I hope this op-ed is articulate enough for the Rolling Stone founder
I had three stories published in Rolling Stone; well, Rollingstone.com, actually.
The editors I worked with totally rewrote my pieces, which I thought was heavy handed for what I turned in. They didn’t make these stories better–they made them awkward, especially my piece on Max’s Kansas City. Never in my quarter century of writing at the pro level have I ever been rewritten with such a disregard for my original narrative. It was exactly like what Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Lester Bangs told William Miller in Almost Famous, only more annoying.
Then there was the time I pitched them an interview with Iggy Pop about working with renowned jazz pianist Jamie Saft and his trio. They took my story idea and assigned it to someone else. Mind you, it was Ben Ratliff, now of the New York Times, but still that was some shifty shit.
So when I hear that the magazine’s founder and former publisher Jann Wenner, in a recent interview with the aforementioned Times, dubiously revealed how the sausage was made during his run at the helm–namely allowing interview subjects to edit their own stories–it barely surprised me to learn the rot started at the top. But we’ve always known that when it comes to Wenner, right? I mean, dig how he explains his firing of Jim DeRogatis over his review of Fairweather Johnson by Hootie and the Blowfish.
What makes it even more frustrating, however, is the arrogant hubris by which Wenner explained himself. Especially when it comes to his decision-making skills, which as we learned while reading this interview, is skewed with a heavy double scoop of racism and sexism.
When the interviewer, former Interboro Rock Tribune contributor David Marchese, questioned Wenner about his new book, The Masters, and why he only talked to his rich white male rock star buddies and nobody else, this is what he said:
It’s not that they’re not creative geniuses. It’s not that they’re inarticulate, although, go have a deep conversation with Grace Slick or Janis Joplin. Please, be my guest. You know, Joni was not a philosopher of rock ’n’ roll. She didn’t, in my mind, meet that test. Not by her work, not by other interviews she did. The people I interviewed were the kind of philosophers of rock.
Of Black artists — you know, Stevie Wonder, genius, right? I suppose when you use a word as broad as “masters,” the fault is using that word. Maybe Marvin Gaye, or Curtis Mayfield? I mean, they just didn’t articulate at that level.
Marchese didn’t hesitate to push back, suggesting to Wenner that these decisions strictly stemmed from his own personal tastes and views, to which he responded:
That was my No. 1 thing. The selection was intuitive. It was what I was interested in. You know, just for public relations sake, maybe I should have gone and found one Black and one woman artist to include here that didn’t measure up to that same historical standard, just to avert this kind of criticism. Which, I get it. I had a chance to do that. Maybe I’m old-fashioned and I don’t give a [expletive] or whatever. I wish in retrospect I could have interviewed Marvin Gaye. Maybe he’d have been the guy. Maybe Otis Redding, had he lived, would have been the guy.
The backlash was swift and immediate, seeing him lose his seat on the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame–an organization he helped found in 1986–not to mention a speaking engagement in Montclair, NJ, at the Montclair Literary Festival. My Facebook wall was crawling with hot takes, the most intriguing of which was articulated by our own Tim Sommer, who found it peculiar that the only person to vote against booting Wenner from the Rock Hall was Bruce Springsteen’s manager Jon Landau, knowing the two were in cahoots for decades.
“We note that only one single Rock and Roll Hall of Fame board member voted to KEEP Jann Wenner on the board: Jon Landau,” Sommer wrote on his Facebook wall. “Just stating this as a fact (that the truly legendary Binky Phillips brought to my attention). In my opinion — and it’s only my opinion — Landau would not have done this without the approval of Bruce and Dave Marsh. I could be wrong, seriously I know that, but in any event it reflects a remarkable tone-deafness on the part of Landau, the leader of Team Bruce, though I also truly appreciate it could just be a way to thank Wenner for all of his consistent and unwavering support over the years; no media figure has remotely been as pro-Bruce (and as integral to Landau’s rise to the top of the industry) as Wenner, in which case I sort of ‘get’ the gesture.”
Now it should be noted that I personally don’t believe that Springsteen had anything to do with Landau’s decision to vote against the grain of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame board. But what Sommer does suggest is no doubt indicative of the kind of cronyism Wenner, Landau and their ilk have been employing forever — many times, I’m sure, with the artists merely used as pawns in their game.
Wenner, meanwhile, took a hot minute to muster up some kind of tepid apology over his words.
“In my interview with The New York Times, I made comments that diminished the contributions, genius, and impact of Black and women artists and I apologize wholeheartedly for those remarks,” he said in a statement. “The Masters is a collection of interviews I’ve done over the years that seemed to me to best represent an idea of rock ‘n’ roll’s impact on my world; they were not meant to represent the whole of music and it’s [sic] diverse and important originators but to reflect the high points of my career and interviews I felt illustrated the breadth and experience in that career. They don’t reflect my appreciation and admiration for myriad totemic, world-changing artists whose music and ideas I revere and will celebrate and promote as long as I live. I totally understand the inflammatory nature of badly chosen words and deeply apologize and accept the consequences.”
The fact of the matter is that no matter how deeply he apologizes or accepts the consequences, Wenner said what he said and there’s literal decades of editorial decisions he’s made on behalf of Rolling Stone is kindred to those sentiments he broached during the NY Times interview. He has been like this since he started the magazine, at least from what I’ve read over the years. His apology is as meaningless as one coming from Donald Trump. It’s who he is, and after nearly 55 years he’s so full of himself he doesn’t even realize what he’s saying is wrong.
Some, I’m sure, will blame it on “wokeism.” But let’s be real here, that’s hardly the case. The man spoke his mind, revealed his true self in public after years of illusion and will finally be suffering the fallout from it. This shit goes way deeper than some New York Times interview, though kudos go to my old pal Marchese for the Jedi Mind Trick he pulled in getting Wenner to unmask.
This man has done more to bring down the credibility of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame than anyone else. He has been punitive, elitist and frankly kept artist out of the hall over petty grudges and ego. This is a good thing. https://t.co/rVFkk67g0s
— Joe Bonamassa (Official) (@JBONAMASSA) September 17, 2023
You’ll never catch me singing the praises of Mr. Blues Hammer himself, guitarist Joe Bonamassa, but what he said this weekend over on the website formerly known as Twitter was right on the money – especially given that Joe has been a longtime critic of Wenner’s heavy hand in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
“This man has done more to bring down the credibility of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame than anyone else,” he posted on X along with a link to the NYT piece. “He has been punitive, elitist and frankly kept artist[s] out of the hall over petty grudges and ego. This is a good thing.”
Coming from someone who’s personally felt the burn of Rolling Stone’s questionable ways, I wholeheartedly concur. Patti Smith and Chrissie Hynde were both rock writers, and yet Bono–and I love Bono–is more articulate than either woman? Chuck D probably knows more about rock ‘n’ roll than Wenner will ever know, yet he doesn’t “measure up”? Come on, man.
And while I don’t feel shame for having my byline in Rolling Stone (or Rollingstone.com), this mishegas makes me kinda relieved they ghosted me a few years back.
I hope that was articulate enough for you, Mr. Wenner.