Rolling Stone founder falls out with biographer over candid life story

Jann Wenner, whose magazine charted pop music and culture since the 60s, gave Joe Hagan full access but is unhappy with the result, especially the sexual stuff

The relationship between biographer and subject can be notoriously tricky, filled with undefined expectations. But rarely does it come apart as dramatically as it has between Rolling Stone founder Jann Wenner and the writer of his life, Joe Hagan.

Hagans long-anticipated, 500-page account of the editor and his storied journal of 60s counterculture and the four decades since Sticky Fingers: The Life and Times of Jann Wenner and Rolling Stone Magazine is published next week.

In 2013, Wenner, gave Hagan full access to his archive and circle of friends among them Paul McCartney, Bono, Mick Jagger, Bruce Springsteen and scores of other stars. Hagan insisted the book should nonetheless be unauthorized, in order to give him freedom to tell the story he found. Wenner agreed to read it only when it was completed. Four years later the biography is about to hit the shelves and, the New York Times reported, Wenner feels betrayed.

In his first statement on the matter, issued this week, Wenner said that instead of producing the nuanced portrait about my life and the culture Rolling Stone chronicled he had hoped for, Hagan had produced something deeply flawed and tawdry, rather than substantial.

Hagan called the 71-year-old publishers reaction somewhat predictable.

He doesnt really think about the finer points of his history in the way that I discovered it through my research, the author told WWD. I knew this book was going to be hard for him. Because if you tell the true story, its hard.

Sticky Fingers offers a fascinating insight into the relationship between Wenner, his writers and some of the most storied musicians and celebrities of the late 20th century.

Jann is a very complicated guy, Hagan told WWD. He has been brilliant in his life but he is unvarnished and thats not always great for him. But I knew that I had to get the real story.

In his telling, that story offers a riveting insight into the machinations of celebrity, the entertainment industry and the post-60s cultural and economic boom among to quote Tom Wolfe the first generation to have the money, the personal freedom and the free time to build monuments and pleasure palaces to their own tastes.

Through it all, Hagan writes, Jann Wenner cast himself as indeed was the gatekeeper of the rocknroll story.

It was his schizophrenic nature a polarity of vulnerabilityand rageful ambition that drove the magazine. He was an antiwar liberal and a rapacious capitalist, naive and crafty, friend and enemy, straight and gay, editor and publisher.

Wenner, who recently put Rolling Stone up for sale, regrets giving Hagan independence. But he has done readers a favour. The books emphasis on Wenners bisexuality, for example, comes in a moment of new willingness to review how deeply the aesthetics of gay rock managers helped to shape the genre. Its also the primary reason he is known to hate it.

Jann Wenner, speaks at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2016. His role at the body has aroused controversy. Paul McCartney, for one, was not happy. Photograph: Danny Moloshok/AP


The book is character assassination on every page, a Vanity Fair editor tasked with finding a suitable passage to extract told the Guardian. Vanity Fairs editor-in-chief, Graydon Carter, eventually chose a passage about John Lennon and Yoko Ono after finding that sections about Wenners sexuality he was long married to Jane but is now married to a former Calvin Klein model, Matt Nye were too personal.

In fact the book is a subtle reading of the workings of American celebrity and the New York that Wenner, who founded the magazine in San Francisco in 1967, would come to inhabit. The true stylistic influencers of the following decade are colourfully revealed. But so too is what the stars Rolling Stone sometimes slavishly covered truly thought of Wenner.

Mick Jagger, for instance, was furious that Wenner chose to name his magazine after Jaggers band, in Hagans words an affront that would stick with him for 50 years. Keith Richards said it more succinctly: What a thief! But Jagger was also cunning enough to see an advantage.

I dont think Mick lets anyone off the hook for anything, Richards told Hagan. Hes never let anyone off the hook, once hes got one in. Wenner and Jagger, Richards said, are both very guarded creatures. You wonder if theres anything worth guarding.

When Lennon said jump

Paul McCartney also lets on that hes angry with Wenner over the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, a body tightly controlled by Wenner and small cadre of business insiders.

McCartney considered that Wenner had wriggled out of an obligation to induct him as a solo artist, which the Beatle regarded as a continuation of Wenners pro-John Lennon agenda. It all added to this historical thing, that John was really it in the Beatles, and the other three werent it, by implication, McCartney says in the book. Four years later, when the singer was admitted, his daughter Stella wore a T-shirt bearing the message: About Fucking Time!

Wenner clearly idolized Lennon. But the two fell out when Wenner published a long interview with the Beatle in a book, Lennon Remembers.

John Lennon had every expectation that Wenner would submit to his demands, Hagan writes. That had always been the deal: when Lennon said jump, Wenner said how many inches.

Lennon tore into Wenner in a letter which he challenged the editor to publish: You saw fit to publish a book of my own work, without my consent in fact, against my wishes, having told you many times on the phone, and in writing, that I did not want a book, an album or anything else

Hagan has said this exchange reveals the essential blueprint of Janns nature. He told Billboard: He would bite the hand that fed him. But it was also a sign that he truly believed that he had the power. He had the barrel of ink that was always going to give him the de facto leverage, that he needed to do whatever he wanted.

Sticky Fingers comes at a difficult moment for Wenner. Rolling Stones journalistic reputation has suffered in the fallout from a story about an alleged gang rape at the University of Virginia. He has sold two other titles, Mens Journal and Us Weekly, the latter a magazine Hagan calls a template for modern fame and the rise of Donald Trump.

Fame is power, Hagan writes. Its not like Donald Trump has any ideas. Hes just a fame monster. And fame is a thing that Jann understood. He helped invent it.

Last June, Wenner broke his hip and had a heart attack followed by triple bypass surgery. According to Hagan, he has yet to to address his biographer directly.

Hes gone radio silent, Hagan told Billboard. He de-friended me on Instagram. Through the grapevine, Ive heard that he thinks its salacious. And he hates the title. He doesnt like the sexual stuff.



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Marissa SafontRolling Stone founder falls out with biographer over candid life story

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