Jann Wen­ner and Bi­og­ra­pher Have Stopped Talk­ing Now

Rolling Stone mag­a­zine’s founder didn’t like the way his story turned out.

Paper Boy - - Life / Style - By JOE COSCARELLI and SYD­NEY EM­BER

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.”

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