During his five decades at Rolling Stone, the magazine’s co-founder Jann Wenner wrote hundreds of articles and spent time with some of music’s biggest names – Mick Jagger, Paul McCartney, Bruce Springsteen, John Lennon and Bob Dylan, to name a few — and politics too, including Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, and Vice President Al Gore.
Speaking about the release of his new memoir, Like a Rolling Stone, Wenner said he looks back on those experiences with fondness and that writing the book has given him a new appreciation for the past 50 years.
“It was fun,” he said in a recent phone interview about the process. “When you do something like that, it means going back in time to remember those things, and you put yourself back into that emotional and physical state so you can describe all the essential details. It made me relive practically every moment of my life and it was a fabulous experience.”
Wenner was born in New York City and grew up in San Francisco, where he co-founded Rolling Stone in 1967 with jazz critic and journalist Ralph J. Gleason. Although Wenner had written for The Daily Californian at UC Berkeley and later Ramparts magazine, he said there wasn’t a publication that wanted to publish the stories he wanted to write, so he started his own. He was 21 years old.
There were bumps along the way, but Wenner said he has no real regrets. Sure, there are a few articles he admits he probably shouldn’t have published that he doesn’t specify, some business ventures that weren’t the best idea at the time, and people he shouldn’t have hired, but “You can’t change anything without changing everything, so I wouldn’t touch it,” he said.
“You realize how everything is connected and how all these things that were happening felt like they came out of nowhere. But in the end you realize how preordained everything was,” he continued. “You can see how it all fits together and how all those pieces were supposed to fit together and that that plan was going on behind the scenes the whole time.”
In the book he writes about how he met some of rock music’s most famous figures and the most powerful figures in politics; He said politicians are definitely harder to interview than musicians.
“It’s hard to talk to them because everything is so pre-tested and they’ve said it like 100 times, so it’s very difficult to get them to say something original or possibly unforeseen,” he said, adding, that his chats with world leaders were “important conversations”.
There was work many times, sometimes years of interviews, to really get certain artists talking.
“Out of all the musicians, I think the hardest part is opening up to Mick (Jagger) because he doesn’t really like talking about himself,” he said. Jagger, he adds, has been on the cover more than almost anyone else, either solo or with the Rolling Stones. Only Paul McCartney has performed more, as an individual and with the Beatles.
Wenner formed close relationships with Jagger, as well as with John Lennon and Yoko Ono, but he said friendships are friendships and business is business. Wenner said Jagger was not thrilled with Rolling Stone’s coverage of the infamous Altamont Rock Festival in 1969, which the Rolling Stones headlined. The poorly planned event turned chaotic and violent, resulting in the knife death of audience member Meredith Hunter at the hands of members of the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club who were providing security at the free concert event.
“You have to say in your heart what matters most to you, and the most important thing for me was my commitment as a journalist,” Wenner said of the Altamont coverage. “The most important thing was our credibility. And with Mick I had no choice but to do what was right for me and although Mick was angry at the time he got over it quickly and as you can read in the rest of the book we became very good friends.”
Wenner is also quick to acknowledge the others who helped build Rolling Stone. Dozens of people were instrumental, including photographers Annie Leibovitz, Herb Ritts, Albert Watson, and Richard Avedon, as well as journalists like Ben Fong-Torres, the legendary Hunter S. Thompson, and writer-director-turned Cameron Crowe, who shared his experiences as a teenager while writing for Rolling, Stone chronicled in his award-winning film, Almost Famous.
“It was never just one person,” he said, calling himself “lucky” at the talent that contributed. “Whether they walked in the door or I sought them out, sooner or later we had assembled one of the most wonderful groups of writers and photographers to have worked in the country or even around the world for some 20 to 30 years. These were some of the greatest writers and journalists of our time.”
Wenner said it felt good to revisit his days with the late gonzo journalist Thompson. Thompson was a prolific, high-profile contributor to Rolling Stone, including Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, which first appeared in the magazine as a two-part series before becoming a book and later a feature film starring Johnny Depp and Benicio del Toro.
“One of the funnest parts of writing this book was going back and writing about all the fun and wacky places we’ve been to,” Wenner recalls. “I put myself right back there and read some of the stuff he had written, some of which had been buried for years. Hunter was not only our star writer, but also my best friend. We were buddies and it was one of those amazing friendships. As I said in the book, I hope that when I die I end up where he is.”
It’s not just the lives and stories of other people that he shares in the book, though he’s also open about his own personal life. Although he hid his homosexuality for years during his marriage to his wife Jane, he made the decision to go public with it in the ’90s.
“It wasn’t hard for me to be open about it,” he said. “It was much more accepted back then. I mean, ‘Will & Grace’ was on TV and the subject was so much more open. I grew up in a time when people were jailed for homosexual acts and it was considered a disease.”
These days, Wenner says he enjoys hanging out and traveling with his husband Matt Nye and their three children. When he is at home, he spends his time reading. He is currently deep into Richard Ford’s The Lay of the Land and has also picked up works by Edmund White and Japanese writer Haruki Murakami.
Wenner ceded the reins to Rolling Stone in 2017 when he sold his stake in Penske Media, which now fully owns the magazine. Noah Shachtman is the current Editor-in-Chief and Wenner’s son Gus is the CEO of Rolling Stone. Wenner said he felt like he was leaving things in good hands and he was “excited and hopeful” for the future of the publication.
In his last letter to the editor for the magazine, Wenner wrote about climate change in a special issue inspired by Swedish activist Greta Thunberg’s speech at the 2019 UN climate summit.
“I felt like I had something else important in the last letter that I wanted to say to everyone,” he said. “What I learned is that climate is everything and everything is related to it, and if you could solve the climate problem, you could solve a lot of other problems as well. It was emotional and rewarding to write. I liked how the last chapter ended.”
https://www.ocregister.com/2022/10/06/rolling-stone-co-founder-jann-wenner-writes-about-music-and-life-in-new-memoir/ Rolling Stone co-founder Jann Wenner writes about music and life in new memoir – Orange County Register