Jann Wenner Wants to Reveal It All ~ NYT
The Rolling Stone founder talks about LSD, not reading the magazine anymore and how the Stones now look like “Lord of the Rings” characters onstage.
MONTAUK, N.Y. — Rock may be dead, but Jann Wenner is still rolling.
The founder of Rolling Stone magazine always had a baby face, but he was never timid. His own mother told him he was the most difficult child she’d ever encountered. He edited stories with a red pen. He gave out roach clips with subscriptions. He turned a darkroom into an in-house drug-dealing operation called the Capri Lounge, as a perk for staffers.
“More than anyone I know, he’s always just done what he wanted,” said his friend Lorne Michaels, the creator of “Saturday Night Live.”
When it suited him, Mr. Wenner was a tyrant.
“I wasn’t raving around tearing up people’s copy,” he said, looking relaxed in a blue linen shirt and black pants at his Montauk home in August. “But I just would not take less than your really best effort. I was tough, but I was also super-indulgent. I believed in writers.”
Hunter S. Thompson once wrote Mr. Wenner a letter about how working for Rolling Stone was “like being invited into a bonfire and finding out the fire is actually your friend.” He added, “Some people were fried to cinders, as I recall, and some people used the heat to transmogrify themselves into heroes.”
That wild energy is how, in 1967 when he was a 21-year-old enfant terrible, he created a magazine that chronicled a generation, serving up a flambé of music, drugs, alcohol, sex and politics. It was, to use a Wenner phrase, “a king hell spectacle.”
Boomers may be a punchline now, but back then, they were groovy. Ralph Gleason, a founding editor of Rolling Stone, wrote that the magazine was predicated on the idea that great musicians were “the true shamans,” and that music was the glue that kept young people in the 1960s and 1970s from falling apart “in the face of incredible adult blindness, and ignorance and evilness.”
“I’m sorry to see it go,” Mr. Wenner said about rock ’n’ roll. “It’s not coming back. It’ll end up like jazz.”
Now 76, he has written a memoir (“Like a Rolling Stone,” out on Sept. 13) brimming with juicy anecdotes about friendships and feuds with the gods of the golden age of rock. He also dishes on the inimitable writers he nurtured at the magazine, like Mr. Thompson, the avatar of gonzo journalism, and Tom Wolfe, a bespoke wonder in white among the shaggy hippies. Mr. Wenner also provides an intimate — she may think too intimate — look at Annie Leibovitz, the photographer who started her career at Rolling Stone and who took the moody cover shot of Mr. Wenner for the new autobiography.
Mr. Wenner almost died in 2017, after he broke his femur in a fall when he was showing his son Noah how to improve his tennis serve and had a heart attack that required open-heart surgery. He had to give up his daredevil habits of skiing, motorcycle riding and chain-smoking Marlboros. He said he had stopped doing coke long before, labeling it the “nefarious drug.”