Rock and Roll Missionary – East Hampton Star | Ad On Picture

Right Bono, Jann Wenner, Mick Jagger and Bruce Springsteen at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame 25th Anniversary concert in 2009.

“Like a Rolling Stone”
Jan Wenner
Small, brown, $35

As of this writing, Taylor Swift’s “Midnights” has topped the Billboard 200 album chart on November 13th. Last month, Ms. Swift became the first artist ever to fill the entire top 10 of the magazine’s Hot 100 chart.

Be careful of this middle-aged snob, but to these ears, “Midnights” seems – aurally, at least – as if it was concocted in a laboratory, next to the assembly line churning out loaf after loaf of miracle bread. Were any sentient beings involved in this creation, or is this the work of an artificial intelligence music generator? As critic Greil Marcus famously asked of Bob Dylan’s Self Portrait album, “What the fuck is this?”

Such is the sound of so much popular music today, which has undergone many unfortunate changes since October 1967, when the first issue of Rolling Stone magazine surfaced in San Francisco, then ground zero of a exploding youth culture that expressed itself through the music of the “establishment”. despised as well as feared.

It has certainly changed since April 1981, when I bought my first issue. There it was, on the counter in East Hampton’s Long Island Sound, a melancholy Ringo Starr on the cover, hair and beard mottled gray, just months after the murder of his friend and former bandmate John Lennon. “Taking Ringo Seriously (Mr. Starkey at 40)” was the caption.

I was thrilled to find this rock and roll journal and its thoroughly researched yet gonzo observations on music, politics and culture, but I also felt like I had missed it all. John and Ringo had turned around Fourty, and now one of them was gone.

I may have been born at the wrong time, but it certainly wasn’t Jann Simon Wenner. In his new autobiography, Like a Rolling Stone, Mr. Wenner, who owns a home in Montauk, chronicles an almost unimaginably wild ride amidst upheaval and excess, his baby boomer generation coming of age and strutting through the free world, defiant and defiantly rejecting authority while celebrating and over-indulging in sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll.

His birth in the early days of 1946 “placed me at the head of what would become the greatest, best educated, and wealthiest generation in American history,” he writes. His pediatrician was Benjamin Spock.

He was certainly in the right place at the right time, but that shouldn’t detract from the man’s achievements. “About sixth grade,” he writes, “I decided to become an editor and publisher. Born in New York but raised in hippie mecca San Rafael, California, he was obsessed with The San Francisco Chronicle from an early age. Ralph Gleason, The Chronicle’s jazz critic, became an important mentor, instrumental in founding Rolling Stone when Mr. Wenner was only 21.

“Ralph had written an essay entitled ‘Like a Rolling Stone’ for the academic journal American Scholar, in which he argued that Dylan and the Beatles, and Simon and Garfunkel and the Stones, were poets telling the truth about the current state of affairs world,” writes Mr. Wenner. The essay “was the philosophical underpinnings of Rolling Stone, our thesis, and ultimately our name. It was the title of Bob Dylan’s biggest hit and also a salute to the Rolling Stones, which I adored.”

Jann Wenner, right, with Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead and Charles Reich, a Yale professor and author, at Garcia’s Bay Area home in 1972.
Jim Marshall Photography, LLC

An experienced writer and editor, his prose is reader-friendly, his life and work is presented in 77 short chapters divided into five sections. While he appears to have taken great offense at his portrayal in Joe Hagan’s biography Sticky Fingers, which The Star reviewed in 2017, he has been open about his personal life, which from an early age included both prolific use of hallucinogenic drugs (“The Acid Provided So Much Depth For every experience…I became an evangelist for music and psychedelics”) and same-sex relationships. He and Jane Schindelheim married in 1968, a sometimes turbulent union that changed dramatically in late 1994 when he fell in love with a 29-year-old man named Matt Nye confessed.

In between, he describes a life of great adventures, one in which he quickly went from superfan to friend and confidant of rock and roll triumvirs Lennon, Mick Jagger and Bob Dylan, along with legions of other entertainers who absolutely loved his rock and roll music -roll magazine.

His gift for spotting talent was indispensable. Mr. Marcus, he of the aforementioned Bob Dylan review (which appeared in Rolling Stone), became a lifelong friend and a longtime editor. Writers Tom Wolfe, PJ O’Rourke, and Joe Eszterhas were long associated with the magazine, as were photographers Annie Leibovitz, Richard Avedon, and Mark Seliger. But Hunter S. Thompson would define the editorial slant of Rolling Stone first, the drug-fueled practitioner of New Journalism that delivers the most poignant and caustic views of contemporary America.

“I wanted to turn Rolling Stone into a journalistic force,” writes Mr. Wenner, “not just the ‘Bible of Rock and Roll.’ That long, strange journey took the magazine to Manhattan since “the magazine business was there, as were many of the writers I wanted to work with.” Also, “New York was more fun than San Francisco.”

His move to the East Coast brought Mr. Wenner to South Fork, and he describes adventures and good times on Further Lane and in Montauk with superstars like Paul McCartney, Bruce Springsteen and Bono (“my Amagansett friend Michael Cinque” is also mentioned) . As a New York publishing magnate, he acquired the celebrity-mad Us, renamed it Us Weekly, and founded Outside and Men’s Journal. With the disappearance of the counterculture, “Rolling Stone had become a mainstream magazine with affluent young readers,” he writes.

Nothing lasts forever, and over the decades, Rolling Stone’s relevance also began to fade as music tastes shifted and technology transformed the sound of popular music, while overturning longstanding business models of both the music business and print media. The brisk tempo of “Like a Rolling Stone” slows and the music takes a back seat to Mr. Wenner’s involvement in founding the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland and his personal life – Mr. Nye, to whom he is now married , their children and recent serious health challenges.

Later chapters are riddled with the deaths of friends and collaborators, including Thompson, who took his own life in 2005, and record executive Ahmet Ertegun, who died the following year after falling at a Rolling Stones concert. By the time Chuck Berry died in 2017, so had rock ‘n’ roll archetype and Poet Laureate, and by year’s end Penske Media Corporation had acquired a controlling interest in Wenner Media. The year before, BandLab Technologies had acquired a 49 percent stake, and Mr. Wenner’s son Gus, now Rolling Stone’s chief executive officer, sold Us Weekly and Men’s Journal.

At more than 550 pages, Like a Rolling Stone is bursting with stars and stories, and any music fan is likely to find the memories of this rock ‘n’ roll missionary extremely entertaining. “I feel lucky to be alive at this point and to be able to witness all of this,” Mr. Wenner recently told Howard Stern. “Rock ‘n’ roll is such a joy, such a pleasure to listen to, and on top of that it serves the good of humanity.”

Leave a Comment