"Wenner thinks like a water moccasin."-Truman Capote
Jann Wenner founded Rolling Stone in San Francisco in 1967. John Lennon was on the first cover. The magazine became not just a force in music but in pop culture and "Sticky Fingers" is the story of Wenner, Rolling Stone, and how the counterculture evolved (or sold out). The previous commentator describes Wenner as complex, which I think is overly generous. Ambitious, savvy, driven, reckless, ruthless are more appropriate adjectives. After spending 500 pages with him, I couldn't stand the guy, who seemed far less interested in music and far more interested in hanging out with rock stars and doing lots of cocaine. Hey, it was the 70's. Journalist Joe Hagan is maybe too close to his subject ("Jann Wenner asked me to write his biography in the fall of 2003.), treating him with admiration and lacking much of a critical eye, which means it reads like an overstuffed Vanity Fair celebrity piece. What it does best, perhaps unwittingly, is chart the transformation of rock from its scruffy, druggy roots into a massive, bloated business, as exemplified by frequent cover stars Rolling Stones. It's funny they initially complained about the magazine's name, when they took it from a Muddy Waters song.
It's only rock and roll, but he liked it. From a young age, Jann Wenner knew exactly what he wanted: to be seen with the right people and surround himself with the ostentatious trappings of wealth. Mostly, he wanted to become a mogul along the lines of William Randolph Hearst. Insatiably driven to succeed, Wenner plotted and schmoozed his way from chubby enthusiastic fanboy to suave society icon, eventually running the most influential rock and pop culture magazine of its day, "Rolling Stone." This is the fascinating story of how he did just that: cultivating and alienating upcoming talents along the likes of Hunter S. Thompson, Annie Leibovitz, and Cameron Crowe, simultaneously sucking up to and tearing down every rock and roll giant from the 60s onward, sleeping with whomever caught his fancy or whom he felt could achieve his ends, building ever bigger mansions and creating his own grand personal empire in reality and in his head. Wenner's personal story is an intriguing one, serving also as a condensed pop culture history lesson contained within the pages of his magazine. The idealism and rebellion of 60s youth culture turning to early 70s revolution and disillusionment, only to be dismantled in the dizzying drug world of the disco years and unapologetic 80s materialism. Wenner was there for it all, manipulating everything to suit his own personal desires, continuing to build his empire as he hobnobbed with the likes of Jagger and Springsteen, blindly refusing to accept the changes coming to music with the ascent of MTV and other cultural changes. A complex man, an utterly engrossing story.
Well researched and well written, the author has done a fine job. I was drawn to this book as a fomer Rolling Stone reader. As a reader of RS I inherently knew I was being shoveled a load of propaganda, but I wanted to find out about new music at the time. I endured the lifestyle claptrap of the ‘60s that was being hustled. That aside, the book details the avarice, lust, and domination (money, sex, and power) that drove Wenner from his earliest childhood to this very day. Greed and the lust for autonomy best describe Wenner’s motivation, and it is not a pretty picture. The man made and spent a fortune, but at what price?
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