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It’s the images and sentences that move us in Rolling Stone: Stories From the Edge

The Show: Rolling Stone: Stories from the Edge, Part 1

The Moment: The John and Yoko cover

Rolling Stone photographer Annie Leibovitz recalls how John Lennon wanted Yoko Ono on the cover with him for a December 1980 issue. At the last minute Ono didn’t want to take her clothes off.

“So when they lay down together and John was nude, curled up against her clothed, he looked much more vulnerable,” Leibovitz says. “That was the last picture of him. Several hours later, John was murdered. Dec. 8, 1980.”

Over images of mourning crowds, we hear Jeff Daniels narrate Greil Marcus’s Rolling Stone story: “To hear John Lennon was killed by a fan was like watching someone you love being hit by a car. I have my own reasons for loving Lennon. But you have reasons that are fundamentally the same. Rock and roll works as common experience and private obsession. One fuels the other.”

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A Lennon song plays. We see the now famous Rolling Stone cover: no type, just the logo and Leibovitz’s photo. Fade to black.

Man, Alex Gibney is a great documentary director. He chooses to tell his four-hour history of Rolling Stone not by recollections of parties or office politics, but through the magazine’s stories — by dramatizing the images and sentences themselves. We hear chunks of Hunter S. Thompson’s piece about the Nixon/McGovern U.S. presidential election, and Cameron Crowe’s misfire on Led Zeppelin. (“You wrote what they wanted you to write,” founding editor Jann Wenner chides Crowe.)

The Lennon story in particular demonstrates how the magazine gave voice to a cultural moment and a generation a place to come together. I cried.

Rolling Stone: Stories from the Edge airs Monday and Tuesday on HBO Canada, and will be available on demand beginning Tuesday. Johanna Schneller is a media connoisseur who zeroes in on pop-culture moments. She usually appears Monday through Thursday.