I had just finished Jann Wenner’s memoir when the news of his interview with The New York Times broke. I was six when Rolling Stone was first published and had a print subscription for a long time. I decided to read the book less because I interested in Wenner himself as I was in the time period and culture in which he created the magazine: the music, the people, the events. There were lots of good stories that fostered my own memories.
The memoir was long and seemed to drag at points. Wenner was clearly a proud man who likes being rich and well-known and dropping lots of names. It was very different from Elton John’s funny, often self-deprecating story of his own life that I read last year.
And then, just after I finished the book, the interview dropped where Wenner pushed back when asked why all the “masters” featured in his new book were white men. Women and people of color were not articulate enough; they weren’t the philosophers of rock and roll, according to Wenner. Seriously? The interviewer was shocked and mentioned a long list of musicians like Joni Mitchell and Stevie Wonder, all of whom Wenner brushed aside as not meeting the lofty criteria for his book.
And then came the real ugliness, the view into Wenner’s soul: he guessed he should have picked a woman and a black man so he could have avoided these kinds of questions even though they would not have measured up to all these amazing white men. Oh, FFS.
The rest of the interview isn’t much better: Wenner should be proud of his work, but his pride spills over into arrogance. He seems incapable of self-reflection.
The repercussions were swift. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame that he co-founded kicked him off the board immediately, and a literary festival appearance was cancelled. After a day, the inevitable apology was offered. He spoke badly chosen words, he said, and accepted the consequences.
Craig Seymour, writing in The Guardian after the interview and the apology, reviewed the sexist, racist history of Rolling Stone and rock journalism in general, the not-so-secret history that Wenner “let slip” in the interview.
For me, it’s the apology that continues to wrankle. He is sorry he said what he said. Why? He made it clear in the interview that he knew exactly what he was saying. Even doubled down on it when the interviewer pressed him. So, why apologize? Why not be honest about how you feel, that you wrote the book so you got to choose, and you stand by your statements as horrible as they are. Because, I’ll be honest: I don’t think he is sorry.