LIKE A ROLLING STONE
FIFTY YEARS AFTER a college dropout used a loan to start a counterculture music magazine in San Francisco, Sticky Fingers: The Life and Times of Jann Wenner and Rolling Stone Magazine chronicles the rise of one of pop culture’s most influential institutions, not to mention the sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll that fuelled it. And that’s just founder Jann Wenner, who trashed the book and its author, Joe Hagan, noting his desire that, “this book would provide a record for future generations of that extraordinary time. Instead, [Hagan] produced something deeply flawed and tawdry.” Of course, you can’t have rock ’n’ roll and counterculture without the warts that come with it, and it’s unclear why Wenner felt his story, which includes the fanboy antics of the young celebrity-obsessed editor, affairs and feuds and appearances by everyone from John Lennon to Joni Mitchell, would be treated any differently. Couple that with the fact that, in a move akin to Bob Dylan writing a jingle to sell sneakers, Rolling Stone itself sold out the very counterculture it once empowered, dedicating fawning, glossy covers to reality show hosts and manufactured pop acts throughout the last few decades. Indeed, the magazine that fostered groundbreaking talents like photographer Annie Leibovitz, leading critics like Lester Bangs and the gonzo journalism of Hunter S. Thompson eventually caved to mass-market appeal, while its struggles for editorial credibility were punctuated by the disastrous 2014 University of Virginia rape story, about a woman who accused members of a campus fraternity of sexually assaulting her in a factually inaccurate and poorly reported piece that Rolling Stone was forced to retract (and was sued over).
For his part, Hagan, who authored the biography, is a respected journalist whose efforts on Sticky Fingers continue to earn rave reviews. Meanwhile, Wenner’s put the magazine up for sale. Perhaps it’s happened that, after 50 years, this rolling stone has finally gathered a little too much moss. —MC