As founder and editor of Rolling Stone journal, Jann Wenner was chief publicist and mythmaker for the social revolution of the Sixties. So for those who select to learn his new memoir Like a Rolling Stone—a query on which I refuse to take sides, you could have your individual life to dwell—you may be shocked to find that there have been moments again in these early days when younger Jann thought he didn’t actually slot in.
He tried to be a rock musician, for instance, however he gave it up. The “life-style” was too unsure, too disorderly, he felt. “I favored construction, group, and management.”
Then there was the time Wenner crashed on the pad of Ken Kesey, creator of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and founding father of the troupe of tripping hippies referred to as the Merry Pranksters. However Kesey’s place was a multitude—he had an “open-door coverage” for visitors and also you by no means knew who the cat would possibly drag in. “My feeling was that I didn’t belong there.” Too yucky.
As a sophomore at UC Berkeley, on the daybreak of the Free Speech Motion, Wenner joined a bunch of radical college students that known as itself SLATE. However the membership! “Numerous beards, thrift-shop wardrobes, work boots, and unhealthy breath.” Make no mistake: For Jann Wenner unhealthy breath is a deal-breaker, even when the proletariat is making an attempt to wrest management of the technique of manufacturing. “You’re so bourgeois,” his fellow revolutionaries instructed him.
And the revolutionaries have been proper (about him being bourgeois, not in regards to the technique of manufacturing). It’s a high quality line Wenner walked, all by the Sixties, ’70s, and ’80s, as a loud advocate for the extra satisfying elements of the ’60s revolution. He was strongly in favor of sexual libertinism, drug legalization, anti-militarism, and the redistribution of everybody’s wealth however his personal. He was additionally in favor of increase a profitable publishing enterprise, crushing the competitors, buying personal plane, shopping for many, many homes, filling a warehouse with fancy vehicles, and amassing a private fortune within the low-to-mid eight figures.
Earlier than lengthy, Jann Wenner had leapfrogged the bourgeois altogether and change into not a radical however a limousine liberal.
The phrase has a quaint really feel as we speak, maybe as a result of the kind grew to become so unavoidable. “Limousine liberal” was a time period coined again within the ’60s to tell apart a brand new type of leftish determine. A limousine liberal wasn’t a dedicated ideologue like Dorothy Day or Saul Alinsky; nor was he descended from the rank and file of the Democratic Social gathering, these sexy handed sons of toil: prairie farmers, union members, ethnic partisans of huge metropolis political machines, the types of individuals you would possibly suspect of getting unhealthy breath.
Certainly it was a Democratic machine hack from New York who first invented the time period as pejorative. His goal was John Lindsay, the leftwing mayor of New York Metropolis within the late ’60s (and a Republican!). As the daddy of limousine liberalism, Lindsay counted as his most loyal constituency the rich residents of the Higher East Aspect of Manhattan. They have been vocally dedicated to racial solidarity, financial justice, heavy authorities regulation, all that jazz—as long as no person gave their chauffeurs and cooks any fancy concepts.
During the last 50 years, roughly the lifespan of Rolling Stone, the defection of the white (and now, more and more, the Hispanic) working class from the Democratic Social gathering left limousine liberals loads of room for redecoration. They turned the celebration right into a type of efficiency house, a stage for placing ethical poses and issuing political mandates that at all times appear to require extra from their fellow residents than from themselves. The well-to-do activists of the Democratic Social gathering, fortunate them, get to have their Ben and Jerry’s Groovy Tie Dye Ice Cream Cake and eat it too. The meat-and-potatoes liberalism that formed the celebration of Wenner’s youth appears a distant dream. It’s exhausting to think about Eleanor Roosevelt posing in a backless quantity on the Met Gala or George Meany canvassing Martha’s Winery for John Kerry’s presidential marketing campaign, as Wenner and his pal Larry David did in 2004.
Politics shouldn’t be the central theme of Wenner’s memoir, however the evolution of his political identification is without doubt one of the issues that makes the e-book attention-grabbing. From these early days, when he was made uneasy by the radicals who lived and breathed (ugh) their causes, he has grown into an exemplar of his class and his celebration. On the very first web page of the e-book he writes: “It was clear that my very own story, the saga of Rolling Stone, and the breadth and depth of its horizon might be a fantastic learn, and a traditionally genuine method of telling the story of my era, our instances, and my very own mission.” This sentence is a wonderful instance of the e-book’s tone: the banal informality (“a fantastic learn”) comfortable towards the grandiose (“traditionally genuine”), wrapped up in preening self-regard (“my very own mission”).
It has the extra advantage of being true.
For nobody ought to underestimate the largeness of Jann Wenner’s achievement. Few American journal editors of the twentieth century can match it. Like Harold Ross of the New Yorker, Henry Luce of Time, Life, and Fortune, Clay Felker of New York, and just about no person else, he conceived a massively profitable journal ex nihilo, to fulfill a public urge for food whose potential he alone noticed and monetized.
When the primary challenge of Rolling Stone spun from the presses, in late 1967, fashionable music was attaining a significance it had by no means loved earlier than. Due to the postwar increase, its teenage viewers was flush with money. The music business grew in wealth and capability as the cash poured in. Doting on the children, a small military of eggheads have been keen to flee the pains of conventional liberal arts and deal with the children’ music as a critical creative and sociological endeavor, no matter benefit.
An important determine amongst them was the jazz critic Ralph J. Gleason. Tweedy, elbow-patched, and wreathed in pipe smoke, Gleason noticed the potential within the younger genius’s concept: Untethered mind energy + free-floating money needed to equal one thing profitable. Wenner’s plan was to mix gossip, investigative reporting, music criticism, spot information, and narrative options of seemingly infinite size, packaged in a neoclassical graphic design (he banned san serif typefaces from his pages) and touched all through with understanding humor. The journal’s self-mocking motto was clipped from the banner of the New York Occasions: “All of the information that matches.” Gleason, a era older, launched such un-hippy like conventions as deadlines and budgets to self-discipline Wenner’s wild inspiration and ferocious power.
As Wenner tells the story, his success appears a matter of future, and I’m prepared to consider it. He had a Forrest Gump-like potential to be on the proper place on the proper time. He was there for the Grateful Lifeless’s first gig and Kesey’s legendary “acid exams.” He stayed up all evening whereas the Who’s Pete Townshend sketched out his rock opera Tommy for the primary time. He sat subsequent to Mick Jagger as Jagger made the ultimate mixture of Beggar’s Banquet, maybe the Rolling Stones’ best album. Lower than a yr after the Beatles’ break-up he bought John Lennon to trash his former bandmates in print.
He additionally had a watch for superior expertise and a nostril for information. From the beginning, Rolling Stone owned a very powerful information tales of the counterculture: the monetary fraud of the Monterey Pop Pageant, the nightmarish Stones live performance on the Altamont raceway, Charles Manson and the Tate-LaBianca murders, the kidnapping of the heiress Patty Hearst, and lots of extra.
Numerous the nation’s greatest journalists have been let out to do their best work for him: P.J. O’Rourke, the journey author Jan Morris, the critic Lester Bangs, Jon Krakauer, and Hunter S. Thompson, self-appointed founding father of “gonzo journalism.” Tom Wolfe was essentially the most celebrated nonfiction author of the day when Wenner lured him away from Felker’s New York to put in writing a historical past of the Mercury astronauts. The end result was The Proper Stuff, which stays a monument to the probabilities of reported prose. Later he let Wolfe transfer to fiction by serializing his first novel, Bonfire of the Vanities. He took a flyer on the unproved photographer Annie Leibovitz and capped the equally celebrated profession of Richard Avedon.
A terrific editor requires many qualities—an intuitive understanding of his viewers, a capability to identify small stirrings earlier than they change into massive developments, a style for good writing, cash—however self consciousness shouldn’t be one among them. In a memoir as gossipy as Wenner’s that is much less of a handicap than you would possibly suppose. The reader will determine what’s occurring even when the memoirist doesn’t. Wenner seldom lets various pages go by with no reference to his soul-deep friendship with some rock star or different. Bob Dylan drops by when he’s on the town. Bruce Springsteen invitations him to his horse farm. Jagger jets in for a sail across the Caribbean. Why, a courtroom order couldn’t maintain Paul McCartney or Bono or Jackson Browne away from the radiant pleasure of hanging with their pal Jann.
That their pal Jann additionally simply occurred to be the editor of their business’s most necessary commerce journal—the quilt of which generated sufficient publicity to virtually assure the success of a brand new report or tour—is, as Jann himself sees it, an merchandise of no significance in sustaining the non secular communion he enjoys with these busy, formidable, calculating, and relentlessly transactional present biz figures. He have to be a hoot to be with! His appeal, his humor! The glint of his dialog! Why else would Bob or Paul or Bruce be so anticipating his firm? In fact, he normally goes forward and obliges them with a canopy story. What else are associates for?
The identical obliviousness holds true in his political excursions. Artifical local weather change is evidently unaffected by the lengthy flights on his private jet. He’s, who would’ve guessed, a passionate advocate of gun management and the confiscation of personal firearms; one chapter is even titled “Fuck the NRA.” However—boy!—was he ever glad his information on a cross nation bike journey was packing warmth to guard him from the rednecks that infest the land between the coasts. (In equity, I ought to add that the information didn’t should shoot any of them.) He bravely condemned the “greed” unleashed by Ronald Reagan and different Republicans. But at the same time as he tends an ever rising pile of cash, preventing for each inch of market benefit, squeezing the most effective financing charges he can from Wall Road, and slashing payroll to juice earnings, he by no means succumbs to greed himself. Greed is a kind of horrible character flaws that solely afflicts different individuals. Most of them, thank God, would not have summer time compounds in Montauk.
Like most nice magazines, Rolling Stone not solely fed off its readers’ enthusiasms however in time started to form them too. Within the early days, because the journal’s and Wenner’s success grew, a debate stirred among the many hippies about “whether or not earning profits, or greater than you wanted, was unsuitable.” May there be such a factor as “hip capitalism”?
In practically 600 pages of memoir, Wenner doesn’t reply the query straight—he was by no means good at making arguments, as he proved within the many pompous, moralizing editorials he wrote for the journal and insists on quoting right here.
His life was his reply—a convincing “Hell sure!” The identical market financial system he disdained in concept might be squeezed in follow for limitless monetary achieve. The radicalism that Wenner flirted with in his youth and rapidly rejected requires a type of self-denial, even asceticism, that couldn’t stand up to the fixed allurements to which he fortunately submitted. In contrast, he writes, “I believed in a revolution of tradition and consciousness.” Good selection! That type of revolution is a a lot lighter raise than a revolution in financial preparations, and far more enjoyable.
The president that Wenner admires above all others is Invoice Clinton, one yr Wenner’s junior. Their similarities transcend their fondness for sexual extra and an inclination to go to pudge in the event that they’re not cautious. Like Wenner, Clinton fancied himself a person of the left, with roots in radicalism, however a realist too. Each made a profession of taking blistering criticism as sell-outs from leftwing critics whom they inevitably disenchanted. Clinton needed to disappoint the left as a result of he valued his political success in a center-right nation; Wenner needed to disappoint the left as a result of he valued his personal airplane.
The contradictions and hypocrisies of limousine liberalism might at all times be obscured in flights of rhetoric. Wenner quotes a number of of his editorial hymns to Clinton and his vice chairman Al Gore: “Clinton and Gore are males who got here of age within the sixties and whose sensibilities and worth programs have been shaped then. They’ve … rock and roll of their blood. [Their] election will give our era the prospect to resume our politics and to reconcile our deeply held values with the realities of presidency.”
Thirty years on Wenner reprints his reward with no hint of irony, a lot much less remorse. He fails to say that Clinton’s administration was notable most of all for passing welfare reform, coddling the bond market, globalizing free commerce, hollowing out home manufacturing, increasing the interior metropolis drug battle, and utilizing mass incarceration as a crime-fighting tactic. All these “deeply held values” made Clinton’s administration simply essentially the most reactionary Democratic authorities since Grover Cleveland’s. However who’s counting? The limousine rolls on.
Like a Rolling Stone: A Memoir
by Jann Wenner
Little, Brown, 592 pp., $35
Andrew Ferguson is a contributing author on the Atlantic and nonresident fellow on the American Enterprise Institute.