The suicide of novelist David Foster Wallace in 2008 was greeted with widespread grief from his legion of fans, who felt an intimate connection with his neurotically cerebral work. It was a death that was experienced as a personal loss by countless readers who knew Wallace only through his words. And in the wake of that intense grief, a cult of Wallace has grown up, which has tried to dig up every last scrap of the writer’s legacy—an unfinished novel, fugitive essays, even course syllabi he wrote up—and turn them into literary holy relics.
Further evidence of the reverence for Wallace can be seen in the new movie The End of the Tour, a feature film based on an aborted profile David Lipsky tried to write for Rolling Stone magazine in 1996 about Wallace’s book tour for his magnum opus Infinite Jest. The just-released trailer show Jason Segel re-creating Wallace as a nervous, wary, bandana-wearing bear of a man, played against Jesse Eisenberg’s jittery, awe-struck Lipsky.
Yet The End of the Tour shouldn’t just be classed as a movie about a novelist. It also belongs to the curious sub-genre of movies about Rolling Stone writers. Rolling Stone has long been one of the most glamorous and mythologized of American magazines, both because of its outsized role in rock music and also as the springboard for the New Journalism, where writers immersed themselves in the stories they write about and sometimes become the protagonists of their own reporting. If musicians dreamed of having their face plastered on the cover of Rolling Stone, countless writers craved a byline in the magazine.
The raffish delights of being a Rolling Stone writer have been portrayed on the big screen more than once. In Where the Buffalo Roam (1980) Bill Murray played the legendary Rolling Stone wildman reporter Hunter S. Thompson, a role also taken up by Johnny Depp in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998). In Almost Famous (2000), William Miller (played by both Patrick Fugit and Michael Angarano) comes of age as a teenage Rolling Stone music critic. What unites these movies is the idea that Rolling Stone writers have a higher access to truth and insight because they plunge themselves into the craziness of the modern world.
The timing, in this case, is imperfect. In real life, the reputation of Rolling Stone has taken a beating, with the discrediting of Sabrina Erdely’s 2014 article “A Rape on Campus.” Yet the July 31 release of The End of the Tour shows the romance of Rolling Stone is still alive. In the film, Lipsky says he wants “precisely what [David Foster Wallace] has already,” but some in the audience will want to have what Lipsky has, a byline in Rolling Stone.