Jann Wenner and Biographer Have Stopped Talking Now
Rolling Stone magazine’s founder didn’t like the way his story turned out.
Jann Wenner and his biographer are no longer on speaking terms.
If things had gone according to Mr. Wenner’s plan, the two of them would be appearing together at promotional events timed to the recent publication of the 547-page tome.
Instead, Mr. Wenner, the founder of Rolling Stone magazine, is distancing himself from Joe Hagan, the writer who spent four years chronicling Mr. Wenner’s life.
The reason is simple: Mr. Wenner doesn’t like the book.
“I gave Joe time and access in the hope he would write a nuanced portrait about my life and the culture Rolling Stone chronicled,” Mr. Wenner said. “Instead, he produced something deeply flawed and tawdry.”
Mr. Hagan said there was no reason Mr. Wenner should have been surprised by the contents. “It was all on the table — there’s nothing he didn’t know,” the writer said.
Mr. Wenner, 71, and Mr. Hagan, 46, last spoke in June, during a difficult period in the media mogul’s life. He had broken his hip and had also suffered a heart attack. Not long after surgery, Mr. Wenner read “Sticky Fingers: The Life and Times of Jann Wenner and Rolling Stone Magazine.” He felt betrayed, according to people close to him.
The biography describes Mr. Wenner’s rise to moguldom, his symbiotic relationships with popculture legends and the evolution of Rolling Stone from scrappy underground rag to entertainmentindustry bible. It also excavates Mr. Wenner’s personal life, including his complicated homosexuality, drug use, sexual escapades, familial friction and frequent feuds.
The project began in 2013. They ran into each other and bonded over their children. Some time later, Mr. Wenner picked Mr. Hagan up in a Porsche. Over lunch Mr. Wenner proposed an idea: Would Mr. Hagan write his biography?
“I was just really scared,” Mr. Hagan said. “A lot of people walked the plank on his pirate ship.”
In one meeting with Mr. Hagan, Mr. Wenner indicated he would like veto power over coverage of his sexual history. In a letter to Mr. Wenner afterward, Mr. Hagan wondered whether he could write a biography “in which part of your life is fenced off from my inquiry.” He added, “You spent 27 years traveling in elite celebrity circles as a gay man married to a woman.”
Mr. Wenner agreed to read the book only once it had reached its final form, and Mr. Hagan signed a deal for $1.5 million with the pub- lisher Alfred A. Knopf.
Mr. Hagan conducted more than 240 interviews and mined Rolling Stone archives. He and Mr. Wenner spent dozens of hours chatting.
“He would say, ‘One day they’re going to put a plaque on this wall and say that’s where it all happened,’ ” Mr. Hagan recalled.
Mr. Wenner also facilitated interviews with, among others, Mick Jagger, Yoko Ono, Bob Dylan and Paul Mccartney. Even Mr. Wenner’s ex-wife, Jane, typically media-shy, spoke with Mr. Hagan with candor.
Things began to go sour last spring when Mr. Wenner objected to the title. He found “Sticky Fingers” cheap, Mr. Hagan said.
Mr. Wenner’s disapproval of the final product may stem partly from his position of vulnerability: Mr. Wenner’s media empire was showing signs of collapsing under the weight of an industry-wide financial downturn and a debunked article published in Rolling Stone on a rape allegation at the University of Virginia. Over the last year, Mr. Wenner has sold two titles, Us Weekly and Men’s Journal, and in mid- September, he announced that his company’s remaining share of Rolling Stone is up for sale.
Others were also sympathetic to Mr. Wenner. Vanity Fair swapped out an excerpt it had initially planned to run about the Wenners’ marriage. “It was just too personal,” Graydon Carter, Vanity Fair’s editor, said in an email.
During a meeting, the writer appealed to Mr. Wenner’s legacy as an editor known for giving writers freedom. “Don’t blow it now,” he said. Mr. Wenner leaned back, Mr. Hagan said, “and he signed off on all of it.”
Well, except one detail: He asked that Mr. Hagan leave out the name of the woman with whom he had lost his virginity.
Joe Hagan, the author of ‘‘Sticky Fingers: The Life and Times of Jann Wenner and Rolling Stone Magazine.”