Jann Wenner, the hippie who tried to right the wrongs of the world through the written word as the founder of Rolling Stone, is still pumping out copy. His memoir is certainly a more than worthy read, given the cultural impact that sprung from the magazine’s pages during what I would argue is the most transformational decade in American history. Wenner took on the man like no one in publishing had ever done before. RS wasn’t just about music; it was filled with rage against the political machine. The mission was clear to every reader, who anxiously awaited every edition, including me.
There’s a certain dichotomy to his life. On one hand, there’s the thoughtful publisher with 50 years of great, often groundbreaking, journalism, still fighting the good fight against capitalism. On the other there’s the magnate, the guy with the private Gulfstream jetting off to jam with the Stones or yachting with Mick to some unheard of location only for the rich, and I mean rich, and famous. A tad hypocritical, I’d say. And it leaves me with a lot of unanswered questions about Wenner’s charitable contributions. Unanswered because an Internet search turned up nothing. Of course, that doesn’t necessarily mean anything, but it is a curious thing. How do you continuously do battle in print with the very thing you are a part of?
Putting that aside, the book is a great chronicle of a chronicler. Wenner is yet another 1960s icon who was fortunate enough to be in the right place at the right time and capitalize (groan) on what was happening. I do believe that he did not go into this to become rich, but to try to promote peace, love, and understanding. That sentiment seems quite genuine.
As a former journalist, albeit quite local, Wenner’s accounts of the production of the magazine, from choosing fonts to hiring some of the best writers in the States, are fascinating. He certainly knew how to pick ‘em. Wenner put Hunter S. Thompson, Cameron Crowe, Tom Wolfe, and Annie Leibovitz, among others, on the road to greatness. And then he had the bright idea to have famous people interview other famous people, which made for some really fascinating (and strange) reads.
Wenner counts Bono, Bruce, and Bette amongst his dearest friends, along with a host of other musicians, including Yoko and the ghost of John. From the political world, there’s been Jackie and John Jr., Al Gore and John Kerry, to name a few. And his ex-wife, who was there from the start and seems to now be comfortable with his male life partner, and kids from the two relationships. One of then now leads RS, but the changing times of what passes for news forced the family out of ownership.
Good journalism, the kind that Wenner so passionately promoted, is hard to find in the 2020s. The Fourth Estate barely exists. Maybe someone should cop that for a band name and then Rolling Stone can write about it. And possibly resurrect the institution before it’s dead. Wouldn’t that be something to talk about?