN NYC.

FOR A JEWISH MOTHER, HAVING A COUNTRY


WAGE WAR ON YOUR SON IS THE WORST,
ROGEN SAYS. IF KIM JONG-UN ONLY KNEW
WHAT HE WAS DOING TO MY MOTHER!

FROM MAN CHILD TO MAN

While filming The Interview, James


Franco and Randall Park take direction
from Rogen (1), who got his start doing
stand-up as a teen (2). Rogen and
Franco met on Freaks and Geeks (3),
where Rogen would write short scenes
for their characters. Those were seeds
for the way we work now, says Franco.

TOP: ED ARAQUEL/COLUMBIA PICTURES; BOTTOM: COURTESY OF MATT LABOV

2
mus, and each grabs a small laserpointer and takes a seat.
This is where we get to play
with lasers, Rogen says excitedly.
Its fun to put them in peoples
eyes, says Goldberg, aiming his
at the face of Franco on the big
screen. He moves it southward.
And on their dicks.
Sometimes me and Evan
team up, adds Rogen, their twin
lasers dancing around Francos
balls.
The efects supervisor cues up the rst
shot, a big crowd scene at the Pyongyang
airport. Goldberg says the crowd was
digitally borrowed from 22 Jump Street;
Rogen laughs, but theyre not kidding.
Everyone else is Korean, I swear! Rogen
says. Thats the only exception we made!
Next, theres an aerial shot of a North
Korean forest, which they lmed outside
Vancouver. Seth and I were born in that
forest, Goldberg deadpans.
Rogen: We made the computer that
we wrote Superbad on out of that wood.

December 18, 2014January 1, 2015

They make tweaks for about an hour,


adjusting everything from the brightness of a pair of grapefruits to a climactic chase scene involving a tank and a
helicopter. We wanted this movie to
feel like it had a lot of scope to it, Rogen
says. Its set in all these diferent countries, youre ying all over the world. . . .
They found inspiration in action movies like Spy Game, as well as real-world
thrillers like The Insider and Argo: We
kept saying we wanted it to feel like a
real movie.

Rogen and Goldberg rst started kicking around the idea for The Interview a
few years ago, around the time despots
like Saddam and Qadda were getting
offed. They started joking about what
might happen if a journalist got to interview one and was recruited to take him
out. I feel like its a conversation a lot
of people have, Rogen says. Like, Oh,
Barbara Walters could have killed bin
Laden, or whatever. They knew relatively early on they wanted to make the target a real-life dictator, and Kim Jong-il
was the natural choice but when he died
and his son Kim Jong-un took over, they
put the script on hold, in case he turned
out to be cool.
There was a real moment where we
were like, Maybe this guys not bad!
Rogen says. And then we started reading
about him killing his girlfriend and feeding his uncle to the dogs.
In fact, the change was a blessing in
disguise. Kim Jong-un is a lot closer in
age to Franco and me, which is better comedically, Rogen says. And he also just
seems a lot funnier. You see him in pictures, hes, like, laughing hysterically, but
hes an evil fuck! Youd probably like him,
but you shouldnt like him.
They wrote the script with Dan Sterling, a veteran of The Daily Show. (We
literally just hired a writer whos smarter than us, Rogen says.) They read tons
of books. (Well, we had them
summarized for us.) And then
when Dennis Rodman went,
which hadnt happened when
they wrote it, We were like, Oh,
my God, this lends even more
credence to the fact that this
could actually happen! Rogen
says. It was fucking weirder than
anything we had thought of.
For the role of Kim, they cast
Randall Park, a Korean-American actor best known for his work
on Veep. Randall was the rst to
audition, and when he walked
out of the room, we were literally like, Cancel everyone else,
Rogen says. We had written him
as more robotic and strict what you
would expect but Randall played him
as a lot more sheepish and shy, which
was much funnier. Before lming, Park
packed on 15 pounds and shaved his head
into Kims distinctive crew cut. I remember the rst time he walked on set, Rogen
recalls. The whole crew was like, Oh,
shit were really doing this.
After nishing the visual efects, Rogen
and Goldberg grab some crackers from a
kitchen and head to a diferent theater,
where their audio team is doing sound

Rolling Stone ||| 55

effects. (Later on, well taste things,


Goldberg jokes.) They change a bunch of
sounds and add some more; at one point,
Rogen utters the words You can just get
rid of the balls deep line. (Theyd also
previously asked for a louder dick-op
sound.) During one scene, where a bunch
of cellphones are going of, Rogen asks
if they can use the actual iPhone alert.
Someone points out that
the movie is being released
by Sony, a competitor of
Apple. Rogen chuckles:
OK, then can we use that
famous Xperia sound?
Eventually they arrive
at a scene where Rogens
character is, in the interest of international espionage, called upon to hide
a small missile inside his
rectum. (Its that kind of
movie.) They play the moment back a few times,
R o g e n a nd G old b e r g
cracking up every time. Finally, Goldberg speaks up.
Im wondering if it sounds
too slimy . . . going into his
butt?
Come on! Rogen says.
Im not saying its too gross! Im just
thinking about laughter.
Its pretty funny, counters Rogen.
You want, like, a slurp? A scrape-y
sound? A sandpaper-y, scrape-y sound?
Maybe just a slight suction-y sound,
Goldberg says. The sound guy punches a
few buttons, and a slight suction-y sound
lls the theater. Rogen and Goldberg double over in laughter. Ha! says Rogen.
My butt is sucking the missile in!
Goldberg turns to the sound guy.
What is that, actually? The guy tells
him its chicken guts, and plays it again.
Im gonna throw up, Goldberg says.
Hang around with Rogen and Goldberg long enough and they almost start to
blur one exceedingly funny dude named
Sethandevan. They laugh at the same obscure references, their wives are friends,
and they literally nish each others sentences. Apatow describes them as soulmates. Ive never seen them ght, he says.
They have a connection that I dont know
if Ive seen anywhere else in my life.
Theyre each others support system,
adds their friend Paul Rudd. I mean, so
are their wives but its diferent when
its guys, and its diferent when you work
together, and its diferent when youve
known each other since junior high. Ive
spent time with them together and apart,
and they still love making each other
laugh. You can see how creatively charged

56 ||| Rolling Stone

they get when they start to make the


other crack up.
As the sound guys fiddle with a few
more things, Rogen f lips through his
e-mail. What are you guys working on
next? he asks them.
Dolphin Tale 2, a sound guy says.
Rogen makes a dolphin sound. Then he
starts in on a story he read about a fe-

ARTIST AND ADVOCATE

Rogen testifying about Alzheimers in


front of a Senate subcommittee

male dolphin researcher whose dolphin


fell in love with her. Basically, he says,
she was trying to teach it English, but
it kept getting distracted by its physical
urges, so she would masturbate it to give
it some release so they could get back to
their work. The only problem was, the
dolphin ended up getting emotionally
attached.
But why? Goldberg asks.
Because she was jacking it of all the
time! Rogen says. Same reason Im attached to you.

he first thing that appears


onscreen in The Interview before the machine-gun battle and
the Siberian-tiger attack is a
title card bearing the name of
Rogen and Goldbergs production company, Point Grey. The name
comes from their Vancouver high school,
where they famously started writing Superbad when they were just 13. Most of
the characters in that movie including
Steven Glansberg, the kid who eats lunch
alone every day, and Sammy Fogell, a.k.a.

McLovin were based on their actual friends.


Rogen wasnt the coolest kid in school,
but he wasnt an outcast either. He liked
East Coast hip-hop (Wu-Tang Clan,
Beastie Boys) and Nineties nu metal
(Korn, White Zombie, Marilyn Manson) and wore his hair in dreadlocks that
he dyed green. He was a little bit jock-y,
playing rugby and earning a brown belt in karate,
until a foot injury prompted him to focus on comedy instead. He did standup about gym class and his
grandparents and trying to
touch boobs, until a local
casting call got him in
front of Apatow and scored
him a role on Freaks and
Geeks. The idea was to
go to Hollywood and get
his foot in the door, and
Goldberg would join him
after college and theyd
make their own movies.
Which is more or less how
it went.
Rogen moved to L.A.
with his parents in 1999,
when he was 17. He was a
little less open, a little more reserved, recalls Franco, one of his fellow Freaks. I
dont remember him smiling as much.
Their co-star Jason Segel had an apartment nearby, and Rogen and Franco
would hang out there and watch Kubrick
movies and rehearse. At some point, Seth
started writing these little scenarios for
our characters, says Franco, just little
things that we were planning to shoot on
our own. We never got it together enough
to shoot them, but in hindsight, it feels
like those were some of the seeds for the
way we work now.
After Freaks and Geeks and another
short-lived Apatow series, Undeclared,
there were a few years where Rogen
did pretty much nothing. He and Segel
wrote a pilot that HBO passed on. He
scrounged money doing punch-up work
on scripts like The Shaggy Dog and Big
Mommas House 2. I remember America invaded Iraq during that time, and I
smoked a lot of weed and sat on my ass
and watched the news for, like, ve weeks
straight, he says.
Rogen, incidentally, was thoroughly unprepared for Americas marijuana laws.
I was genuinely shocked at how illegal
it was here. I actually got arrested when
I rst moved to L.A. I was smoking a
joint at the beach, like I did my entire
childhood, and all of a sudden, it was, like,
whoop whoop whoop! Handcufed in the

December 18, 2014January 1, 2015

PAUL MORIGI/WIREIMAGE

SETH ROGEN

back of a police car. He ended up going to


court (It was mostly people shing without a license like, a hundred Mexican
dudes and me) and got of with a ne. I
dont think I have a record, he says. Its
never come up. . . .
Most of Rogens early roles were gruf
dudes with names like Ron and Bob and
Ken. (Hes one of those guys who looked
35 when he was 15, says Rudd.) He auditioned for Dwight on The Ofce and Elijah Woods character in Eternal Sunshine
of the Spotless Mind, but he and Goldberg also had the script for Superbad and
the idea for Pineapple Express, and they
couldnt understand why no one wanted to make them. We were pretty bitter
about it at the time, says Rogen. Wed
written stuf we thought was really good,
and it was really frustrating that it wasnt
getting made. We were probably kind of
assholes about it.
Now that people actually do return his
calls, Rogen has thrived by making movies with these same buddies, the cast of

ago: You populate your movie with funny


people, and you let them be as funny as
possible.
One thing people overlook about Rogen
is that beneath the stoner laugh and Labrador-ish demeanor, hes a little bit of an
operator. Hes a lot savvier than people might think, Rudd says. He thinks
things through. He and Goldberg usually have three or four projects in development at any given time a supremely unwake-and-bake-friendly workload that
currently includes a comic-book adaptation for AMC (Preacher) and a Christmas
movie co-starring Caplan and Joseph
Gordon-Levitt. (Theyre not the type of
people who spend seven months crying
about where they should put the comma,
Apatow says.) Rogen has also accumulated enough juice to pull some power
moves of his own: There arent many people in Hollywood who could call Harvey
Weinstein a well- documented psychopath and a real motherfucker and ever
hope to work again. But Rogen did.

a late-night adventure through a grocery


store, which ends in the realization that,
basically, there is no God. (Also, theres an
orgy.) Every time we watch it, were like,
I cant believe this is a real movie, says
Rogen. When he saw a rough cut recently, their old boss Sacha Baron Cohen (for
whom Rogen and Goldberg used to write
on Da Ali G Show) congratulated them by
saying, Just know, if nothing else, youve
gotten successful enough to make the craziest thing Ive ever seen in my life.
Which may be the most admirable
thing about Rogen: that he uses his pull to
make movies that, as he puts it, are fucking weird. The fact that they let us make
this movie is the coolest thing, Rogen says
of The Interview. Theyre giving us insane amounts of money to do whatever the
fuck we want. Jonah Hill was at the table
read, and afterward he went up to Amy
thats Amy Pascal, the head of their studio
and was like, I cant believe youre letting them make this fucking movie. And
she was like, I cant either!

ARE WE GONNA JUST MAKE MOVIES ABOUT


TRYING TO GET LAID OVER AND OVER AGAIN?
ROGEN SAYS. OR FOCUS ON SOMETHING THATS
MORE RELEVANT - WHILE STILL BEING FUNNY?
regulars he has jokingly referred to as
the Jew-Tang Clan. His movies with
Franco in particular Pineapple Express, This Is the End and now The Interview almost feel like postmodern Abbott and Costello movies, says Apatow,
just diferent variations of these friends
on wild adventures. One of the most
striking things about the films is how
democratic they are: Even though Rogen
co-writes, produces and, increasingly, codirects them, hes often the straight man,
the rare comic superstar whos content to
be the third- or fourth-funniest person in
his own movie.
With some comic actors, they need
to be the star, the funniest one nobody
can have better jokes, says Lizzy Caplan, who has known Rogen since Freaks
and Geeks and co-stars in The Interview
as a no-nonsense CIA agent (think Jessica Chastain in Zero Dark Thirty, but
funny). You see that a lot, and its a terrible way to work their ego makes it impossible for other people to be funny. But
Seth and Evan gured it out a long time

December 18, 2014January 1, 2015

In hindsight, Rogens two wisest career moves may have, paradoxically, been
his biggest misres: The Green Hornet,
a $110 million comic-book movie no one
really asked for, and The Guilt Trip, in
which he drives cross-country with a
post-menopausal Barbra Streisand. Neither movie is actually bad just conventional and studio-driven in a way Rogens
best stuf is not. (He also likes to point
out that theyre also PG-13 instead of R,
which, following Apatows formulation, is
like having LeBron on your team and not
letting him shoot.) The silver lining was
the realization that America didnt want
him to be conventional which in turn
freed him and Goldberg to pursue more
bananas ideas, like their upcoming movie
Sausage Party.
Its fucking lthy probably the most
R-rated thing weve ever done, Rogen
says. Which is fun, because it will look
like Toy Story 3. A Pixar-style animated movie directed by one of the guys who
co-directed Shrek 2, its a religious allegory about a ragtag crew of food items on

n e t hi ng you he a r a l o t
talking to people who know
Rogen well is how little of a lter he has. Seth is probably the
least-afected famous person Ive
ever met, in terms of his candor
and his lack of bullshit, says Rudd. Hes
just shockingly honest, agrees Apatow.
If you listen to him on The Howard Stern
Show, even Howard is shocked at his condence and his willingness to say, This is
exactly who I am, and I dont care what
anybody thinks. Recently, Rogen has
been especially outspoken on Twitter,
where in the past six months hes tweeted
disparagingly about the Washington Redskins, Hobby Lobby, Sean Hannity, Burger King, cable companies, Republicans,
Roger Goodell and the cop in Ferguson
not difcult targets, but worthy ones.
Its hard to pinpoint the beginning of
this heightened moral streak. Maybe it
came in May, when he defended himself against a Washington Post critic who
blamed movies like his for indirectly inspiring the UC Santa Bar- [Cont. on 86]

Rolling Stone

||| 57

Musics most exciting


punk rocker happens to
be a pop singer. A wild
night with Charli XCX

BY CARYN GANZ
PH OTO G R A PH BY T ER R Y R I C H A R D S O N

ts 2:45 a.m. in allston, massachusetts, and charli XCX is holding court at the kind of house party where
every red cup has been repeatedly reused and the only
mixer is a sad, depleted bottle of St-Germain. The 22-yearold pop star has already had a full night. She played a soldout concert, sipped Champagne while sneaking a cigarette
in the venues bathroom, and got laid. (Was the show all
right? shed asked in the dressing room after the gig. Because I had sex right before.) Now the U.K.s hottest pop export
is high-stepping in a rhinestone tiara and four-inch white platform

58

CHARLI XCX
heels, nailing every line of Eminems
Without Me, as undergrads from the
Berklee College of Music try not to gawk
too obviously. This song is legendary!
she exclaims.
Charli was invited here by a local producer, and shes relishing every moment.
She goes on to recite every word of Nellys
Hot in Herre and takes pictures of her
entourage a mix of low-key childhood
friends and a few glam music-biz types
pogoing around to the Killers Mr. Brightside. Youll never look this good again in
your entire lives! she says.
At one point, after going outside to bum
a smoke, she creeps up to the back windows brandishing a rake, trying, and failing, to spook people inside. She and her
makeup artist an amusingly tart sidekick
named Colby whos carrying a Moschino
bag shaped like a McDonalds Happy Meal
rhapsodize about Britney Spears, and
Charli sticks out her tongue for a Polaroid
thatll end up on her Instagram a day later
(caption: 80s college party).
As the evening winds down, Charli leans over to kiss a pal goodbye on the
front stoop. A New York friend named
Luce comes up behind her and shimmies
Charlis orange plaid skirt back down to a
PG-13 level. The other day my drummer
was complaining about looking at my vagina all night, she says with a sigh. Then
an Uber arrives, and she disappears into
the Boston night.

Cary n Ga nz is the editorial director of


RollingStone.com.
60 | R ol l i n g S t o n e |

RollingStone.com

LONDON QUEEN
(1) Charli XCX at the European
Music Awards in November.
(2) The 16-year-old Charli at an
early gig: It was pretty raw.
(3) With Jack Antonoff of
Bleachers last May in Las Vegas.

1
that meant to mean? Is that the holy grail
of compliments?
Under the blas front is a singer-songwriter who has been working on her music-biz breakthrough since early adolescence. (Charli once lamented to her dad
that her career wasnt going anywhere;
she was 14 at the time.) Born Charlotte
Aitchison, she grew up in the well-todo suburb of Bishops Stortford, a small
town popular among workers commuting into Londons nancial district. Her
Scottish father ran a screen-printing business but had music-industry aspirations:
He booked a club night in Stortford, once
packing the venue by claiming that the Sex
Pistols were going to play, then saying that
they canceled at the last minute.
Charli says she adored Britney Spears
and the Spice Girls, and movies such as
School of Rock (When I saw it, I was like,
I want to learn about that! ). But she
got serious about music when she joined
MySpace and discovered Europes mid2000s electro-pop scene, particularly
French label Ed Bangers roster of acts like
Justice and Ufe. Her father took an interest in his only childs passion and ofered
to bankroll an album, her self-made LP, 14.
Charli linked up with a promoter online
who invited her to play a rave at a venue

called the Peanut Factory in East London,


which turned into her rst proper gig. It
was a far cry from the peaceful town where
she attended a posh private high school
with a graduating class of around 20 students. Everyone was just fucking high,
she remembers of the gig, noting that she
was dressed like Lady Gaga in the Paparazzi video three years before the clip
came out (huge white sunglasses, blond
wig, yellow-and-black leotard). I stood
on a fucking crate and performed with an
iPod, she says with a laugh. It was pretty raw, and there were loads of people
dressed in these zebra cat suits. Her mother, a nurse from Uganda, brought her to
the show and waited patiently in the back.
(Her parents come out to see Charli play
whenever shes in London and call to keep
her updated on stats like how many views
her videos have on YouTube. When I meet
her father in London, he demands that
I turn on my recorder to take down one
key detail: Wikipedia keeps reporting the
name of her hometown incorrectly, and it
makes him nuts.)
D e c e m b e r 18 , 2 014 - Ja n u a r y 1 , 2 01 5

ROSE PETALS ON OPENING PAGE AND THIS SPREAD BY SURRPHOTO/SHUTTERSTOCK. THIS PAGE, CLOCKWISE
FROM LEFT: JEFF KRAVITZ/FILMMAGIC; COURTESY OF CHARLI XCX; ISAAC BREKKEN/GETTY IMAGES

f todays pop music has a sound,


Charli XCX helped create it, between
2012s I Love It the pounding kissof she co-wrote for the group Icona
Pop and Iggy Azaleas Fancy, arguably 2014s song of the summer. Those
hits, along with Charlis own single Boom
Clap, have made her one of the most indemand songwriters of the moment.
Lorde grabbed her for the latest Hunger Games soundtrack, and Azalea put
her to work on a Fancy follow-up called
Beg for It; Rihanna and Gwen Stefani
have also come calling. Shes capable of
so much, says admirer Jack Antonof of
fun. and Bleachers. Its hard to nd people that can speak to a large audience and
are still interesting.
Her new album, Sucker (out in December), could make her a bona de star: Its a
brash blast of punky pop thats equal parts
the Clash and Katy Perry. Charli says its
message is pussy power in your face,
dont give a fuck, bright red and pink. (She
often says that she sees music in colors.)
She acts unimpressed by the attention her
chart smashes have brought: As soon as I
got successful, everyone was like, Oh, my
God, Dr. Luke loves your songs! she says
with a fake squeal. I was like, What is

Charli regularly trekked into London


to perform, and in 2008 when she was
16 an Atlantic A&R rep caught one
of her late-night pub appearances and
signed her. She recorded an EP and hit
the road with two backing musicians,
playing events like SXSW in her signature get-up: plaid skirt, midrif-baring top, endlessly ipping hair. She says
the label didnt mess with her music too
much, but she endured irritating critiques
about her appearance from middle-aged
execs. Like, You dont look right, you
dont look like a pop star, she says, mimicking their derisive tone with a fullbody eye roll. And I was like, Well, thats
because Im not and I dont give a fuck
about what you think a pop star should
look like.
She says she tamped down some of her
attitude on her rst album, 2013s dreamy
True Romance, because I was afraid of
what people would say. Over her labels
protests, she left I Love
It off the LP because
she thought it didnt fit.
When I write my songs,
I see the videos rst, she
says. If I dont see a music
video, I know its not a
song I want for myself. I
Love It was something
I couldnt visualize, and
thats why I gave it away.
She would watch as
Ic ona Pop, m a de up
of two Swedish-model
types, rode the track into
an international hit: The
song went double platinum in the U.S., reached
Number Three on the Hot
100 and accompanied a
memorable coke binge
on the HBO show Girls.
Charli says that she and co-writer Patrik
Berger were made to feel like shit, and
not given enough credit for what we did.
But I Love It earned her enough money
to buy a new pad shes decorating like a
porno palace, and, more important, it
gave her creative freedom. The I Love It
thing denitely made my record label sit
back and listen, she says. But I felt really pissed of about the music industry because I just kept on getting asked to rewrite it.
By the time Charli and Berger sat down
to work on Sucker, we were just mad, she
says, noshing on fried chicken in London
a few weeks before her U.S. tour. She took
her frustration to Bergers studio in Sweden and banged out a straight-up punk
album. Then she tempered the mix via collaborations with Rivers Cuomo; Lily Allens secret weapon Greg Kurstin; Vampire Weekends Rostam Batmanglij; and
her longtime professional partner Justin
Raisen. The result sounds like gooey girl

pop, raucous punk and innovative electro


often all on the same track.
Today, Charli tours with an all-women
band that she outts in matching cheerleader uniforms with sucker emblazoned
on the chest a nod to Sixties girl groups,
the snarling girl-gang mentality of her
favorite movies (Charlies Angels, Jawbreaker) and high school, where feeling
disenfranchised, awkward and angsty
is the norm. Her latest video, for Suckers bratty Break the Rules, takes the vision one step further: She plays a teenage
rebel who shows up to a prom in a skimpy
slip dress and gets slimed, Carrie-style,
by a nasty warden, played by Rose McGowan. Charli lmed the clip at an L.A.
high school while class was in session, so
they had to mute the lyrics getting high
and getting wrecked during playbacks.
Charli lives by the motto rst thought,
best thought. She writes fast and doesnt
belabor a lyric or a hook too long there
are no Max Martin-style
rewrites at her sessions.
Charli doesnt give a shit
about anything but what
shes feeling, and thats the
coolest you can get, says
Antonoff. She whipped
up Break the Rules in
the parking lot of Quincy
Jones studio in L.A., on
a breather from sessions.
I went outside for a cigarette and then had this
idea and sang it into my
phone, she says. I took
it back in and I was like,
Hey, guys, what do you
think of this? Its kind of
so lame that its the best
thing youve ever heard?
Shes actually over
Sucker already, since the
songs have been in her life for a year, and
shes far along on her next album: Its
super-hyper-real, like Care Bears, J-popinspired, but also more urban than anything Ive done before.

WHY DO
PEOPLE HAVE TO
BE LIKABLE TO
SUCCEED? SHE
ASKS. SAY
WHAT YOU HATE.
I HATE PITBULL,
AND THATS FINE.
HE MAY HATE
MY STUFF.

D e c e m b e r 18 , 2 014 - Ja n u a r y 1 , 2 01 5

he i nspir at ion for t he


Break the Rules video came
from Charlis favorite source: the
Nineties, the decade when she was
born. Theres this photograph
that David LaChapelle took of Marilyn
Manson where hes the school warden and
hes holding a stop sign, Charli says, adding that when McGowan agreed to star in
the clip, I literally nearly wet myself.
Charli can lecture at length about any
aspect of Nineties culture; she is an expert
on the decades movies (The Craft), runway
shows (Versace) and Brit-pop wars (Who
did you choose? Oasis? No! Blur!). I love
the Nineties because more than any other
period of time, there was such an eclectic mix of styles going on, she says. More

so than in the Sixties and Seventies, when


there was an overriding look and sound.
The Nineties to me is Spice Girls and Britney. To you, its Nirvana and grunge. To
other people, its MC Hammer. All of those
things were so popular, and all of the looks
were so diferent and so prominent.
In a car creeping painfully slow through
Saturday-night traffic in Camden, she
launches into a screed about the dullication of pop culture. In the past 10 years,
why do people feel like musicians have
to be boring to succeed, and why do people have to be likable? Its just lame! she
says. Her voice climbs to a new octave and
she sits forward in her seat. Its so boring.
You cant like everything! You hate some
stuf! Say what you hate! Like, I hate Pitbull, and I dont care! Hes shit! And thats
ne! He may hate my stuf, and Im cool
with that! Perhaps unsurprisingly, Charlis label sent her to media training; afterward, her instructor told execs that, in all
of her years, she had never encountered a
worse pupil. I was like, What the fuck did
I do wrong? says Charli.

or all her r adical self-assurance, Charli for the past year has
been plagued by panic attacks that
seem to strike at the worst times.
I had a real bad one when I was in
the studio with Benny Blanco and Cashmere Cat, she says. I basically ran out
through the window on the rst oor and
dragged out half the blinds with me. Why
the unconventional exit? It was either that
or walking past them and having to endure
a really long conversation about why I was
freaking out, so I was like, Window it is!
Charli says she doesnt get anxious when
fans recognize her, which has started happening with increasing frequency since her
turn in Azaleas Fancy video (a takeof on
Clueless that casts Charli as the Brittany
Murphy character). The thing that triggered it, if Im really honest, was I went
to Brazil to do a festival and I just took so
many drugs, she says. For 10 days she partied like a rock star, and returned to the
U.K. to nd Fancy taking of into a new
stratosphere. Reality hit her hard. I was
going crazy, she says. I Love It came on
at my house, and I picked up the radio and
threw it at the wall. I felt like the Hulk.
But she says that the awkward girl in
the rst album is still in there. She keeps
a tight inner circle one childhood friend
works as her assistant and another minds
the merch table on tour. Im not supereasy to talk to a lot of the time, she says.
Im just kind of weird. Unless Im fucking
drunk, and then Im great.
Sucker has helped set her free. I used to
worry about being cool, Charli says. She
puts down a vodka-and-soda and looks
me in the eyes, inadvertently paraphrasing her most famous lyric. Now I realize
that I genuinely dont care.
RollingStone.com

| R ol l i n g S t o n e |

61

Chris
Rock

One of the all-time greats on


Kanye, Louis C.K., and how
he nally conquered the movies

By Brian Hiatt

PHO T O GR A PH BY PE T E R H A PA K

People seemed freaked by your Saturday Night Live jokes about the Freedom
Tower and the Boston Marathon attacks.
I work my jokes out the same way they do
polls for the president. I go into clubs randomly nothing to advertise that Im going
62 | R ol l i n g S t o n e |

RollingStone.com

Mo n t h x x , 2 014

GUTTER PHOTO CREDIT

The Rolling Stone


Interview

s chris rock would be the


first to tell you, stand-upcomedy brilliance doesnt
necessarily translate to movie
stardom. Onstage, Rock is a virtuoso
whose biggest challenge is living up to his
own legend; onscreen, hes third banana
to Adam Sandler or, at best, a well-liked
cartoon zebra. Richard Pryor has two
good movies out of 30 or 40, Rock says.
Rodney Dangereld had one. So its easy
to look at history and go, Maybe Im not
going to get one. He pauses. But I guess
youve got to make your own history.
Rock, who always idolized Woody
Allen, is taking one last shot at the writerdirector-star thing with December 12ths
Top Five, a loose, f lashback-laden, oftuproarious chronicle of a day in the life of
a very famous, very bummed-out comedian whos not quite Chris Rock. He directed
two previous movies, 2003s Head of State
(its improbable premise: a community organizer becomes the rst black president),
and 2007s unjustly reviled I Think I Love
My Wife, but, Rock says, watching Louie
and Curb Your Enthusiasm helped inspire
him to make a lm closer to his life. This
movie is the closest Ive gotten to capturing the tone of my stand-up, he says. Rock
made Top Five independently, with the
support of producer Scott Rudin, and a
studio bidding war broke out after an ecstatically received screening at the Toronto Film Festival in September.
Rock arrives alone no assistant, no
publicist for lunch one early-November
afternoon in Manhattans meatpacking
district, pulling out earbuds that had been
blasting LCD Soundsystem; he still uses
an actual iPod. Music takes away some of
your phone battery, he says. God forbid
someones trying to kill me and I cant call
for help because I was listening to Ja Rule.
Rock struggles with normal human interaction a lot less than some of his comedic
peers: In conversation, hes instantly warm
and engaging, as funny as youd hope him
to be without being manically on. Still,
as he rifs on life, work, politics and the
love for hip-hop that sufuses Top Five, he
occasionally slips into the faux-aggrieved
preacher-man shout of his onstage persona a sound familiar and loud enough to
turn heads at every nearby table.

Chris
Rock
to be there and try out the jokes. If they
work, they stay in the act, and if they
dont, they dont stay. And those jokes
seemed ne. Anyway, it wasnt any edgi
er than when Sam Kinison did the jokes
about Jesus last words and I was with
him that night, his guest at Saturday
Night Live. I was at Catch a Rising Star,
joking about crack at this white club on
the Upper East Side, with no one laugh
ing except one guy in the back row, who
turned out to be Sam. Hes like, Hey,
what are you doing tomorrow? Im host
ing Saturday Night Live. You want to
come? I saw him do Jesus last words
like, he was doing the hammer thing,
banging on the stage. I watched him snort
coke right before he went on! I was Pat
Boone compared to that night.
But its kind of good that you can still
freak people out, isnt it?
Im just thinking about making people
laugh. I hate when guys talk about Im
edgy. The worst comics think that way. Its
not edgy if youre talking about it! You just
live it. Tupac didnt talk about it. He just
lived it. It sneaks into your work. Richard
Pryor wasnt edgy. Richard Pryor was just
Richard Pryor. Im not Marilyn Manson.
Im not trying to shock people.
Was being writer-director-star a key
ambition for you?
Its not a key ambition. But whos
making those movies? If someone was
going to hand me something like Top
Five, Id be more than happy to act in it
[laughs]. And, you know, live a life. But
if youre a black comic, its What ver
sion of Beverly Hills Cop can you do?
And by the way, if someone wants to cast
me in one of those movies, Id do those,
too. But Ive got arty taste, which is great
and not great at the same time. Id rather
work with Wes Anderson, but I dont look
like Owen Wilson. Id love
to work with Alexander
Payne and Richard Link
later. But they dont real
ly do those movies with
black people that much.
So you gotta make your
own. And the black mov
ies of substance tend to be
civil rights.
Have you turned down
roles in those movies?
Yes. Put it this way: I
dont want to be in any
thing that happened be
fore the Jackson 5. Any
thing before them is just
black misery. Everything
before the Jackson 5 is es
sentially slavery, or close
to it. So as far as Im con
cerned, Michael, Marlon,
Tito, Jermaine and Jackie
ended slavery.

And look how youve repaid them in


your stand-up.
I know, youd think I would treat them
better!
You grew up being bussed to a white
school in Brooklyn, where you were subjected to constant racial bullying. Was it
hard to trust white people after that?
You know what? Even in all the mis
ery, there was always that Brad Pitt, 12
Years a Slave white person that was nice
[laughs]. Yeah. Davey Moskowitz was nice
to me. But its weird. In my family, the older
brother was a FivePercenter, a couple of
my younger brothers, for a time theyre
not now were Black Israelites. So theres a
cloud of rage around me, but being an art
ist kind of changes that. No matter what
you thought coming in, what ignorant
thing you believed, youre in show busi
ness for two years, youre like, OK, I was
wrong. Its hard to be mad at any partic
ular group of people when youre an artist.
You seem unlikely to have ever been
anything like a Five-Percenter, anyway.
Yeah, you just got to be really logical
when youre a comedian to a fault. Like
a lawyers got to believe in the law.
You said that losing your father when
you were 23 turned you cold.
I dont know if cold is the right word.
Its just that when you know people die,
its hard to really get that emotional about
anything. Like that scene in Annie Hall,
where Woody is at the psychiatrist talking
about how the universe is expanding and
were all going to die so whats the fuck
ing point? And there is something about
your dad dying that makes you go, Whats
the point? Whats the point of any of this
shit? Whats the point of taking this test
in school?
He didnt get to see your success.
He met Eddie Murphy I guess thats
some of my success. Yeah,
when your dad dies, you
know youre alone. Its
just like, your dad is Suge
Knight. Suge allows you
to act like a fool and make
mistakes. But Suge also
allows you to make The
Chronic! When you got
this big bully behind you,
you feel like, Im gonna try
all sorts of shit, Ill do any
thing. And when you lose
your bully, you tend to get
a little safer.
It feels like you loosened
up on this movie.
There was a lot more re
hearsal in this movie, a lot
more adlibbing. I totally
let people change their dia
logue. Im not like, Youve
gotta play it like this! Im
just welcoming the funk

I hate when
guys talk
about Im
edgy. The
worst comics
think that
way. Its not
edgy if youre
talking about
it! Tupac
didnt talk
about it. He
just lived it.

64 | R ol l i n g S t o n e

in this one. Im more George Clinton and


less Prince.
Your love for hip-hop is all over it. Did
you ever seriously try rapping?
Yeah, I did. I got a deal at, like, Atlantic
or an Atlantic subsidiary. Theres demos of
me rapping out there. It was before I was a
comedian! [Laughs.] Way before.
Whod you sound like?
Kind of like [deep voice, slow delivery]
Clap your hands, everybody! [Laughs.]
Im Chris Rock, and I want you to know
that these are the breaks! I grew up at
a time where somebody gives you a ier,
Grandmaster Flash is playing at some ar
mory, some place thats really dangerous if
youre not from there. Wed go up and see
Flash or Grand Wizard Theodore or Cold
Crush Brothers. And, Oh, Flash scratched
last night! OK, your mothers got a turn
table, my mothers got a turntable, lets go
down to the Wiz and price mixers.
And when did you give that up?
It just fell to the wayside. You get jobs
and shit. Honestly, if I had any idea that
DJs would make as much as they make
now! I still spin sometimes when Im in
some other country, Ill just get up there.
Someone like Chuck D will say that
there needs to be more historical awareness among hip-hop fans, that its not
right that the Stones can play arenas and
stadiums and Public Enemy cant.
The Stones can play arenas because
the Stones have songs that are not pure
ly based on references that you had to be
there for. I love Public Enemy. But they
dont have You Cant Always Get What
You Want. Kanye will be able to play are
nas maybe more than Jay Z honestly, be
cause theres a vulnerability and an emo
tional thing that happens in his music that
doesnt happen in most rap. I love rap, but
rap is like comedy: It rots. Comedy rots.
Trading Places is a perfect movie, just un
believably good. But there are other com
edies, not nearly as old as Trading Places, that just have references and things in
them that arent funny ve years later. And
raps got a lot of that.
Was your only contact with Kanye recording that bit on his album, or do you
know him at all?
I know him very well.
Is there an element of racism in the way
the culture responds to him?
To me, this is the way the culture re
sponds to anybody who says theyre great.
Theyre not going to respond to him any
diferent than they responded to Muham
mad Ali. Ali turned out to be right, but
lets not act like people just agreed with
him [laughs]. History will tell us if Kanye
is right. But I dont know, man. Im glad he
exists. Hes the most interesting artist in
Senior writer Bria n Hiatt wrote the
U2 cover story in November.

D e c e m be r 18, 2014 -Ja n ua r y 1, 2015

Classic Rock
(1) Rock as a young
stand-up. He got his first
gig at a comedy club after
seeing an ad in the paper.
(2) With his family in the
Eighties. (3) His breakout
role, as a crackhead in New
Jack City: Every black
person saw me in Jack
City. (4) During his tenure
at SNL. I couldve worked
harder, he says.

OPENING PHOTOGRAPH: GROOMING BY RASHIDA CARBO. CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: MICHAEL OCHS ARCHIVES/CORBIS; SPLASH NEWS;
ALAN SINGER/NBC/NBCU PHOTO BANK/GETTY IMAGES; MARY EVANS/WARNER BROS./RONALD GRANT/EVERETT COLLECTION

4
the history of hip-hop. I cant really fuck
with nobody that dont like Kanye.
The story of how you started in standup is crazy you saw listings in the paper
for comedy clubs, walked over, went
on that night, and killed with jokes you
had written on the spot. How was that
possible?
I had seen Richard Pryor, Eddie Murphy, Bill Cosby and Rodney Dangereld.
My rst 15 times onstage I killed like,
really big laughs. Then I got a little cocky,
and I proceeded to not get laughs for the
next four years. You see it in baseball a lot,
where a guys really good the rst month
and then basically theres a combination of
cockiness and the league adjusting to him.
What kind of jokes were you telling at
that early stage?
Bunch of dumb shit. Like, Miles Davis
is so black, lightning bugs follow him in
the daytime-dumb shit.
Whoa, mocking Miles Davis.
Exactly. Like, who am I? Who the fuck
am I?

D e c e m be r 18, 2014 -Ja n ua r y 1, 2015

Was it Eddie who taught you that you


needed to study this stuf ?
As soon as I became a professional, I
knew I had to study a little bit. I used to
hang out with Colin Quinn every night,
man, for seven years at the same clubs,
talking about our sets and comparing ourselves to Richard, George Carlin, Murphy,
Cosby. Eddie turned me on to Cosby. As a
kid, you might think hes corny. Eddie was
like, No, you cannot take this lightly. This
is some of the best shit ever done.
Do you think you didnt work hard
enough as an SNL cast member?
I couldve worked harder. And I think
Im dyslexic, slightly I notice it when Im
reading my kids certain books. Im like,
Goddamn, this is hard!
So youre saying a cue-card-driven
show was a challenge?
[Nods.] What I also learned is that
theres only a certain amount of hanging
out you can do per your talent, and I hung
out a little much for the talent I had.
You mean partying?

Partying, girls, drinking, getting high, whatever. Not paying attention.


Bought a red Corvette. Im
driving a red Corvette convertible. I have a big-tittyblond girlfriend. That was
1991, it was still gangster to
date a white girl. That shit
was like, Who the fuck are
you? Rick James? I dated
white girls and had eggs and
shit thrown at me motherfuckers throwing beer cans at me in my
convertible. And those were real white
girls! These white girls now . . . white men
dont even get mad when youre with them
cause theyre not real white girls. Back in
89, 91, you get killed for Loni Anderson.
Today, nobodys killing you for fucking
Gwyneth Paltrow.
While you were on SNL, you broke
out playing the crackhead
Pookie in New Jack City, a
really serious dramatic role.
How did that afect things
for you?
Its hard to even equate
it like every black person saw me in Jack City. I
couldnt move to Manhattan because I couldnt get
a fucking cab, and as soon
as New Jack City came out,
I couldnt take the train either. Michael J. Fox hosted
one week, and New Jack was
the number-one movie and
his was number two. They
literally made three movies
like that: Theres New Jack
City, Boyz N the Hood and
Menace II Society, and thats
pretty much it. And the other two are
coming-of-age movies. New Jacks like its
own thing its a fucking black gangster
movie. So it stands alone, in its own genre.
Given that early success, did you imagine more of a two-track career, with more
dramatic roles?
I had no level of sophistication. I had
dropped out of high school. My friends in
Brooklyn had regular jobs . . . very blue-collar. I was just going from thing to thing.
After New Jack, there was talk of me playing Basquiat, with Julian Schnabel directing. But heres the problem: I didnt know
who Schnabel was, and I didnt know who
Basquiat was. I could name everybody
in the Furious Five, though. There was
a little bit of talk about me playing the
Chris ODonnell part in Scent of a Woman,
which actually wouldve been a better
movie. Not cause of me it just wouldve
been a better movie with a black kid playing that part. But thats the only time I remember anyone thinking of anything even
remotely dramatic around New Jack time.

RollingStone.com

| R ol l i n g S t o n e |

65

Chris
Rock
Was it hard to get culturally black material on SNL back then?
It wasnt that it was difcult to get anything black on the show it was difcult
to get anything black on it that didnt deal
specically with race. You know? Thats
the thing. Its just like how theres not a lot
of race stuf in Top Five, but its as black
as any movie youll see in the next 15 years
its blacker than The Butler or the Jackie Robinson movie, its blacker at its core.
But its not about race. Its really black, the
way George Clintons really black, like the
Ohio Players Fire, Sweet Sticky Thing
is just some black shit. That shit is black.
Like a white man has nothing to do with
this shit.
Post-SNL, you kind of went into the
Rocky training camp and made yourself
into the kind of stand-up we know, right?
Heres what happened: I bought a house,
had a mortgage to pay, and I was just like,
Fuck trying to be famous. Let me just pay
my bills and immerse myself in stand-up.
My goal was to be like George Wallace or
Richard Jeni or Bobby Slayton. Comedians
know these guys. Theyre not household
names, but theyre amazing comedians.
That was my goal. Not to be famous, but to
be a working stand-up. Make a great living,
get a couple of houses, put the kids through
college. It got way bigger, but I just wanted
to be one of those guys.
And now, it sounds like your big challenge is trying to make your stand-up
more personal.
As you get older, you got to nd topics that arent reference-dependent. Did
you ever watch Bill Cosby Himself ? Richard Pryors Live in Concert is the best
stand-up movie ever, but Cosby Himself
sometimes its even better. Theres not one
reference in that thing that doesnt play.
People deal with emotions in music all
the time, but comedians
are always talking about
what they see. But we seldom talk about what we
feel. Thats the next thing
for me. Its not taking it
up a notch, but how do I
move forward artistically and not level out? Like
we said earlier, whats my
Cant Always Get What
You Want? I just want to
gure out more universal,
deeper things.
Like the way Louis C.K.
digs in?
Louie digs in, and I got
to dig in a little more.
Louie co-wrote your last
movie did he have advice
on this one?
Make it more dramatic. Theres a lot of jokes
that we shot that we didnt

put in cause they made the movie too silly.


That was the main thing: making sure the
drama worked. And it worked theres
more than enough comedy in the movie.
How closely do you follow politics?
I always had, like, a dumb-guys view
of current events. Always kind of know
a little bit of whats going on. If I knew
any more about current events, I probably wouldnt talk about it. Do I really want
to talk about Tim Geithner? No, Id shoot
myself in the head. I had to stop going on
the Bill Maher show. Too smart. Im on,
like, the barbershop level. That motherfuckers really talking about politics.
Todays Election Day are you voting?
Heres the weird thing: My dad died on
Election Day. The day George Bush Sr.
was elected president. Me, my uncle and
my brother were leaving the hospital the
next day. Wed been up all night, basically
trying to keep my father alive, so we didnt
know who won. Its like a movie. Literally,
on the ground theres a paper with bush.
Ill never forget my uncle was like, Aw,
shit, Bush won too. Like his brother died,
and to add insult to injury, Bush won, too.
Im always sad on Election Day, and then
Obama gets elected and Im like, OK, let
me give up this fucking thing of being sad
on Election Day gonna let that go.
Do you have an assessment of Obama at
this point in his term?
I think hes done well but its like,
I dont know who Tina Turners second
husband was, but he was better than Ike.
Right? Maybe he had faults, maybe he
lost his job or whatever, but he was better than Ike.
What could Obama have done diferently?
As bad as George W. Bush was, he revolutionized the presidency. He was the rst
president who only served the people that
voted for him. He ran the
country like a cable network; he only catered to
his subscribers. Obamas
main fault is not realizing
thats kind of what people
want. That whole tryingto-make-everybody-happy
thing is done. People who
voted for him want him
to do what Bush did. And
whoevers the next president will do what Bush did.
You once said even Nostradamus couldnt see the
end of American racism.
Were never going to see
the end of racism per se.
But Obama is like the polio
vaccine of racism people still get polio and die,
but there is a vaccine. They
dont have to get it. And my
kids, you know, its been 12

A comedian
has to live in
his head. All
this comedy
comes from a
lonely place.
When youre
surrounded
by an
entourage,
youre not
living in your
head.

66 | R ol l i n g S t o n e

years now and there hasnt been one racial


incident in my mostly white neighborhood
not even a tiny one.
A good portion of their lives has been
spent in the Obama era.
And not just Obama. Before him, the
secretary of state was black. Even if youre
not seeing it intellectually, visually you see
these things.
How does having daughters afect the
way you think about womens issues?
How does it afect the way I think about
women? People always want to know what
the world would be like if the country was
run by women just ask a black person.
We live in a matriarchal society. Youll
go to a black church. Theyll say bad shit
about men all the time. But you never
hear, Women need to step up. No, its all,
Youre the greatest thing that ever walked
the Earth.
So womens equality was always a given
for you?
Im from Bed-Stuy. In Bed-Stuy, the
women do better than the men. My father
drove a truck, my mother taught school.
My mother had an easier life than my father. Any girl I dated had an easier life than
me. They werent getting picked up by cops
and thrown in lineups and shit like that.
I dont recall the girls being called nigger
or any of that shit. Their stories arent my
stories, and they were in the same school
as me. Im not saying shit doesnt exist.
I mean, I think its shitty that theres no
woman talk-show host on late-night TV
how Chelsea Handler does not get one of
these jobs is beyond me. But when youre
talking to a black man black women are
over you, white women are over you.
To be fair, it doesnt seem like theres a
black woman in line for the presidency at
the moment.
Michelle Obama could be the next president if she wanted to be. You ever seen her
speak? She could be married to her husband and denounce him at the same time
shes that good: My husband was good,
but were going to do things a little diferently this time.
The director of the Broadway play you
did a few years back said she thought you
were sleepwalking through your life. What
did you make of that?
The play taught me that I could work
harder and that there was something to
get out of working harder. I remember in
school, once you realize youre not going
to be an A student, you realize that the
As get treated diferently, but B and D are
all the same. There is no diference in the
treatment of a B student and a D student.
Nothing! So there mightve been a little
bit of that in my career Im OK, Ill get
work. When I got in the play, I was literally
working with the best people in the world,
and then with this movie, too, I was just
like, Oh, I can work at this speed. I can be

D e c e m be r 18, 2014 -Ja n ua r y 1, 2015

ALI PAIGE GOLDSTEIN/PARAMOUNT PICTURES

HOLLYWOOD SHUFFLE Rock wrote and directed Top Five. If youre a black comic, its,
What version of Beverly Hills Cop can you do? he says. So you gotta make your own.

an A student. Theres some good shit here


in this A club.
How did the actual idea for Top Five
come to you?
I watch Louie, Seinfeld, Curb Your Enthusiasm. I thought, Lets do a movie
like that, but about the whole idea of black
fame. I wanted to make a nuanced black
movie. In all black movies, the rich people are always evil. And anybody thats educated is evil, which is honestly the worst
stereotype that you can have. Vanessa Williams in Soul Food you went to college!
Oh, my God, she must be horrible. Most
Tyler Perry movies, thats what it is. You
know, white entertainers do not have a responsibility to a community. Nobodys telling Bradley Cooper to keep it real. Harry
Belafonte is mad at Jay Z and Beyonc,
says they dont do enough. But nobodys
mad at, uh, whos my man from Maroon 5?
Adam Levine.
Yeah, no ones mad at Adam Levine
What are you doing for people with great
haircuts?
Your character wants to be taken seriously. Is that what you want?
I want to be taken seriously for comedy. Hows that? America kind of treats
comedians as second-class entertainers.
Bill Cosby as a writer is every fucking bit
as good as Bob Dylan. But no one thinks
of him in that way they just think, Oh,
hes funny. Demetri Martin is probably
more of an artist than Rihanna shes a
great singer and entertainer, but Demetri
Martin puts that shit on paper. Hes writing and creating. Itd be nice if that existed
in America. When Im in, you know, New
Zealand, they treat me like Im Thelonious Monk. Like Im John Coltrane. When
Dave Chappelle is in London, that motherfucker is Miles Davis. Thats some shit.

D e c e m be r 18, 2014 -Ja n ua r y 1, 2015

You make the money in America, but you


are an artist when you leave America.
Two of your biggest heroes Bill Cosby
and Woody Allen have had heavy allegations made against them. How do you
process that?
Its hard, man. You separate the work
from the thing, and you go, I really dont
know what happened. With Woody, I literally dont know. I mean, I got daughters
I dont want anyone calling my daughter
a liar or anything like that. The only thing
I can say is, Ive never seen anyone accused
of anything like that just once.
Youre turning 50 in, like, three months.
You look good.
Rich 50 is like 36.
But does that birthday have significance for you?
I mean, the only signicance is that my
dad died at 55 of natural causes, so I get a
little scared that way. It just makes me go,
Oh shit, my mothers going to turn 70. Im
more concerned with my mothers birthday
than mine. Cause its them, then us.
But here you are at 49, and you have
this renewed heat around you in movies.
What do you do with it? Dont waste it
on convertibles.
When you go back on tour, how do you
deal with the idea that people are expecting that you live up to everything youve
done before?
You just got to put in the work. Thats
all it is. If you watch enough Rocky movies and there are six of them, three of
them are really fucking good anytime
Rocky tried to take a shortcut in training,
he got his ass whooped. And, you know,
Rocky III, hes in a nice gym and the girls
are there kissing his muscles and all that
bullshit, and Mr. T beats the shit out of
him and then he has to go in the dirty gym

with the black guys. Theres no shortcut.


You got to go in the club and be uncomfortable. You got to go alone. The problem
with most comedians, why they get so unusually bad by my age not bad, but most
guys by my age are doing kid movies and
theyre doing family acts, even the edgiest motherfuckers. I think a lot of it has
to do with the entourage. I got nobody.
A comedian has to live in his head. You
got to be alone. When youre surrounded
by people, youre not living in your head.
Youre just not.
You are surrounded by family, though.
Yeah, but thats diferent I can go to
the comedy club by myself. The average
quote-unquote big star has a bodyguard
and goes with four people. Thats not how
you do it. All this comedy comes from a
lonely place you cant hear whats going
on in your head if youve always got a lot
of people. Especially people who arent comedians.
Eddie Murphy always talks about
going back on the road do you think he
will?
I wish he would. Nothing would make
me happier, but I dont think hes going
back out.
You cant pep-talk him back into that?
Everybodys tried. Im just not even
going to have the conversation anymore.
Just talk music or boxing.
Who do you like out there?
Kevin Harts new stuf is funny. Hannibal Burris new stuf is really funny. This
is the golden age of stand-up. There hasnt
been this many good stand-up comedians since, like, the Fifties. Jim Gafgans
a monster, hes fucking funny. Ron White
is unbelievably funny. Amy Schumers
fucking great, man. A lot of funny people.
Aziz Ansari just played the Garden. Bill
Burr is hysterical. Louis. The Nineties,
that was just a boom of clubs, that was
like disco. Artistically, it aint never been
this good.
One of my favorite points youve made
is that life isnt short its long. Especially
if you make the wrong decisions.
Its long, dude! People cry when they
get ve years of jail. Cry! Grown men. Cry.
Five years is a long time.
So have you made the right decisions?
I think Ive fucked up as much as anybody. But Ive been lucky enough not to repeat bad decisions thats the key. Like,
lets not make the same mistakes as my
other movies. Hey, what would happen
if I worked with a really good producer?
A lot of people when they have stuf that
ops like a movie that gets a 10 on Rotten Tomatoes they just seek out the people that liked it and listen to nobody else.
They put themselves in a world where their
failure is not a failure. I never want to be
that guy. Life gets long cause you keep
doing the same shit.

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67

AFTER 13
YEARS OF WAR,
WE HAVENT
DEFEATED THE
TALIBAN, BUT WE
HAVE MANAGED
TO CREATE
A NATION RULED
BY DRUG LORDS
BY MATTHIEU
AIKINS
POISON HARVEST
Afghanistan produced 6,400
tons of opium in 2014, about 90
percent of the worlds supply.

68 | R ol l i n g S t o n e |

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Afghanistan:
The Making of
a Narco State

RollingStone.com

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69

NARCO STATE
traps amid the mud-walled compounds and orchards. Today, the
area is peaceful, the kind of green,
elmand province in southern afghanat farmland where you can watch
a tree scroll slowly across the horiistan is named for the wide river that runs
zon as you drive, or a faraway thunderhead mount. The weather is hot,
through its provincial capital, Lashkar Gah, a
and the air has the nectary scent of
early summer. Marjah is crisslow-slung city of shrubby roundabouts and glasscrossed by irrigation canals; their
fronted market blocks. When I visited in April,
banks, bushy with vegetation,
sprout pump hoses that shoot down
there was an expectant atmosphere, like that of
like drinking straws. Half-naked
kids plunge from the mud embanka whaling town waiting for the big ships to come
ment into the cool brown water.
in. In the bazaars, the shops were lled with dry goods, farming machinThis area was all controlled
by the Taliban until the Marines
ery and motorcycles. The teahouses, where a man could spend the night on
came, says Hekmat. He smiles
fondly. It was great when the Mathe carpet for the price of his dinner, were packed with migrant laborers,
rines were here. The Americans
or nishtgar, drawn from across the southern provinces, some coming from
spent freely, showering the locals
with cash-for-work projects and
as far aeld as Iran and Pakistan. The schools were empty; in war-torn disconstruction contracts, and outtting a local, anti-Taliban militricts, police and Taliban alike had put aside their arms. It was harvest time.
tia that employs child soldiers and
imposes a levy on opium elds. We
Across the province, hundreds of thousands of people were taking part in
pass a wide scar of cleared ground
the largest opium harvest in Afghanistans history. With a record 224,000
that had once held a Marine outpost. But now theyre all gone.
hectares under cultivation this year, the same people who turned the country into
Originally an empty stretch of desert
country produced an estimated 6,400 the worlds biggest source of heroin.
west of the Helmand River, Marjah was
tons of opium, or around 90 percent of
Nowhere is this more apparent than developed into farmland by a massive irrithe worlds supply. The drug is entwined here in Helmand, where nearly a thou- gation project that began in 1946 and drew
with the highest levels of the Afghan gov- sand U.S. and coalition soldiers lost their support from USAID, as part of the Cold
ernment and the economy in a way that lives during the war, the highest toll of any War competition for inuence against the
makes the cocaine business in Escobar- province. Helmand alone accounts for al- Soviets. Nomadic tribes from around the
era Colombia look like a sideshow. The most half of Afghanistans opium produc- country were resettled here, and its elds
share of cocaine trafcking and produc- tion, and police and government ofcials became fertile with wheat, melons, pometion in Colombias GDP peaked at six per- are alleged to be deeply involved in the granates and, with the arrival of the wars
cent in the late 1980s; in Afghanistan drug trade. But the Afghan governments four decades ago, opium poppies.
today, according to U.N. estimates, the line is that poppy cultivation only takes
Pulling of onto a dirt road, we thread
opium industry accounts for 15 percent of place in areas controlled by the Taliban. our way between the high mud walls that
the economy, a gure that is set to rise as Theres no opium in the nearby districts, enclose each family compound here and
the West withdraws. Whatever the term Maj. Gen. Abdul Qayum Baqizoi, who was come to a stop. Hekmats paternal uncle,
narco state means, if there is a country to the provincial police chief at the time, tells Mirza Khan, wearing a robe and a neatly
which it applies, it is Afghanistan, says me. The opium is in the faraway areas, trimmed beard, greets us warmly. Behind
Vanda Felbab-Brown, a senior fellow at and theyre not safe for you to visit.
him is a eld of dull-green poppies, the end
the Brookings Institution who studies ilHowever, on my second day in town, I result of the tiny black seeds he and his
licit economies in conict zones. It is un- meet a 28-year-old soft-spoken teacher family sowed back in November. Ive been
precedented in history.
named Hekmat. He says that he can take planting this since the time of the CommuEven more shocking is the fact that the me to relatively secure areas in Marjah, nist revolution, he says.
Afghan narcotics trade has gotten undeni- just outside Lashkar Gah, where poppy
Mirza Khans son is standing amid the
ably worse since the U.S.-led invasion: The is being grown. His family is involved in chest-high stalks, in his hand a lancing
country produces twice as much opium as the business, he says. And anyhow, hes tool, a curved piece of wood with four shalit did in 2000. How did all those poppy free the students have gone to work on low blades on its tip. Lancing is laborious
elds ower under the nose of one of the the harvest.
and delicate work; he moves one by one to
biggest international military and developeach bulb, cradling it with his left hand
ment missions of our time? The answer lies
he next day, hekmat and drawing the blades across it in a diagpartly in the deeply cynical bargains struck
and I cross the broad tor- onal stroke with his right. You cant press
by former Afghan President Hamid Karzai
rent of the Helmand River too deeply, or otherwise the bulb dries up
in his bid to consolidate power, and partand head west, along a after just one lancing, he explains, his
ly in the way the U.S. military ignored the
smooth stretch of paved hands f licking deftly among the poppy
corruption of its allies in taking on the Talroad that was once a dirt heads. Were able to come back and lance
iban. Its the story of how, in pursuit of the track studded with roadside bombs. Its each of them four or ve times.
War on Terror, we lost the War on Drugs hard to imagine now, but Marjah was once
The bulbs are lanced in the afternoon,
in Afghanistan by allying with many of the the site of one of the ercest battles of the and the milky sap seeps out through the
war, when, in 2010, the Marines air-as- night, thickening and oxidizing into a
Matthieu Aikins is the Schell Fellow at
saulted into the Taliban-controlled area, dark-brown hue. In the mornings, the
the Nation Institute. He lives in Kabul.
braving gun battles and tangles of IED nishtgar go from bulb to bulb scraping of

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RollingStone.com

D e c e m b e r 18 , 2 014 - Ja n u a r y 1 , 2 01 5

OPENING SPREAD: VICTOR J. BLUE

Do you know how much this is worth


on the streets of London? I ask him. He
shrugs, and I make a quick calculation.
Ten pounds of opium can be rened into a
pound of pure heroin. Cut it to 30 percent
purity and sell it by the gram thats 1,500
grams at a hundred bucks a pop. This is
worth over $150,000.
Thats a 25,000 percent markup. We
stare at each other for a moment, and
Mirza Khan gives a chuckle. He shakes
his head in amazement. A future hundred
grand sitting in the living room of a guy
who doesnt have plumbing, electricity or
furniture. Someone between him and that
junkie is clearly making a killing.

2
3

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP: MAX BECHERER/POLARIS; ALLAUDDIN KHAN/AP IMAGES; AP IMAGES

Losing the Drug War


(1) In 2010, the Marines took back
Marjah from the Taliban, but today
the area is used to plant poppy. (2)
In 2000, Taliban leader Mullah Omar
banned opium; (3) two years later,
the U.S. installed Hamid Karzai (right)
as president, whose half-brother was
later implicated in the drug trade.

the sticky resin with a at blade, which


they wipe into a tin can hanging around
their necks. Fifteen workers can harvest a
productive hectare within a week. When
you consider that Helmand alone has at
least 100,000 hectares under cultivation,
you get a sense of the vast amount of manpower that must be mobilized.
Over the next two days, Hekmat drives
me around, visiting the poppy elds. On
one three-acre plot, we nd half a dozen
men at work, overseen by a bent, whitebearded old farmer named Hajji Abdullah
Jan. I ask him why hes not worried about
getting caught in a secure, governmentcontrolled area like Marjah. The government has been distracted by the elections,
he says, referring to this past springs presD e c e m b e r 18 , 2 014 - Ja n u a r y 1 , 2 01 5

idential contest. And anyhow, theyre corrupt. He and the other farmers I speak
to say that they were paying around $40
per acre in bribes to the local police. Next
year, Ill plant twice as much, he says, regarding the eld with satisfaction.
Marjah had been largely poppy-free
since the arrival of the Marines, due to
eradication campaigns and the flood of
cash the Americans pumped into the economy. Now that foreign aid has dried up
and the governments interest in punishing farmers has waned, people like Mirza
Khan and Abdullah Jan followed simple
economic logic: Wheat prices were too low
to be protable, so this year, all over Marjah, poppy was being planted.
Back at Hekmats house, I ask his uncle
Mirza Khan if hell show me the results
of his harvest thus far. He returns with a
polyurethane bag the size of a soccer ball
and hefts it onto the carpet. He unwinds
a thick rubber strap, and a sour, vegetable odor lls the room. Inside is a mass of
raw opium, with a rich brown color and a
moist texture, like pulped gs. Its about 10
pounds, a half-acres yield. If Im lucky, I
might get 60,000 kaldar for this, he says.
Thats about $600.

from the farmers elds at harvest


time, Afghanistans opium was beginning
a journey that would span vast global webs
of trafckers, corrupt ofcials and powerful militant groups. Back in the provincial capital of Lashkar Gah, I arrange an interview with a drug
smuggler, who insists on meeting in a neutral location; the city
is calm, but threats lie close beneath the surface, both from internecine drug-maa disputes
and the Taliban.
At a little teahouse on a quiet
street, Im ushered into a small
back room whose walls and carpets vie in griminess, and I am
introduced to a stocky middleaged man with a skullcap and
beard. Ill call him Sami. He tells
me that hes from the district of
Garmsir, near the Pakistani border. When war with the Soviets
broke out, he ed the country, along with
millions of other Afghan refugees. He grew
up in a camp near the border town of Chagai, in Pakistan. After nishing 11th grade,
he got work as a driver and began to ply the
route from Garmsir to Chagai, smuggling
opium through the desert wastes. There
are more than a hundred ways through
the desert, he tells me. The police checkpoints are in one, and the rest of the desert
is free for smugglers.
Afghanistan is landlocked, and its borders leak opium like sieves into ve neighboring countries. In recent years, the
northern route to Russia and Europe via
Tajikistan has gained importance, but the
southern route through Balochistan still
accounts for the largest portion of opium
that leaves the country. From there, it is
smuggled into Iran, and then onward to
the Balkans, the Persian Gulf and Africa.
Most of it is destined for Western Europe.
The Balochistan border area between
Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran is one of
the most remote and lawless places on
Earth. Two hundred thousand square
miles of desert and dune seas are broken
only by spindly granitic eruptions; the ethnic Baloch and Pashtun tribes that conRollingStone.com

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71

NARCO STATE
trol the area are heavily armed and have
been involved in various kinds of smuggling for centuries. Some are nominally cooperative with the state, while others
are engaged with a bewildering mix of insurgent groups: secular Baloch rebels who
seek independence from Pakistan, Sunni
anti-Iranian groups and a wide array of Islamist militants, including the Taliban. Its
a natural haven for illicit activities.
At the center of this world is Baramcha,
a smuggling hub on the Afghan side of the
border in the Chagai Hills, 150 miles to
the south and free of government control
since 2001. It functions as a kind of switching station for much of the opium trade.
The harvest by farmers like Mirza Khan
is consolidated by local traders into larger shipments ranging from a few hundred pounds to several tons and sent to
Baramcha, where it is purchased by Pakistani and Iranian smugglers who carry it
abroad. The big deals are conducted between trusted parties, with money sent
via the informal money-trading system
known as hawala, which is also a linchpin in global money-laundering circuits.
One side pays the hawaladar, who gives
you a phone number and a code that, used
at a corresponding hawaladar a country
or continent away, lets the recipient claim
the money. The accounts are settled later.
Baramcha is jointly controlled by the
Taliban and a handful of powerful smuggling families, pre-eminent among them
that of Hajji Juma Khan, a drug baron
who was arrested by the DEA in Jakarta
in 2008. Today, his relative Hajji Sharafuddin presides over the smugglers of the
town, while the Taliban enforces security. The Taliban has a court there to resolve peoples problems, says Sami. The
security situation is good for the people
living there.
Baramcha was once just a collection of
mud-walled compounds, but these days
you can find late-model Land Cruisers
driving past concrete mansions this despite sporadic raids and airstrikes by U.S.
and Afghan forces. The area is so remote
that raiding teams would have to refuel their American helicopters in the desert using fuel bladders parachuted out the
back of a cargo plane. Theres an area of
town that we used to call Hajji JMK Village, says a member of Afghanistans elite
commando units who has hit the area a
number of times with Marines and British special forces. Its like a Sherpur in
the desert, he says, referring to a neighborhood in Kabul notorious for its gaudy
poppy palaces built by the countrys warlords. They had everything out there: generators, appliances, fancy cars. We used to
take ice cream out of their freezers.
During the raids, he tells me, Baramchas inhabitants would ee across the border to Pakistan, where Pakistani forces
would line up and stand guard until the
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Americans left. The drug smugglers and


the ISI are tight together, he says, referring
to Pakistans intelligence service. Sami
makes similar claims about Baramchas
leadership. They have houses on the Pakistani side, he says. (The ISI denies any connection to smugglers or the Taliban.)
The U.N. has estimated that the Taliban makes hundreds of millions of dollars
from taxing opium and other illicit activities. But thats only a fraction of the $3
billion that Afghanistan earns from the
drug trade. To nd the biggest beneciaries of opium, you need to
go from the poppy palaces
in Baramcha to the ones
in Kabul.

administration, seeking a light footprint, partnered with anti-Taliban warlords, including the Northern Alliance,
to take control of the country. In its quest
for vengeance, the U.S. allowed gures
accused of being involved in grave civilwar-era human rights abuses to come to
power; these included people like Mohammad Qasim Fahim and Abdul Rab
Rassoul Sayyaf, whose rival mujahedeen
factions shelled Kabul to rubble and who
would later become the countrys vice
president and a leading member of Parliament, respectively.
These were the rst in
a series of decisions that
helped revive the AfNarco
ghan opium economy in
the u nited states
a drastically expanded
corruption
alliances with opium trafform. Within six months
went to the top
ckers in Afghanistan go
of the U.S. invasion, the
of the Afghan
back to the 1980s, when
warlords we backed were
government,
the CIA waged a dirty war
running the opium trade,
wrote a
to undermine the Soviet
and the spring of 2002
occupation of the country.
saw a bumper harvest of
U.S. ofcial.
Though opium had been
3,400 tons. Meanwhile,
President
grown for centuries in Afthe international commuKarzai was
ghanistans highlands,
nity and the Afghan govplaying us
large-scale cultivation was
ernment paid lip service
like a ddle.
introduced in Helmand by
to counternarcotics, with
Mullah Nasim Akhundthe latter adopting an ofzada, a mujahedeen comcial strategy that fantamander who was receivsized about opium proing support from the ISI and the CIA. duction being reduced by 75 percent in ve
USAIDs irrigated farmlands were perfect years and eliminated entirely within 10.
for cash-crop production, and as AkhunHamid Karzai, who had been plucked
dzada wrested control of territory from from obscurity to serve as president, was
the Communist government, he intro- busy cementing, with U.S. acquiescence, a
duced production quotas and ofered cash political order deeply linked to the opium
advances to farmers who planted opium.
trade. In the north, he wooed the NorthWhen Afghanistan descended into a ern Alliance commanders as partners; in
civil war in the Nineties, the Akhundzadas his southern homeland, he appointed Sher
rose as the provinces dominant warlords, Mohammad Akhundzada as governor of
only to be forced out in 1995 by the rise of Helmand, the nephew of the now-deceased
the Taliban. Though the fundamentalist Mullah Nasim, the same guy who had rst
movement strictly prohibited drug con- introduced large-scale poppy cultivation
sumption, the support of wealthy opium in Afghanistan. Narco corruption went to
traders was crucial to its early success.
the top of the Afghan government, wrote
In the summer of 2000, the countrys Thomas Schweich, who served as a senior
fundamentalist leaders announced a total U.S. counternarcotics ofcial in Afghaniban on opium cultivation, a decision by stan from 2006 to 2008. Sure, Karzai had
the Taliban that we welcome, as former Taliban enemies who proted from drugs,
Secretary of State Colin Powell said. It re- but he had even more supporters who did.
mains a mystery why the Talibans reclu- (Spokesmen for both Karzai and current
sive leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar, President Ashraf Ghani declined to commade the call. But the Taliban enforced ment for this story.)
his decision with their customary harshThese were boom times for Helmands
ness. In Helmand, those caught plant- drug smugglers. In Lashkar Gah, I meet
ing poppy were beaten and then paraded a man Ill call Saleem, a former smuggler
through the village with their faces black- who started his rst heroin lab in 2002,
ened with motor oil. The following spring, as a way of moving up the value chain and
the only signicant opium harvest was expanding his margins. With his penduin the corner of the northeast that was lous gut and cherubic, rosy-cheeked face,
still controlled by the Talibans rivals, the Saleem looks like Santas drug-dealing litNorthern Alliance. Opium production fell tle brother. Opium takes up a lot of space,
from an estimated 3,276 tons in 2000 to and theres less prot, he says, explaining
185 tons in 2001.
his decision to go into the manufacturThen history intervened. After the at- ing business. He and others in the opium
tacks of September 11th, 2001, the Bush trade seemed to inhabit a separate world
D e c e m b e r 18 , 2 014 - Ja n u a r y 1 , 2 01 5

LARRY TOWELL/MAGNUM PHOTOS

from the war, one where money was all


that counted. I have worked in the government-controlled areas, as well as the
Taliban-controlled areas, he says, laughing. In some places, we could see the Talibans checkpoints from the factory. When
we were in the governments areas, we paid
money to the local ofcials.
Saleem sold his heroin to Iranian trafckers in Nimroz, a large, mostly desert
province to the west of Helmand whose
economy rests almost entirely on opium.
Like other smugglers and Afghan lawenforcement sources that I spoke to, he describes a system where the police and local
government ofcials were an integral part
of the chain, to the point where the police
would often transport drugs on his behalf,
especially over the nal, most dangerous
stretches, where the Iranian border forces were waging a bitter war against smugglers. We would talk to someone in the
government, and that person would take
the drugs to the border, where the Iranian smugglers had their own person waiting, Saleem says.
For the rst ve years, there was little
risk involved. Business was good. But international embarrassment was growing over
Afghanistans booming opium production.
Law enforcement agencies like the DEA
were starting to build up their activities in
Kabul. The British, who were set to take
over Helmand as part of NATOs expanding mission, insisted in 2005 that Karzais pick for governor, Sher Mohammad
D e c e m b e r 18 , 2 014 - Ja n u a r y 1 , 2 01 5

A Nations Deadly Habit


In Afghanistan, heroin addiction rates have
more than doubled. Eight percent of Afghans
are drug addicts, twice the global average.

Akhundzada, be removed, after a Britishled team raided his compound and discovered nine tons of opium and heroin. (Akhundzada claimed he had seized it from
smugglers and was going to destroy it.) A
confrontation was brewing between the
drug-enforcement community on one side,
and Karzai and the Afghan government
on the other. But a third force would soon
enter the debate: the Pentagons generals,
who werent going to let concerns over drug
trafcking derail their troop surge.
telling characteristic of the Afghan narco
state and of narco states
in general is how often
the fox is selected to guard
the henhouse. One drug
courier from Helmand was caught with a
letter of safe passage signed by the head of
Afghanistans counternarcotics police, Lt.
Gen. Mohammad Daud Daud. A convicted heroin trafcker, Izzatullah Wasi, was
appointed by Karzai as the head of an anti-corruption agency. Karzai was playing
us like a ddle, wrote Schweich, the U.S.
counternarcotics ofcial.
In the opium-rich south, in addition to
Akhundzada in Helmand, Karzai relied on

his own half-brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, to run the crucial province of Kandahar. Wali, who was dogged for years by allegations that he played a central role in
the souths drug trade and who was assassinated in 2011 insisted on his innocence and, in public at least, U.S. ofcials claimed there was no hard evidence.
But on trips to Helmand and Kandahar,
I am told by U.S. and Afghan sources,
along with individuals involved in the
drug trade, that Wali presided over a system where corrupt ofcials were appointed to key positions in return for protection
payments. Its the way organized crime
works, says a former Justice Department
ofcial with extensive experience in Afghanistan. I dont want to know as long
as Im getting my cut.
The main police checkpoints in the
south on Highway 1 were controlled by
Ahmed Wali, an Afghan police official tells me, referring to the road that
connects the countrys provinces. Say
20 partners get together to buy a ton of
opium in Jalalabad. Between them, they
all have connections to the chiefs of police
and governors in each of these districts.
They send an agent to the checkpoint
who pays of the commander and lets him
know which truck to allow to pass.
But even as the scale of the Afghan
narco state was becoming apparent, President Obamas surge in 2010 brought a
new set of rules. The arrival of tens of
thousands of troops and billions in spendRollingStone.com

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73

ing might have been a golden opportunity to address the opium problem. Instead,
the opposite occurred. The irony of the
surge was that the military repeated the
same collaborations with the warlords as
it had done under the Bush-era light footprint. Whereas the excuse before was that
there were too few troops, now it was that
there were too many.
Obama had given the military just four
years to get 100,000 troops in and out of
the country, defeat the Taliban and build a
lasting Afghan army and police force. On
the ground, American commanders shortterm imperatives of combat operations
and logistics trumped other
advisers long-term concerns
over corruption, narcotics and
human rights abuses, every
time. Notorious figures like
the presidents brother Ahmed
Wali were thought to be too
crucial to the war efort to be
held accountable or replaced.
Drug control wasnt a priority, says Jean-Luc Lemahieu, who was head of the
U.N.s Office on Drugs and
Crime in Afghanistan from
2009 to 2013. Limiting casualties was, and if that meant
engaging in unholy alliances
with actors of diverse plumage, such was the case.
According to U.S. ofcials,
a sort of informal bargain
was struck at the interagency
level: The DEA, the FBI and
the Justice and Treasury departments would not pursue
top Afghan allies who were involved in the drug trade. Instead, the focus
would be on Taliban-linked trafckers. Investigations and prosecutions were to be
put on the back burner for now. Theyre
DEA agents they want to go out and capture people, says the former Justice ofcial. The people who got that message
took it smartly. Theres time you can wait.
The evidence doesnt go away.
In the meantime, the DEA and the FBI
would try to work through the Afghan
system by establishing several specialized units within the Ministry of Interiors
counternarcotics police. The Afghan personnel were handpicked by their American
mentors. They answered directly to Dauds
replacement, Gen. Baz Mohammad Ahmadi, a canny political operator who some
nicknamed the Teon Chameleon for his
ability to sense just how far up the chain of
command his teams could target. I call it
the Icarus phenomenon: They know how
high they can y before the sun melts their
wings, says the former Justice ofcial.
Initially, that meant busting midlevel
ofcials who had pissed of their political
patron. But last year, Ahmadi and his U.S.
advisers trumpeted the arrest of Hajji Lal
74 | R ol l i n g S t o n e |

RollingStone.com

Jan, whom ofcials describe as one of the


souths biggest drug trafckers. Originally from Helmand, Lal Jan allegedly made
payments to Afghan officials and Taliban commanders alike as he transported
vast shipments of opium out of the country. He was a well-respected businessman, very close to prominent families in
Afghanistan, but at the same time, in bed
with the Taliban and providing them large
amounts of money, says a senior Western
counternarcotics ofcial. There are a lot
more Hajji Lal Jans here.
Lal Jan was notorious enough to be formally sanctioned as a foreign narcotics

Drug Overload
With poppy production entrenched in every
level of society, there is little incentive to crack
down. Eradication is a joke, says one ofcial.

kingpin by Obama in June 2011, but he


had been living openly in Kandahar city,
allegedly under the protection of Karzais
brother. Walis death freed space to take
him down, the ofcial says. According to
U.S. and Afghan ofcials, as well as court
documents obtained by Rolling Stone,
in the fall of 2012 several drug trafckers
ngered Lal Jan as their boss. On December 26th, 2012, Lal Jans home was raided
by an Afghan police commando unit. Lal
Jan escaped, however, and was on the run
when he allegedly made a call to the governor of Kandahar, Tooryalai Wesa. Wesa
said he would call Karzai and nd out what
was happening, and that he should wait,
says an Afghan ofcial involved in the investigation. The surveillance team was
monitoring Lal Jans phone and was able
to pinpoint his location and arrest him.
Lal Jan was own back to Kabul, where
a behind-the-scenes struggle occurred

over his fate. It took quite a conversation


with Karzai to persuade him to allow the
prosecution to go forward, says the senior
Western counternarcotics ofcial. Kandahar Gov. Wesa and a slew of elders pled
Lal Jans case. (Wesa says that Lal Jans
case was handled entirely by the courts
and declines to comment further.)
Lal Jan was taken to the Criminal Justice Task Force, a U.S.-and-coalitionfunded unit that consists of a special
prosecutorial team, judges, a court and
a prison. Located in a fortied stretch
of terrain near Kabuls airport, it is supposed to be insulated from political pressure and security threats, but
Lal Jans inf luence was felt
nonetheless. According to officials familiar with the incident, a group of men was
able to get inside, confront a
prosecutor and ofer to balance him on a scale with his
own weight in stacks of $100
bills. He had them thrown of
the compound. The prosecutors, who often face retaliation from the powerful men
they arrest, were shaken. I
dont know if Ill make it home
alive to my family each day,
one of them tells me.
After a trial, Lal Jan was
convicted of narcotics trafcking and sentenced to 20
years in prison. His arrest
was held up as an example of
the U.S.s successful counternarcotics program, and evidence that the Afghan government was willing to take
steps to curb narco trafcking. That case
was briefed at the White House when
Karzai went to visit in January 2013, as
one of the major accomplishments of the
counternarcotics efort, says the former
Justice Department ofcial. He laughs at
how premature their optimism was. We
expect that if its going to be corrupt, its
going to be corrupt right now. But theyre
patient.
Instead, what happened next, according to Afghan and U.S. ofcials, shows
how deeply drug money has penetrated the highest levels of the executive and
judicial branches of the Afghan government. On appeal at the Supreme Court,
Lal Jans sentence was reduced to 15 years.
After an order from the Presidential Palace, Lal Jan was transferred to Kandahar,
where, on June 4th, a local court ordered
him set free, using a provision in Afghanistans old criminal code, which provides
release for good behavior for sentences less than 15 years. Lal Jan immediately ed to Pakistan. The president issued
an order to re-arrest him, says the ex-Justice ofcial. He shakes his head. That was
pretty cynical.
D e c e m b e r 18 , 2 014 - Ja n u a r y 1 , 2 01 5

PAOLO PELLEGRIN/MAGNUM PHOTOS

NARCO STATE

f you understand the


The U.S. government, for its part, acAfghan government as a knowledged that there are no quick sonarco state, then the fact lutions at hand. The U.S. interagency is
that opium production developing an updated counternarcotics
has actually increased strategy for Afghanistan, says Jen Psaki,
while the U.S. spent bil- the State Departments spokeswoman.
lions on counternarcotics eforts and troop These are long-term efforts that build
numbers surged starts to make sense. A the foundation for eventual reductions in
completely failed state Afghanistan in opium harvests.
2001 cant really thrive in the drug trade.
Brookings Institutions Velbab-Brown,
Traffickers have no reason to pay off a who has studied Afghanistans opium
toothless government or a nonexistent po- economy, cautions that it will take decades
lice force. In such a libertarian paradise, to reduce cultivation, short of using drafreelance actors like Saleem, the heroin conian eradication campaigns that would
cook ourish.
further immiserate the rural poor. Thats
But as the government builds capaci- both physically impossible and moralty, ofcials can start to demand a cut. Its ly reprehensible, she says. The human
not that theres a grand conspiracy at the security of large segments of the Afghan
center of government, but
population is dependent
rather that, in the absence
on poppy.
of accountability and the
Moreover, illicit econrule of law, ofcials start to
omies have a way of enorient themselves around
during. In Myanmar,
Drugs werent
a powerful political econwhile opium cultivaa priority,
omy. Big drug barons with
tion was successfully resays the head
links to the government
duced in the Golden Triof the U.N.s
take over the trade. Peoangle (thanks in part to
Ofce of Drugs
ple who dont pay, or who
rising competition from
fall out with government
Afghanistan), the area
and Crime.
ofcials, might nd themhas since become a hub
Limiting
selves killed or arrested.
of methamphetamine
casualties
In this light, U.S. counproduction. Indeed, both
was, and that
ternarcotics programs,
meth production and conmeant unholy
which have cost nearsumption, which have esly $8 billion to date, and
tablished footholds in
alliances.
the Afghan state-buildIran and Pakistan, are being project in general, are
ginning to show up in Afperversely part of the exghanistan. Crystal meth
planation for the growing government is the last thing this country needs, says
involvement in the drug trade. Even the one Western counternarcotics ofcial.
newly rebuilt Afghan Air Force has been
The illicit economy poses a greater daninvestigated by the U.S. military for al- ger for Afghanistan than the Taliban, says
leged trafcking. In many places, the surge the U.N.s Jean-Luc Lemahieu. Ultimately,
had the efect of wresting opium revenue though, opium is the worlds problem. Affrom the Taliban and handing it to gov- ghan farmers earn less than one percent
ernment officials. For example, in Hel- of the value of the global opium economy.
mands Garmsir District, which sits on key Opiate use is rising worldwide, and the U.S.
trafcking routes between the rest of the in particular has experienced a sharp jump
province and Baramcha, a big Marine of- in consumption. An estimated half a milfensive in 2011 nally pushed out the Tali- lion Americans are addicted to heroin, and
ban and handed the district back to the Af- though most of it comes from Mexico, there
ghan government. The result? The police are fears that Afghan opium could feed the
began taking a cut from those drug routes. growing demand. We arent seeing much
There are families, as in Maa-style, that in America yet, says the former Justice Dehave the trade carved up between them, partment ofcial. But it wont be long beand when some outsider tries to get in on fore the Mexicans get hooked in with them.
it, they serve him up as a success for drug These people are entrepreneurs.
interdiction, one Western official who
worked in Garmsir told me.
ike the coal and cotOf course, ordinary Afghans also sufton towns of the Amerifer from the country being the worlds bigcan frontier, Helmands
gest opium producer. Heroin addiction
capital, Lashkar Gah, was
rates which had historically been low
built on poppy. Today, the
have more than doubled in recent years. In
opium barons whove
Lashkar Gah, you can buy a hit of heroin made their fortunes over the past decade
for the equivalent of a dollar. The U.N. es- are trying to consolidate their positions in
timates that around 1 million Afghans are society, investing in more legitimate venaddicted to drugs, which, at 8 percent of tures while handing of their trafcking acthe population, is twice the global average. tivities to younger relatives. Behind every

D e c e m b e r 18 , 2 014 - Ja n u a r y 1 , 2 01 5

institutional pillar, there is a whif of drug


money. Two recent construction projects
a university and a cottonseed-oil plant allegedly have connections to drug kingpins.
Indeed, during my time there, I get the
impression that Helmand is not so much
a province with an opium problem as it is
an opium problem with a province. This
year, they wanted 10,000 hectares eradicated in Helmand, says Lt. Col. Mohammad Abdali, head of the provinces counternarcotics police. Do you know how
many we eradicated? Six-hundred ninety-seven. Its a joke.
On my last day in Helmand, I decide
to pay a visit to the dasht, the vast desert areas that border the provinces fertile
zones and extend out into Pakistan and
Iran. If you y over these areas, youll see
enormous swaths of land that, once barren, are patched with green elds of poppy.
They are now largely controlled and taxed
by the Taliban, who, with the Marines
gone, are getting increasingly bold in their
confrontations with the Afghan army.
Accompanied by the police, we drive
out from the town of Gereshk, until we
stop amid the poppy elds and compounds
that have sprung up in the past few years.
We can see the faint smudge of mountains
to the north, the start of a band of rugged terrain that goes up into remote districts that the Taliban have governed for
the past decade. If the Afghan government
starts to lose its grip, Helmand will be one
of the rst places to fall. This is the Talibans area, they can plant as much as they
want, says a young, sandy-haired lieutenant named Lalai, waving into the distance.
An aged farmer comes out of the nearest compound, walking hand in hand with
a small boy, as if the presence of a child
might placate the armed strangers who
have come to his eld. He has a lean face
and his skin has been darkened by the sun,
in contrast with his snow-white beard. It
takes me a minute to notice that his right
eye socket is empty.
Why has he come to farm in the desert?
They were landless and destitute before, he
says. He borrowed a couple thousand dollars from a local notable, the gas-station
owner down the road, in order to aford
fuel and fertilizer. But he says hell be lucky
to break even and repay the loan. There
is an unspoken plea in his voice, but we
havent come to destroy his crop. I probably wont plant poppy next year, the old
man says, glancing anxiously from face to
face. I have denitely learned my lesson.
Between the impoverished farmer on
one end and the desperate junkie on the
other lies a tangled chain of criminals, politicians and drug warriors the product of
a world where drugs are illegal and addicts
are plentiful. And with all the corruption
and greed that have created the Afghan
narco state, its hard to imagine the country any other way.
RollingStone.com

| R ol l i n g S t o n e |

75

CHARLI XCX ................................. Pg. 78


WU-TANG CLAN ...................... Pg. 79
PITBULL ......................................... Pg. 80
SMASHING PUMPKINS ........ Pg. 80

Lorde Fires Up a Pop Revolution


The teen stars eclectic
Hunger Games album
makes living in dystopia
sound pretty fun

Various Artists
The Hunger Games:
Mockingjay Part 1 Original
Motion Picture Soundtrack
Republic

HHH
BY JON DOLAN

Its hard to think of a better


person than Lorde to pick
songs for the soundtrack to a
Hunger Games movie and
not just because everything
about her suggests shed be dynamite with a crossbow. Before the 18-year-old singers
tough, witchy musings from the
dark end of teenage wasteland
made her a star, she had more
in common with the kids in the
multiplexes than the celebrities on the screen. Like a good
fan, shes thrown herself into
the role of musical curator for
the third installment of the YA
sci- series, putting together a
wide-ranging album that ts
the movie while giving us a
cohesive image of her own rulebreaking pop ideal. As with
most good soundtracks, this
is a pretty great mixtape, too.
The first Hunger Games
soundtrack, in 2012, leaned
heavily on alt-folk and country;
the 2013 sequel, Catching Fire,
got an Eighties power-ballad
vibe. Mockingjay, unsurprisingly, sounds a lot like Lorde:
efortlessly eclectic, dreamily
hard-hitting, owing as much to
goth and indie as to dance music and hip-hop. This is a world
where street-rap titan Pusha T
of Clipse and spooky, art-damaged artist Bat for Lashes both
Illustration by Tomer Ha nuk a

RollingStone.com

| R ol l i n g S t o n e |

77

King.

[No account of high


school] has made me
laugh more.
Entertainment Weekly

Best Punk Rock


Book Ever.
The Village Voice

Loaded with
sharp and
offbeat humor.
USA Today

feel at home. It can mean anything from Swedish singer Tove


Los truth-attack introspect to
Tinashes hauntingly spacedout club jams to Chvrches
synth-pop heart storms.
What ties it all together is a
brooding intensity that ts perfectly with The Hunger Games
dystopic mood. Many of the
artists on the album write lyrics that mirror the trilogys
story of teenage rebels caught
up in a violent insurrection
against their oppressive overlords. This
Is Not a Game sees
arty R&B loverman
M ig uel d r oppi ng
some gladiatorial revolutionary jive over a block-rocking
assault from dance godfathers
the Chemical Brothers. On
Meltdown, Lorde, Pusha T,
Q-Tip and Haim team up for
a thick, agitated groove that
sounds like an all-night dance
party in war-torn District 13.
Lorde gets three solo tracks,
the best of which is Yellow
Flicker Beat a forlorn rager
with girl-on-fire lyrics that
could apply to Hunger Games
heroine Katniss Everdeen or
any outcast following her adventures along at home. (Kanye
Wests remix of the song is even
more bracing, an ambientnoise hellscape that could give
Trent Reznor nightmares.)
Lordes other arresting moment is Ladder Song, a soft
lullaby with lyrics written by
Conor Oberst about fall[ing]
asleep reading science ction.
The artists on Mockingjay
are mostly in their twenties or
younger, which makes sense
given their target audience. But
two of the best songs come from
heroes with ancient New Wave
heydays. Duran Durans Simon
Le Bon plays the posh hook boy
alongside U.K. troublemaker
Charli XCX on the Victoriancrunk cut Kingdom. And the
albums most intense track by
far is the pummeling dub seizure Original Beast, by eternal disco mutant Grace Jones.
Its a perfect example of how
Lorde reaches into the wildstyle past to push pop into a
bold new future.

LISTEN NOW!

Hear key tracks from


these albums at
RollingStone.com/albums.

KingDorkBooks.com

Theres one
born every
minute:
Charli.

Welcome to
Charli XCXs
Paradise

The U.K. singer reinvents pop punk on


her loud, fun, ridiculously catchy new LP

Charli XCX Sucker Atlantic/Neon Gold HHHH


Youve gotta hand it to a 22-yearold who, on the brink of pop megastardom, opens her latest LP with
a chant of Fuck you, sucker! But
allow Charlotte Aitchison some
cockiness. The writer and singer behind one of
the decades most irresistible pop jams (Icona
Pops I Love It) as well as one of its biggest
(Iggy Azaleas Fancy), she clearly patterned her
second LP on the Debbie Harry and CBGB-scene
pinups on her Instagram see London Queen,
a song about tripping on America that channels
Joey Ramones fake British accent through a real
one and even swings a baseball bat.
But Sucker is no retro gesture: Charli runs the
albums rock & roll guitars and attitude through
enough distressed digital production and thumbtype vernacular to make this the rst fully updated iteration of punk pop
in ages. Its also a tting cap KEY TRACKS:
London Queen,
to a music year often dened Break the Rules
by powerful young women.
Aitchison understands that the diference between a big dumb song and an awesome big
dumb song is often just a tiny bit more groove
and musk. A clever guitar rif and synth hiccup
work alchemy on the boilerplate bling-worship of
Gold Coins, and Break the Rules gets incredible mileage from rhyming the title with I dont
want to go to school. Like so many of the pop
pleasures here, its a sentiment that just never
gets old.
WILL HERMES
78

BELLA HOWARD

To start
a revolution
you need a

REVIEWS MUSIC

An Underwhelming Tomorrow
Marianne Faithfull

Give My Love to London


Easy Sound

Wu-Tang Clan A Better Tomorrow


Warner Bros.

HHH

The veteran chanteuse makes


her strongest album in decades

JONATHAN WEINER

The rst Wu-Tang album since 2007


is a mishmosh of ill-tting styles

On perhaps her most potent


record since 1979s raw Broken
English, rock survivor Marianne Faithfull declaims like a
dystopian queen of England,
surveying a damaged empire
with a cold eye and a magnicently wracked but indomitable voice. She draws excellence
from star collaborators: Steve
Earle co-wrote the withering
title track; Roger Waters supplied the anthemic Sparrows
Will Sing; Nick Cave contributed a dazzling junkie reverie,
Late Victorian Holocaust. The
standard I Get Along Without
You Very Well sounds delivered
from the afterworld by a woman whos seen too much but will
not look away.
WILL HERMES

HH

All nine members of the WuTang Clan have finally joined


forces for their first album in
seven years but it sounds more
like one of RZAs soundtrack
projects gone haywire. Glutted with live instruments and tricky structures, the production is heavy on grind-house twists Ennio
Morricone gone electro (Felt), Bollywood
groove (Ron ONeal), spy-f lick tension
(Necklace) and even the strummy drama
of a good Godfather rip (Ruckus in B Minor). But all those live drums and orchestral
embellishments rob the Wu
of their trademark claustro- KEY TRACKS:
Felt, Ruckus
phobic, gritty, sample-based in B Minor
style. Take Miracle, a Shaolin power ballad that gets so overblown it
sounds more like John Legend on a slow train
to Linkin Park.
Those production f laws are too bad, because the crews rapping can still be some of
the most masterful and unique on the planet.
Method Man, 43, joins Eminem and Busta

HHHHH Classic | HHHH Excellent | HHH Good | HH Fair | H Poor

On a swarm:
The Clan with
DJ-producer
Mathematics
(far left)

Rhymes in the class of rap veterans who only


get more knotty and technical with age. And
the margins can barely hold GZAs ow as the
science-buf MC raps about the dust and ice in
Saturns rings. This is the sound of a team of
great ghters competing in an uncomfortable
new arena.
CHRISTOPHER R. WEINGARTEN

Ratings are supervised by the editors of R OLLING S TONE .

2014 Callard & Bowser. All rights reserved. Altoids, Smalls, The Curiously Strong Mints, Curiously Cool and all afliated designs are trademarks of
Callard & Bowser or its afliates.

REVIEWS MUSIC

Pitbull

Deerhoof

HHH

HHH

Globalization RCA
Everyones crazy about a
sharp-dressed Miami rapper

Pitbulls latest opens on the


streets of Brazil, f lipping a
local dance hit into an EDM
banger that could work anywhere on the planet. Taking his
own advice, the Miami rapper
never stops the party, pulling
together a set of inspirational
hip-hop, wedding-ready pop
and even Florida Georgia Linestyle country reggae. By the
time he returns to Rio for We
Are One, this years World Cup
anthem, he seems like a reallife Atlas, carrying the globe on
his shoulders without getting a
speck of dust on his ne linen
suit. Disagree? Take it up with
Pit. I know you think its just
rap, he challenges on the DJ
Mustard-goes-disco jam Fun.
Nah, baby.
NICK MURRAY

The Smashing
Pumpkins

La Isla Bonita Polyvinyl

Mitski

Bury Me at Makeout Creek

Monuments to an Elegy

Deantly weird noise crew chills


out, throws an ofbeat party

Double Double Whammy

HHH

Marthas/BMG

HHH

Billy Corgan cheers up (sort of)


and turns up the synths

Deerhoof have been making


outrageously inventive ADD
noise rock since the Nineties
songs that zip between musical styles, melodic ideas and
time signatures while Japanese bassist Satomi Matsuzaki
sings in a giddy whirl. Naming their 13th album after a
Madonna hit single is pretty
funny, since radio pop is about
the only thing theyve never
tried. But their frenetic music
does cool out and breathe a
little here, from the gleeful Ramones trounce of Exit Only
to the kinky krautrock funkiness of Paradise Girls. What
emerges is a basement-punk
groove band where youre never
quite sure where the groove
will take you.
JON DOLAN

For all his world-is-a-vampire


nihilism of years past, Billy Corgan has been sounding shockingly well-adjusted lately. Still,
the Great Pumpkins deep dive
into synth pop on Monuments
to an Elegy the latest installment in his bands multi-album
cycle Teargarden by Kaleidyscope is a surprise. Corgans
characteristically acidic vocals
make sure that songs like the
New Wave-y Dorian, the Killers-ish Run2Me and the cloying Anti-Hero are as much
Pumpkins as they are pop. And
the records sole grunge grinder, One and All (We Are),
sounds hopeful without losing
its bite.
KORY GROW

A folk singer with a taste for


sharp wit and noisy distortion

Singer-song w r iter Mitsk i


Miyawakis breakthrough LP
bubbles with poignant black
humor. I will retire to the
Salton Sea/At the age of 23/
For Im starting to learn I may
never be free, she confesses in
Drunk Walk Home, before
screaming into a void of distorted guitars. A folk record at
its core, Bury Me is edged with
heavy rifs that at various times
recall Black Sabbath and even
Liz Phair. But its Mitskis talent for penning deep-cutting
lyrics that makes this album
soar: If your hands need to
break more than trinkets in
your room/You can lean on my
arm as you break my heart.
PAULA MEJIA

80

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READY AIM
Cooper prepares
to make the call
of life or death
for his target.

Big Guns for the Holidays

American Sniper
Bradley Cooper
Directed by Clint Eastwood

HHH

as the movie year rushes


to redeem itself, its a kick to
see director Clint Eastwood
back on his game. Jersey Boys
tripped him up bad in 2014,
but Eastwood, 84, is fired up
and flaring with provocation
in American Sniper. By delineating the tumultuous, tragically short life of Navy SEAL
Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper),
the most lethal sniper in U.S.
military history (160 confirmed kills over four tours in
Iraq), Eastwood lobs one into
the war zone where conscience
does battle with killer instinct.
This is Hurt Locker territory.
But Eastwood, working from a
script that Jason Hall adapted
from Kyles 2012 memoir, fuses
the explosive and the sorrowful as only he can. Thats why
his film takes a piece out of you.
That and Cooper, who gives
everything and then some in
an astonishing, all-out performance. Cooper put on 40
pounds of muscle to play Kyle, a
ag-waving, good ol Texas boy
who sees evil in the world and
aims to do something about it.
For Eastwood, ever since Unforgiven, no way is that easy.
The film opens on a rooftop
82

in Fallujah, where Kyle must


make the call to take down an
Iraqi woman and her young
son, who may or may not be
hiding a grenade. Eastwood
lays on the tension, especially
when Kyle is tasked with blowing away the Butcher (Mido
Hamada), an Al Qaeda terrorist with a specialty in power
tools as weapons. Your nerves
will be fried, no letup.
Well, except between tours,
when Kyle returns home to his
wife, Taya (Sienna Miller), and
their two kids. These scenes
have a perfunctory feel, meant
to show the emotional fortress
Kyle has built around himself.
No need. All the pain is visible in Coopers eyes, in a posture ever on danger alert. Cooper and Eastwood salute Kyles
patriotism best by not denying
its toll. Their targets are clearly in sight, and their aim is true.

Unbroken
Jack OConnell, Miyavi
Directed by Angelina Jolie

HHH

this passion project for


Angelina Jolie shines in every
frame with her abiding love
for Louis Zamperini and his
courage under re. Zamperini
died of pneumonia in July, at
97, but not before Jolie showed
him a rough cut of the lm on
her laptop. In case you never
read Unbroken, Seabiscuit
author Lauren Hillenbrands
2010 bestseller about Louis
life, heres a quick rundown:
Raised in Torrance, California,
the son of Italian immigrants,
Louis was a bad boy destined
for jail or worse until his older brother turned him on to
running. He was good at it,
competing in track at the 1936
Olympics in Berlin (Hitler no-

Miyavi
(left),
OConnell

HHHH Classic | HHH Excellent | HHH Good | HH Fair | H Poor

ticed him). During World War


II, he enlisted in the Army Air
Corps. When his B-24 went
down in the Pacic, Louis survived on a life raft for a scarifying 47 days until he and others
were captured by the Japanese,
then starved and tortured for
two years in a POW camp.
I could go on, as the book
does, describing Louis PTSD
and alcoholism until Billy Graham helped him find God. But
Jolie wisely ends her film with
the war, still enough material
to fill a miniseries or two.
Hillenbrands critics accuse her of riding the surface of Louis blatantly inspirational tale. Jolie, working
from a script polished by no
less than the Coen brothers,
needed to dig deeper, meaning
she had to find the right actor
to play Louis. Her choice, Jack
OConnell, justifies her faith.
OConnell (Starred Up) is a
British dynamo with a true actors instinct for getting inside
a characters head. On the raft
with fellow airmen Phil (Domhnall Gleeson) and Mac (Finn
Wittrock), its Louis who musters a glimmer of hope while
sharks circle as relentlessly as
despair. OConnell makes us
see how hard-won that hope is.
In only her second feature
as director, following 2011s
Bosnian drama In the Land of

D e c e m b e r 18 , 2 014 - Ja n u a r y 1 , 2 01 5

FROM TOP: WARNER BROS. PICTURES; UNIVERSAL PICTURES

Too many lm options? Here are ve crowd- (and Oscar-) pleasers not to miss By Peter Travers

Blood and Honey, Jolie shows


remarkable confidence and
compassion. She excels in the
vicious camp scenes (PG-13
pushed to the limit), in which
Louis meets Watanabe, a.k.a.
the Bird, a sadist guard whose
love/hate for the Olympic athlete is chillingly pervy. Japanese rock star Miyavi (born
Takamasa Ishihara) plays his
first screen role with mesmeric brilliance, making the Birds
physical elegance a striking
contrast to the savagery of his
inhuman punishment.
Unbroken is beautifully
crafted even in its brutality. A
sequence near wars end, when
Louis and the POWs are herded
to a river expecting to be murdered en masse, is memoryscarring. Jolie has an army of
craftsmen in her corner, notably camera poet Roger Deakins
(No Country for Old Men). But
its her vision that gives Unbroken a spirit that soars. In honoring Louis endurance, she
does herself proud.

Top Five
Chris Rock, Rosario Dawson

and let their ngers brush the


bottles treats temptation with
raw honesty.
Dont get me wrong. Rock delivers the laughs, big ones, laced
with razor-sharp observations
on everything from pop culture
to racial politics. A ashback to
Andres past involving an orgy,
hookers and Cedric the Entertainer is fall-on-the-oor funny.
A trip to the housing projects
that shaped Andre deepens the
humor and lets Chelsea meet

HHH
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP: ALI PAIGE GOLDSTEIN/ PARAMOUNT PICTURES; ANNE MARIE FOX/FOX SEARCHLIGHT; KERRY BROWN/TWENTIETH CENTURY FOX

le (Dallas Buyers Club), Wild


emerges as an exciting, elemental adventure that takes you
places you dont see coming.

Reese Witherspoon
Directed by Jean-Marc Valle

HHH

producer-sta r r eese
Witherspoon kicks out the jams
in Wild. Shes a live wire as
Cheryl Strayed, a sleep-around
heroin dabbler who, in 1995,
found a unique way to deal with
her painful lack of self-esteem
and the death of her mother (a
wonderfully funny and touch-

Directed by Chris Rock

t h i ng s w e n t spl at for
Chris Rock in his first two tries
as a director (Head of State, I
Think I Love My Wife). In Top
Five, Rock finds himself at last.
He plays Andre Allen, a former stand-up comic who hit
it big as a gun-toting bear in
the Hammy series. Now Andre
doesnt want to be funny anymore. His dead-serious new
movie, Uprize!, about the 1791
Haitian revolution, is DOA.
Screenwriter Rock sets the
film in Manhattan on a day
when Andre is being interviewed by Chelsea Brown (the
glorious Rosario Dawson, in her
best screen role to date), a reporter for The New York Times.
Theyre wary of each other at
first. Shes a working single
mom, appalled by his privilege.
Hes engaged to Erica (Gabrielle
Union), who has turned their
lives into reality TV.
Its a shitload of plot. What
lifts it is the odd sense of trust
that develops between Andre
and Chelsea theyre both recovering alcoholics. Rock and
Dawson strike sexy-silly vital
sparks. A scene in which they
visit a liquor store just to stare

Wild

(1) Dawson and Rock make


it in Manhattan in Top Five.
(2) Bale plays a new kind of
Moses in Exodus: Gods and
Kings. (3) Witherspoon lugs
a monster backpack into the
woods to find herself in Wild.

his homeys, including Sherri Shepherd, Michael Che and


Tracy Morgan. Top Five refers
to their game of picking favorite
hip-hop artists. But the search
here is for authenticity. There
are star cameos galore, from
rappers to comedians, all too
good to give away. The sweetest surprise in this raunchy
comic ride is how artfully Rock
lets down his guard. His condent, prowling wit as a standup has nally found its way to
the screen, enhanced by a bracing vulnerability. Top Five is
Rocks best movie by a mile. Its
authentically hilarious.

D e c e m b e r 18 , 2 014 - Ja n u a r y 1 , 2 01 5

ing Laura Dern): hike the Pacific Crest Trail by herself for
1,100 miles. Its a showstopping
performance from an actress
who keeps springing surprises. Mercifully, Witherspoon
sucks at selling candy-assed
platitudes about the triumph
of the human spirit. With the
help of a scrappy script by Nick
Hornby (About a Boy) that allows bursts of humor to break
through the darkness, Witherspoon cuts to the bruised core
of Cheryls heart, rattling between desperation and determination. Under the keen-eyed
direction of Jean-Marc Val-

Exodus: Gods and Kings


Christian Bale
Directed by Ridley Scott

HHH

ba nish a ll memories of
a hambone, harrumphing Old
Testament Charlton Heston
as Moses in Cecil B. DeMilles
The Ten Commandments, the
1956 campfest that TV shoves
at us during religious holidays.
DeMilles once-thrilling parting of the Red Sea plays today
like CG primitivism.
Director Ridley Scott (Gladiator) is determined not to
make his Exodus: Gods and
Kings old-hat. But hes after
way more than FX pow although wait until you see that
Red Sea heave in 3D and the
damage done by those 10 deadly plagues, from crocodiles,
frogs and locusts to the death
of every first-born in Egypt.
Shooting on location, mostly in Spain, with thousands
of nondigital extras, the ferociously cinematic Scott aims
to keep things real and raw. He
gets that and more from Christian Bale, in rousing form, as
a hot-blooded warrior Moses
ready to question all comers,
including the gods and kings
of the title. After learning of his
Hebrew identity, Moses rises
up against a childhood pal, the
pharaoh Ramses (Joel Edgerton), and builds the mettle he
needs to lead 600,000 Israelite slaves out of Egypt.
Like Darren A ronofsky
in Noah, Scott, who crafted
the script with four other writers, departs from Scripture
enough to raise hackles. For
example, this Moses sees God
in the person of an insolent
schoolboy (Isaac Andrews),
who takes guff from Moses
for waiting 400 years to get
around to freeing the slaves. In
the large cast, including Aaron
Paul, Ben Kingsley and John
Turturro, Sigourney Weaver
stands out as the mother of
Ramses. I dont want Moses
exiled, she snaps. I want him
dead. You get the picture. Exodus is a biblical epic that comes
at you at maximum velocity
but stays stirringly, inspiringly human.

RollingStone.com

| R ol l i n g S t o n e |

83

SETH ROGEN
[Cont. from 57] bara shooting. Or maybe
it was in February, when he went to Capitol Hill to address a Senate subcommittee about Alzheimers funding a cause
thats heartbreakingly close to home, since
his mother-in-law was diagnosed with the
disease. (The situation is so dire that it
caused me a lazy, self-involved, generally self-medicating man-child to start
an entire charity, he told the two senators who bothered to show up.) Or maybe
it was in January, when he got 200,000
retweets by calling Justin Bieber a piece
of shit. (All jokes aside, Justin Bieber is a
piece of shit.)
One of the meta-jokes in The Interview
is about the utter inanity of most celebrity journalism. I do a lot of press with entertainment journalists, and a lot of them
are the stupidest motherfuckers on the entire planet, Rogen says. Like, Literally, youre the best person to have this job?
That seems insane. (He laughs. No offense.) In the movie, part of the reason
they go to North Korea to interview Kim
Jong-un is that Rogens character, Aaron
Rapoport a Columbia journalism-school
grad who aspires to work at 60 Minutes
wants to do more with his life than just
produce pre-packaged segments about
Matthew McConaughey getting caught
having sex with a goat. (This actually happens.) In some ways just as Superbad was
the story of a teenage Rogen and Goldberg
trying to get laid, and Pineapple Express
was the story of them being 25 and directionless and stoned, and This Is the End
was the story of them coming to grips with
the terror and awesomeness of Hollywood
this movie is the story of them in their
early thirties, grappling with the question
of what they want to contribute to society.
Yeah, we talked about that a lot,
Rogen says. The movie itself is kind of
our attempt to do what Aaron is doing in
the movie. And it was born out of a very
similar thought: Are we gonna just make
movies about guys trying to get laid over
and over again? Or, now that we have peoples attention, maybe we can focus it on
something slightly more relevant while
still doing shit we think is funny. Which,
for better or for worse, is sticking missiles
up peoples asses.
Rogens mother was a social worker and
his sister still is one, and this has no doubt
inspired some latent sense of responsibility. It was actually a conversation with
his dad that got him thinking about this
stuf. Theyre always so supportive, my
parents, he says, but after one interview
I did with Letterman, my dad was like,
Do you have to talk about marijuana so
much? I was like, Wow, even my dads
getting sick of this shit. In The Interview,
Rogen notes proudly, he doesnt smoke
weed once. (He does get drunk and take
Ecstasy, but thats another story.)

86 | R ol l i n g S t o n e |

RollingStone.com

I think in some ways I relate to this


character more than any other character
Ive ever played, Rogen continues. Because he has a real job! Its not until you get
your shit together that you can step back
and say, I have a career; what am I going to
do with it? Are you the kind of person
thats happy just being a famous person,
or are you the kind of person that thinks
maybe I should try to contribute? I think
the answer for us right now is somewhere
in the middle. Well make a movie that
maybe for two seconds will make some
18-year-old think about North Korea in a
way he never would have otherwise.
Or who knows? he says. We were told
one of the reasons theyre so against the
movie is that theyre afraid itll actually get
into North Korea. They do have bootlegs
and stuf. Maybe the tapes will make their
way to North Korea and cause a fucking
revolution. Which would of course be the
biggest joke of all: if the guys who made
Pineapple Express actually end up inspiring a regime change.
At best, it will cause a country to be
free, Rogen says, and at worst, it will

At best, the movie


will cause a
country to be free,
Rogen says. At
worst, it will cause
a nuclear war.
cause a nuclear war. He laughs his motorcycle laugh. Big margin with this movie.

t the begin ning of nov ember, Rogen is in New York, enjoying a cup of chicken-vegetable soup
at a cafe downtown. He and his wife are
going to a wedding on Long Island a
friend of hers from kindergarten so they
decided to make a week out of it and do
some preview screenings of The Interview. The studio got him a private plane to
take to D.C. for another screening tonight,
and theyre staying at a fancy hotel where
Kanye West likes to hang out. Rogen actually bumped into Kanye the last time he
was here, doing press for Neighbors this
past summer. It was right after the Bound
3 video came out a shot-for-shot remake
of Kanyes Bound 2, starring Franco as
Kanye and Rogen as a topless Kim Kardashian and he worried Kanye might be
upset. But it turned out Kanye just wanted to hang.
Me and my wife had gotten some dessert and were in the lobby getting plates to
bring back to our room, Rogen says. And
Kanye was like, What are you guys doing?
Want to hear my new album? So he takes

us to this limo van and starts playing his


album except theres no lyrics, only beats.
So he raps the whole album, and after
each song, he stops it, like, So what do you
think? We were in the van for two hours!
Now I realize the next person he sees
that he knows is getting pulled into that
van, Rogen says, laughing. But I learned
a lesson from it which is that even Kanye
is seeking input at all times. Processwise,
it showed an openness and a fearlessness.
We started screening our movies more
and in rougher versions for our friends because of that.
Rogen and his wife, the writer and actress Lauren Miller Rogen, met at a mutual friends birthday party in 2005. On
their rst date, they played mini-golf and
were en route to get a brownie-wafe sundae in Hollywood when they were hit by a
joy-riding teenager and spun across four
lanes of trafc, totaling Rogens car an
extreme rst-date experience that partially inspired Knocked Up. It was superintense, Rogen says. I think it was a bonding experience between us. Previously,
his longest relationship had lasted just a
few months, but he and Lauren hit a peak
pretty early and stayed there. They were
married in Sonoma in 2011, and now live
in a totally normal neighborhood in West
Hollywood with a Cavalier King Charles
spaniel named Zelda. Its hard to crack
her up sometimes, Rogen says of his wife.
Bathroom humor works for both of us.
Neighbors, released earlier this year,
was a rst for him, in that it portrayed a
relationship where his partner in this
case played by Rose Byrne was truly a
partner, as funny and irresponsible and
important to the plot as Rogen was. It
was very gratifying, he says. There were
so many discussions with the studio where
they were like, Cant you, like, sneak out,
and then she gets mad? And its like, No!
Thats the whole fucking point! It cant
be that.
After lunch, we take a meandering walk
through downtown. Its a nice autumn
day, and Rogen is in no hurry to be anywhere. (Hes so sincerely easygoing, says
Gordon-Levitt. And its not just because
of the weed. At home in L.A., he likes to
garden and trim bonsai trees. He smokes
brisket in his backyard every now and
then, he drives a $24,000 Toyota Highlander Hybrid. As his character in Neighbors puts it: I think I like old-people shit
better than young-people shit now.
We walk around for an hour or so, and
no one so much as asks him for a picture. A
few people do double takes, but otherwise
hes just a guy out for a stroll. Were almost
back to the hotel when a tourist-looking
girl, maybe 17 or so, spots him coming
down the sidewalk and breaks into a grin.
She doesnt say anything just reaches her
hand out. Rogen reaches his out, and they
exchange a wordless high-ve and keep on
walking. Fame at its best, Rogen says.
D e c e m b e r 18 , 2 014 - Ja n u a r y 1 , 2 01 5

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REMEMBERING

he a merica n political scene has lost


one of its towering characters with the untimely demise of Stephen Colbert. He was 50.
Feared by many, hated by some, watched by all,
Colbert leaves an uncertain legacy for the media
he revolutionized and the culture he altered.
Without him on TV four nights a week, there is a truth-shaped
hole in our national political discourse. Anyone can read the
news to you, he announced when The Colbert Report debuted
in 2005. I promise to feel the news at you.
He kept that promise, which is how he came to dene our
era. For so many of us, Colbert sums up the optimism and idealism of the Bush years, along with his hero and mentor Bill
OReilly, whom he called Papa Bear. I emulate you, he once
told OReilly in a poignant appearance on Fox News. I want
to bring your message of love and
peace to a younger audience. People in their sixties, people in their
fties people who dont watch
your show.
As a boy, Colbert idolized Richard Nixon and Geraldo Rivera, and
he once spoke of his dream of growing up to become Nancy Reagan.
His family heritage was Irish I
could sit toe-to-toe at a potato table
with anybody and he remained a
lifelong devout Catholic. As he once
explained on his show, Catholicism
is clearly superior. Dont believe me?
Name one Protestant denomination
that could aford a $660 million
sexual-abuse settlement. But he
remained open-minded. I believe
that everyone has the right to their
own religion, be you Hindu, Jewish
or Muslim. I believe there are innite paths to accepting Jesus Christ as your personal savior.
As a child, he pronounced his family name Coal-bert; it
was only later in life that he adopted the French pronunciation, Coal-bear. As he explained, it was all part of his plan
to sneak past the gatekeepers of the left-wing media. Its a
French name, just to get the cultural elites on my side, he
told OReilly. Bill, you know youve got to play the game that
the media elites want you to. In 1983, he legally changed his
middle name to Gettysburg Address.
His rise in the media world was swift and ruthless. Soon
after joining The Daily Show in 1997, Colbert attracted national attention for his uncompromising passion for the truth. As
he put it, When I think about truth, I touch myself. After Jon
Stewart took over The Daily Show in 1999, it became Americas most hard-hitting TV news program, with Colbert as its
breakout star. (He also stole Comedy Centrals 2002 roast for

Chevy Chase, whom he hailed as a comedy lamprey, just sucking the joy out of everything it touches.)
He was the kind of Blame America Last pundit who
thrived in the post-9/11 years able to reduce complex issues
to common-sense tidbits, uninhibited by facts. He introduced
America to the twin principles of Truthiness and Wikiality, where anything is true if it feels true, or if someone claims
it is, correctly predicting, The revolution will not be veried.
If there was a moment when he ofcially took over as Americas leading political thinker, it was the night he hosted the
2006 White House Correspondents Association Dinner, speaking directly to President George W. Bush, who sat with him onstage. Tonight it is my privilege to celebrate this president, he
announced. We both get it. Guys like us, were not some brainiacs on the nerd patrol. Were not members of the factinista. We
go straight from the gut. Right, sir?
Thats where the truth lies right
down here in the gut.
Colbert kept following that gut,
and America followed along. He ran
for president in 2008, only to be denied his spot on the ballot due to
behind-the-scenes manipulations
by the South Carolina Democratic
Party. He hosted the March to Keep
Fear Alive in 2010, and wrote the
bestselling manifesto I Am America (And So Can You!). But his greatest achievement was The Colbert
Report. There was nothing like it
on TV yet thats because everything on TV was like it. Colbert
was no diferent from most of his
fellow media pundits he just went
a step or two further. In the Colbert
era, America got far more Colbertlike, to the point where Congress
seems to be reciting his transcripts verbatim. (Net neutrality is Obamacare for the Internet thats not Colbert, its the
junior senator from Texas.)
Colbert will be remembered for his personal courage after
his 2007 wrist injury, which inspired him to campaign against
wrist violence with his WristStrong bracelets. (It also inspired
him to get addicted to painkillers.) He will be remembered for
his tireless crusade against bears. But most of all, he will be
remembered for truth. Nobody summed up the current state
of the American mind as brilliantly, as honestly, as terrifyingly as Stephen Colbert. Its somehow tting that he left us prematurely and under such mysterious circumstances. He will
be missed even if someone very much like him returns to the
airwaves in the coming months. Yet the culture of truthiness
will survive him. With or without Colbert, were all still living
in the Colbert era, with no end in sight.
ROB SHEFFIELD

94 |

SCOTT GRIES/PICTUREGROUP/COMEDY CENTRAL

Stephen Colbert

Wouldnt it
be wonderful
to

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