Sticky Fingers: The Life and Times of Jann Wenner and Rolling Stone Magazine (2017) – Joe Hagan

Title:Sticky Fingers:The Life and Times of Jann Wenner and Rolling Stone Magazine
Author:Joe Hagan
Publisher/s:Alfred A. Knopf/Borzoi
Date of publication:2017
Star Rating:⭐⭐⭐⭐

“Jann was the first writer (journalist)… who saw this whole world of pop music…and who felt it had the kind of importance to all of our lives that, in the event, it turned out it did”

If Joe Hagan’s intention with this book was to make readers dislike Jann Wenner then he has succeeded. That being said right in the beginning I would like to move beyond the Wenner assassination that permeates this book and move to the really in depth treasure trove that is the written history of Rolling Stone magazine. {Kindly note that I in no way mean that it is an intentional character assassination, but rather an unfortunately honest portrayal of a man whose brilliance surely supercedes his blatant narcissism and controlling nature}. Again however the title does suggest that the main focus will of course be Jann, and fair enough to that.

Jann Wenner started Rolling Stone in 1967 amidst controversy involving the band The Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan’s 1965 song, Like A Rolling Stone. The confusion alone was enough to make it seem as though Wenner and Mick Jagger, The Rolling Stone’s lead singer were in this ‘business of cool’ together, and for a really long time they were. In fact Mick Jagger and Jann would be an almost unstoppable force during the 70’s and 80’s and as we all know The Rolling Stones are still making music to this day – needless to say Jagger has graced the cover of RS more than any other artist or celebrity.

“Like the Melody Maker and the Musical Express, but an American one that would be different and better and would cover not just the records and the music but would cover the whole culture”

In the 1960’s rock and roll was pretty much EVERYWHERE. It was a massive part of a huge ‘counter-culture’, and to say that RS was trying to sell that culture back to the people was not a lie. The original offices of RS in San Francisco were buzzing with writers that defined an era of debauchery and a new world in which the notion of ‘celebrity’ was something very different to what it once was. Readers no longer wanted to be spoon fed morality and for a while the words: “rebellion” and “celebrity” went hand in hand. Wenner’s magazine defined a culture and became the epicenter of ‘the buzz’ that revered Hunter S. Thompson and his insane antics, and gave jobs to Annie Liebovitz and Cameron Crowe who would go on to be very, very famous in their own right. Writers such as Ben Fong-Torres and Robin Green were the stuff of legends, and already established greats such as Truman Capote (Breakfast at Tiffany’s) and Tom Wolfe (The Bonfire of the Vanities) would waltz into RS and join whatever booze and drug-addled party was being held on the desks of a magazine that was doing something no other magazine was doing – turning rock and roll into not only a lifestyle, but an empire that would change the way music was ingested by the masses forever.

“If Jann Wenner had only one great idea, it was an idea with staying power: that the 1960s – “the Sixties” – was a mythic time that would be endlessly glorified and fetishized by his generation in records and books, TV shows and films, T-shirts and posters, for years to come, for ever and ever, amen. The 1960s, with all its passion and idealism, was, at its sacred core, a business.”

Wenner dreamed of being a magazine mogul, and soon enough the magazine was packing its bags and moving from San Francisco and the ‘summer of love’ to New York where fashion icons and billionaires were the new celebrity. The magazine would evolve through not only rock, punk and new wave, but also through politics, sexism, racism, MTV, the advertising industry and the very rapid evolution of technology. All the while Jann Wenner was hiding his homosexuality (to a certain degree) whilst remaining married to his wife Jane and being a father to his three sons. In 2011 Wenner would finally marry Matt Nye.

Though famous (and at times infamous) for its in-depth interviews with Bob Dylan and Gregg Allman, Annie Leibovitz’s celebrity photographs that were astoundingly personal and RS‘s often political stance, the magazine was also known for covering the Altamont Raceway concert that featured The Rolling Stones and resulted in the tragic death of a fan, broke all records with Leibovitz’s iconic photo of John Lennon and Yoko Ono which made the cover after his sudden death in 1981, and the more recent University of Virginia rape scandal article that turned out to be a fabrication on the part of the source. Controversy aside (and I mean RS was not by any means unfamiliar with controversial topics) Wenner’s creation was also responsible for the advent of ‘Gonzo’ journalism in which Hunter S. Thompson took the lead and brought us Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and Hells Angels. As much as the notion of music was changing so was journalism and what it meant in the greater scheme of Jann Wenner’s mind.

“Did Jann Wenner embody the vices or the virtues of his generation? Certainly the rock-and-roll hymnbook of the 1960s had promised something else. At one time, holding Rolling Stone was like holding a piece of hot shrapnel from the cultural explosion of the 1960s while it still glowed with feeling and meaning. “

Hagans’s account is extraordinary for it’s attention to detail and it’s multitude of deliciously decadent stories of excess and revolution. In many way reading Sticky Fingers felt personal because RS has always been a part of my life. To read it and pour over the numerous black and white photographs scattered throughout the book felt like an indulgence of the best kind. Reading about the rock-and-rollers and the writers that contributed to its legendary status felt as though I’d discovered a long forgotten box of mementos from my childhood and everything in it was gold. Whatever your opinion of Jann Wenner may be, he is still undoubtedly the reason for Rolling Stone, and essentially the immortality that is ROCK-AND-ROLL.

A truly remarkable book that deserves pride of place with all your rock memoirs and music memorabilia.

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