In the midst of reading “Sticky Fingers: The Life and Times of Jann Wenner and Rolling Stone Magazine” by Joe Hagan, and I am here to tell you that the world has gone through a seismic cultural bouleversement since the founding of RSM. Jann, whose name is pronounced Yann, has recently sold the magazine, and he had this to say about it: “With Rolling Stone in my life, we were so at the white-hot center of everything for so many years. Culture has changed. It’s all a young man’s game. I’m not that. We’re not the white-hot center anymore: the Rolling Stones or the Beatles or U2. I mean, it’s Taylor Swift and Rihanna.”
Are you under the impression that Jann was Scandinavian? Not at all, a Jewish boy whose birth name was Jan Weiner. His parents changed the family name on the belief that Jews were associated with the lower class and poverty, and Jann added the extra n because it had been mistaken for a girl’s name in school. His father created a successful baby formula company and the family was well-to-do, but dysfunctional. Mother was someone who should never have married. Of Jann, she said that he was the worst child she had ever met. When the parents divorced and the family separated neither parent wanted to take him in. Jann, whose father was physically violent, begged his mother to take him in. “You’re on your own Buster Brown” was her reply to the 11 year old boy who never forgot it. And he was on his own from that moment on. He went from boarding school to college, to his own place.
A nasty kid, to be sure, he wised up in boarding school where he found himself among the truly rich and famous. He embraced this culture as his own and loved its opulent lifestyle, its elitism. Smart, very very smart, Jann was described by those who met him, his friends, and coworkers as someone whose mind was always on, the gears turning at split second speed with each new idea. Harvard rejected him so he went to Berkeley where the summer of love was unfolding. He grew his hair out to page boy length and became enamored of LSD and rock and roll. From his work as a stringer for NBC news on campus, he later got a job on Ramparts magazine. Similar to RSM, Ramparts was political and literary. Jann had the good fortune to connect with the jazz and music writer Ralph Gleason there, an older guy who became a major force in the establishment and style of RSM. Jann, who was no hippie, rather more an establishment-type guy, loved rock and roll, the spirit of that age, and the audacious, irreverent people who populated that world.
Looking back to that time, it is hard to take in America’s present culture. Where is our John Lennon, Beatles, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Donovan, and Pink Floyd, where are Brian Wilson’s Good Vibrations? Where is youth today, paying off student loans? How did it all die? How did we become this warmongering, menacing, and fearful nation whose major concern is security, material stability and bling?