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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

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