Rolling Stone founder Jann Wenner has shown that he’s well-versed in begging, borrowing and stealing—and not necessarily in that order.
When he was 21, he borrowed $7,500 from his family and the family of his future wife, Jane Schindelheim, and started the ground-breaking magazine that filled a niche for the “don’t-trust-anyone-over-30” crowd.
When Jann was 25, he destroyed the admiration that John Lennon once held for him by publishing the Lennon Remembers book. Yoko noted: “John asked Jann not to publish it [a number of John’s interviews] as a book. When Jann told him he was going to do it, John was heartbroken. Jann wanted the money, more than our friendship. And John never spoke to him again.”
And these days, Jann is begging for forgiveness after stating in a New York Times interview that the reasons women or black artists weren’t included in his new book The Masters which features interviews with Bob Dylan, Lennon, Mick Jagger, Pete Townshend, Jerry Garcia, Bono and Bruce Springsteen was because they weren’t “philosophers of rock and roll” and “didn’t articulate at that level.”
The quite articulate Patti Smith might beg to differ with Jann, as she has written more books than Bono, Jerry Garcia, Mick Jagger, and Bruce Springsteen combined.
Five of Jann’s masters should have advised him to include Smokey Robinson and Chuck Berry in his book, with Springsteen tweeting on the day of Berry’s death: “Chuck Berry was rock’s greatest practitioner, guitarist and the greatest pure rock ‘n’ roll writer who ever lived.” And there was a reason why Keith Richards inducted Berry into the R&R Hall of Fame in 1986; joking “It’s very difficult for me to talk about Chuck Berry because I lifted every lick he ever did play.”
It’s safe to say that Jann’s masters would vouch for Smokey’s inclusion, with Dylan noting in Rolling Stone that Smokey is a “great poet.” The Beatles certainly took notice of Smokey’s greatness; recording his “You Really Got a Hold on Me” and his lyrics were poached by Lennon who used the “I’m crying” line from “Ooh, Baby, Baby” in his “I Am the Walrus.”
Another Jann master, Pete Townsend, loved Smokey’s lines “Although she may be cute, She’s just a substitute” from “The Tracks of My Tears” and how Robinson crooned “substitute” so much that it inspired him to write one of The Who’s strongest songs, “Substitute.”
Indeed, Jann’s picks became masters from studying the masters. These include Carole King, with Lennon noting that he and Paul wanted to become “the Goffin [Carole’s then-husband, lyricist Gerry Goffin]-King of England.” Carole cracked: “I had taken this to mean not that they hoped to marry each other and live in New Jersey but that they aspired to be successful songwriters.”
Another female master overlooked by Jann is Joni Mitchell who refused to be interviewed by Rolling Stone for seven years after the magazine made a tawdry chart detailing her love affairs. But should she or anyone else create their own chart about Wenner, they could detail how he used his friendships with two of his “masters” to enrich himself: Bono sold advertising for Rolling Stone by personally schmoozing with Detroit automakers while Jagger was Jann’s business partner when they launched the British edition of the magazine.
It failed, with gaffes including a front page proclaiming an interview with “Bob Dillon.” Jann remains a fanboy of Jagger, admitting in the Times interview that he overruled his Rolling Stone editors in their review of Jagger’s 2001 LP Goddess in the Doorway and gave the poorly-received album five stars. Jan recalled:
“The editors put it at four stars, and there was not a critical backlash to the thing. The only backlash to it was from Keith Richards, who, instead of calling it ‘Goddess in the Doorway’ called it ‘Dogshit in the Doorway.’ So, I personally intervened. Having sat there and listened to Mick make it, I was in love with it. I confess, I probably went too far. So what? I’m entitled.”
Despite his self-made PR nightmare, Wenner’s net worth is something like $600 million. The blowback from the controversial Times interview makes it doubtful his new book will add much to his coffers: as of September 28th, it was No. 7,594 on Amazon’s book sales list.
Jann remains free to voice his opinion but it’s a steep downfall for the once-influential publisher who seemingly had his finger on the pulse of his generation.“Yawn Wenner,” as Garry Trudeau called him in his Doonesbury comic, is certainly finished at the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame, which quickly removed him from the Board.
Wenner now has plenty of time to wonder if the Hall will finally induct the Monkees and Warren Zevon. He can also wonder if Frank Zappa, never a Rolling Stone darling, was referring to him when he said in 1989, “Rock journalism is people who can’t write interviewing people who can’t talk for people who can’t read. Without deviation from the norm, progress is not possible.”
Photo: Fair Use image of Jann Wenner’s “The Masters”