Sticky Fingers: The Life and Times of Jann Wenner and Rolling Stone Magazine by Joe Hagan

Sticky Fingers: The Life and Times of Jann Wenner and Rolling Stone Magazine

The first and only biography of Jann Wenner, the iconic founder of Rolling Stone magazine, and a romp through the hothouses of rock and roll, politics, media, and Hollywood, from the Summer of Love to the Internet age.Lennon. Dylan. Jagger. Belushi. Leibovitz. The story of Jann Wenner, Rolling Stone's founder, editor, and publisher, is an insider's trip through the backsta...

Title:Sticky Fingers: The Life and Times of Jann Wenner and Rolling Stone Magazine
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Sticky Fingers: The Life and Times of Jann Wenner and Rolling Stone Magazine Reviews

  • Jason Diamond

    I love a good media/publishing bio, and Joe Hagan's is one of the best I've ever read. Sure, the excess and greed on display make the subject into some coked up Machiavellian character, but it's also the people around him (some literally out of a Joan Didion novel), and the way Hagan uses his subject as a mirror to hold up to an entire generation, that makes this such a compelling book.

  • Harry Buckle

    A five star book...about a less than one star opportunist, Rolling Stone Magazine owner Jann Wenner. Having my self spent 50 years in the music industry, fortunately with some success, I observed the birth of Rolling Stone and followed it- both the US and ill fated UK edition, until the current day. I share the view of Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, John Lennon and others that Wenner was an odious hanger on, and remarkably free of charm or talent. The magazine did however fill a much needed nation

    A five star book...about a less than one star opportunist, Rolling Stone Magazine owner Jann Wenner. Having my self spent 50 years in the music industry, fortunately with some success, I observed the birth of Rolling Stone and followed it- both the US and ill fated UK edition, until the current day. I share the view of Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, John Lennon and others that Wenner was an odious hanger on, and remarkably free of charm or talent. The magazine did however fill a much needed national gap in the US music media at the time. Given the costs of distribution, the margins available and other factors Mr Wenner is to be congratulated on seizing the moment. In those early days the majorly influential British New Musical Express had not yet become a home for fine creative writing, but was well respected by musicians and consumers on both sides of the pond. (I'm more Irish by the way, so we could diverge here to Hot Press or the equally excellent Australian mix of surf and music- Tracks.) So, there was a skill in taking Rolling Stone along the Playboy/Esquire/Village Voice route by adding some good writing. As my music companies started to have success around the world I found myself joining the PR folks at the major US music companies, concerned not to upset the by then 'all important Rolling Stone', and desperately trying to restrain my artists from venting their derision and distain for Wenner. 'For gods sake don't let him come backstage' was regularly to be heard. But given that Radio and TV promotion in the US music market was the most majorly corrupt in the world (Payola- oh no Sir, not us.) a decent feature in Rolling Stone could help promote a band more than somewhat. When Paul McCartney was eventually...endorsed into the Wenner dominated Rock N Roll Hall of Fame, Stella McCartney wore a T shirt that said: About F***ing Time. Mr Hagan's seriously excellent book tells a truth 'About f***ing time'. I note that many rank Donald Trump above Mr Wenner in their listing of US persons they respect! Given the still considerable influence of the magazine I fear that, much as I love them, not so many of my music industry contemporaries will put their heads above the parapet to tell it like it is. Mr Hagan's book does tell it like it is...and not 'all the news that fits' Mr Wenner's self seeking and still internationally ignorant ideal.

  • Byron

    This has been all over the news because Jann Wenner is pissed that the author got so much dirt on him. That ought to give you an idea of how interesting this book is.

    It's amazing that Wenner, presumably being at least somewhat aware of who he is, would allow someone to write a book like this about his life. Would it have been possible for someone to write a credible book about him that wasn't at least kinda embarrassing? The key may have been that the author caught Wenner at a time when his heal

    This has been all over the news because Jann Wenner is pissed that the author got so much dirt on him. That ought to give you an idea of how interesting this book is.

    It's amazing that Wenner, presumably being at least somewhat aware of who he is, would allow someone to write a book like this about his life. Would it have been possible for someone to write a credible book about him that wasn't at least kinda embarrassing? The key may have been that the author caught Wenner at a time when his health was failing him, he'd lost a substantial amount of his fortune and he was facing the prospect of having to sell his remaining stake in Rolling Stone for a mere fraction of what it was worth not too long ago. This could be the last chance for someone to write such a book about him. It's good timing, anyway.

    Sticky Fingers is the warts-and-all story of how he arrived at this point. It's not all anti-Jann stuff, and in fact it makes a pretty good case for him being one of the most significant figures of his generation (in the value-neutral sense of the term), but it's surprisingly raw and comprehensive for a quasi-official biography. (I guess technically it's unauthorized, but Wenner obviously sat for a quite a few interviews and provided Hagan with access to his absurdly immense personal archives.) If you're at all interested in the history of rock (not pop!) journalism, Rolling Stone magazine, the evolution of the baby boomer generation and what have you, you're definitely going to want to have a look.

  • Sarah Paolantonio

    I went to see author Joe Hagan speak at WORD bookstore in Greenpoint, Brooklyn the night I purchased this biography. Before I say anything else, I admire Hagan as a reporter and a biographer. I think that writing the biography of someone like Wenner who gave himself the post as gatekeeper to rock and roll and its history is more than an undertaking. Wenner has always controlled the narrative and this book is the first time he isn’t. What Hagan found through loads of personal documents, letters,

    I went to see author Joe Hagan speak at WORD bookstore in Greenpoint, Brooklyn the night I purchased this biography. Before I say anything else, I admire Hagan as a reporter and a biographer. I think that writing the biography of someone like Wenner who gave himself the post as gatekeeper to rock and roll and its history is more than an undertaking. Wenner has always controlled the narrative and this book is the first time he isn’t. What Hagan found through loads of personal documents, letters, photographs, and interviews with Wenner is remarkable. The bubble has burst and I thank Hagan for that.

    The story Hagan told the crowd at WORD is that he bumps into Jann Wenner, they strike a friendship, and Wenner asks Hagan to write this book (just in time for Rolling Stone's 50th year). Hagan wasn't quite sure about the assignment as a few biographies had been stopped when authors got a little too close to home for Wenner's liking. Wenner asks Hagan to send him some writing and his profiles and interviews with Henry Kissenger and Hillary Clinton convince Wenner—“if you’re good enough for HRC,” Wenner told him, “you’re good enough for me.”

    More information comes from Yoko Ono, McCartney, Bruce Springsteen, Lorne Michaels, Bob Dylan, Mick Jagger, Annie Leibovitz, Cameron Crowe, Pete Townshend, Art Garfunkel and most surprising of all, Wenner's wife Jane. There are also interviews with staff members, writers, editors, business partners, record executives, and so on.

    Hagan dives deep into Wenner's past and hears what friends and colleagues really have to say about Wenner as a businessman and a public figure. Wenner doesn't read the finished manuscript until it's too late. It's announced that Wenner will no longer be appearing with Hagan for interviews and publicity events. And after the book officially is published, Wenner made a statement to CBS News that the biography was "bullshit," among other things. The wild hypocrisy of giving someone permission, giving them interviews, to write your biography and then simply not being happy with what was found and calling it BS just baffles me.

    This is the story Joe Hagan told us at WORD, most of which I had read online that day and the day before as the news broke about Wenner’s disapproval of the biography. But hearing Hagan tell the story in person was so much better. Joe Hagan is a hero.

    I grew up with The Greatest of All Time issues, Anniversary editions, and Best Of editions of Rolling Stone magazine. It was a gatekeeper to music for so many for so long. And now for the first time, there's a different side to the story. A story about an egomaniac that let the subjects of his interviews edit their copy; about someone who fought for the anti-establishment cause in the pages of RS and took home extra money while he underpaid his staff; a closeted gay man who encouraged the gaze on rock stars, cementing the idea of celebrity, fame, and success with bare skin--men and women alike--who "tell all!" This infuriates me because Wenner is also the same person who legitimized music journalism. Before RS, there weren't people writing smart copy and criticism about music. He gave that a space and took it seriously and demanded everyone else did too. Without that, I wouldn't be here and neither would a lot of the writers I love.

    The details of Wenner’s subjectivity are obnoxious. The line I know from 'Almost Famous' about "the magazine that broke up Cream and ripped every album Led Zeppelin ever made" is true. Wenner hated the *sound* of Zeppelin (and Black Sabbath) and either ignored them or tore them a new one in his pages. (Cameron Crowe was often assigned to write about the bands Wenner didn't care for--Zeppelin, Jethro Tull, Deep Purple.) He held grudges in business for personal reasons. Paul Simon and Wenner once dated the same woman and until Bridge Over Troubled Water made Simon & Garfunkel household names, Wenner refused to review their records.

    When MTV hit planet Earth, Wenner resented the fact that someone else had the idea first and then "commanded his business managers to prepare an immediate and total makeover of RS to exploit MTV for subscriptions/edit coverage/ties ins."

    Mostly, I’m angry and I can’t understand why because I should've known better. I’ve known he was an eyeroll-inducing washed up executive for a while now but I didn’t see it coming on this level. When I talk about Wenner and this biography I talk myself in exhausted circles about how ironic and capitalistic and backwards he was (is) compared to everything Rolling Stone is supposed to stand for. The magazine didn't have a fact-checking department until the 1970s. In the 80s, the “Me Decade,” he eventually ran US Army ads (Wenner was a draft dodger, got out on “homosexual tendencies” among other things). The story ends with the investigative piece about the UVA on-campus rape, a piece that was not vetted by RS' legal department on a basic oversight. Basically, no one fact checked the story. But if you're reading this review, I'm guessing you might know the ins and outs of these details from following along in the news as it happened.

    Without Rolling Stone there probably wouldn't have been a Hunter S. Thompson (Wenner's byline is "Jann S. Wenner" to pay homage and, well, copy HST). The biography spends a lot of time with him and with John Lennon. Wenner was a champion of both, and idolized Lennon to a point where he never stopped making money off of him. The public death of John Lennon is sad to me and it happened eight years before I was born. But I didn't know the famous Rolling Stone cover of naked John curled around Yoko was taken *on* December 8th, hours before he was murdered. Wenner had a feud with John over the ‘John Lennon Remembers’ book (Lennon only wanted it as a magazine piece and Wenner made the book anyway, “taking the money instead of the friendship,” as Yoko put it). After Lennon’s death Wenner was inconsolable and wound up finding lifelong friendship in Ono.

    The excerpts about Tom Wolfe were another highlight for me. The majority of Tom Wolfe's later work (The Right Stuff, The Bonfire of The Vanities, A Man In Full) are all thanks to Wenner's encouragement and space he gave him in RS to publish chapter length excerpts. Wolfe calls Wenner a "generous genius" as an editor and is thankful he was always pushing him to write more.

    Both Wolfe and Hunter Thompson are present throughout the book because Hagan holds himself to their journalistic approach to a subject: "I felt duty-bound to convert my gratitude for Jann Wenner's generous access into the kind of no-holds-barred narrative journalism that Wenner was famous for publishing."

    But the REAL ending, the real shocker, is the *very* end of the biography. "The story begins with John Lennon and ends with Donald Trump," Hagan said at WORD and he writes in the Afterword. Wenner and Trump are the same age and both are egomaniacal narcissists that lust after fame, money, and power. Wenner put Trump on the cover and saw his candidacy for president "as an opportunity."

    "Wenner had a kind of grudging respect for Trump. Not for his politics, but for the way he bent the world to his ego,” Hagan writes. “Jann Wenner's oldest and dearest friends--people who worked for him in the 1960s and after--could not help but notice the likeness between Trump and the Jann Wenner they knew. The crude egotism, the neediness, the total devotion to celebrity and power."

    Wenner was never in it for the youth causes or the changing music scene. He stayed devoted to his own generation, not current youth. He just wanted to be close to the rock stars he admired. So as the politics and culture changed, Mick Jagger, John Lennon, and Bob Dylan kept appearing on the cover as Wenner grew up, continued to make more money and harness more power. Apparently, to this day Wenner harasses publicists to get him backstage access only matched by the artists themselves.

    This biography focuses more on the 1960s and 70s Rolling Stone and leaves out what was going on in the magazine in such a detailed manner in the 80s, 90s, and onward. Hagan stuck with Wenner as a businessman, detailed his involvement and ruling over the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and stays close to his personal life. A lot of time is spent on Wenner's sexuality and how much he hid for so long. Wenner didn't want to be seen as an "other" in society and feared being ostracized from the social clubs he climbed so far to be a part of.

    Hagan recognized that the true hero here is Jane Wenner, Jann's wife. Without her, he couldn't have borrowed the money from her family to start the magazine and he couldn't have hidden in their marriage, creating a semblance of normalcy. Of course the hero is a woman. It always is.

    So much has been written about this biography, especially in the corners I peruse the most: The Music Internet and Book Internet. And the reviews and features about this book all said something I will echo: read this book if you are remotely interested in rock and roll, music history, and the way celebrities are portrayed in American culture. It’s juicy and I had a hard time putting it down.

    I feel extremely proud for Joe Hagan. He changed things for readers, and changed the narrative of Rolling Stone FINALLY. My generation needs this. The star of Jann Wenner and his control--his gatekeeping on rock history of what is good and what is worth it--needs to be stopped. As far as I'm concerned, Rolling Stone is just a yearbook for the artists of the 1960s. And even though The Rolling Stones were around before Rolling Stone, now when I hear their songs I wonder if they are really *that* good or if I think they're good because Jann Wenner told me so.

    So much has changed for me and so many tiny parts of life trigger me to remember stories I read in ‘Sticky Fingers.’

    Thanks for the inspiration, Joe Hagan. I can't wait to be a biographer one day.

  • Michelle

    Sticky Fingers: The Life and Times of Jann Wenner and Rolling Stone Magazine is an outstanding biographical work of literary achievement. Author Joe Hagan received an invitation to Wenner’s home in 2013, originally he wanted Hagan to write for Rolling Stone, and later suggested Hagan pen his (authorized) biography. Hagan interviewed over 250 people: famous celebrities, musicians, industry insiders, including Jann’s former wife, Jane. Jann had tremendous influence and power as the editor of Rolli

    Sticky Fingers: The Life and Times of Jann Wenner and Rolling Stone Magazine is an outstanding biographical work of literary achievement. Author Joe Hagan received an invitation to Wenner’s home in 2013, originally he wanted Hagan to write for Rolling Stone, and later suggested Hagan pen his (authorized) biography. Hagan interviewed over 250 people: famous celebrities, musicians, industry insiders, including Jann’s former wife, Jane. Jann had tremendous influence and power as the editor of Rolling Stone Magazine that culturally and musically represented an entire generation/era. The vastly different ways Jann treated people—those above him, and those below him were explored. He also had a legitimate concern for being exposed, and reportedly defriended Hagan on Instagram after receiving his copy of the book.

    From the Garrett Press, Jann Wenner (1946-) released the first newsprint edition of Rolling Stone Magazine on October 18, 1967. While In England, he had witnessed the demand for professional print rock journalism first hand. Jann submitted photos to “The Oracle” and wrote articles for The Sunday Ramparts—that covered numerous rock bands, he had interviewed Muddy Waters. He loved the Beatles, and sported a similar look—he had longer hair and wore designer business suits. The term “rock critic” was nearly unheard of. As a failed novelist, he lacked confidence in his writing ability. Wenner’s expertise was in other areas—highly energetic and enthusiastic; he helped organize the Monterey Pop Festival.

    Jann married Jane Schindelheim in 1967, the couple worked tirelessly at Rolling Stone enlisting all the volunteer help they could find. Rolling Stone was the first commercially published magazine in the USA to focus on a serious level of rock journalism and music reviews, moving beyond the popular teen fan magazines -- Tiger Beat, Teen Beat, 16, and others.

    Hunter S. Thompson and Annie Leibovitz were among the most notable famous writers and photographers that launched their careers at Rolling Stone. The stories and interviews of Wenner’s friendships with John Lennon and Yoko Ono, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Michael Douglas, Mick Jagger, Lorne Michaels, David Geffen (and others) portray his creativity and influence also his driving ambition for fame, wealth and power as he filled the role of “Mr. Rolling Stone”-- where fame and fortune usually followed those appearing on Rolling Stone magazine covers. Jann was also pictured with Bill Clinton, Jackie Kennedy Onassis and interviewing President Barak Obama.

    The true nature of the Wenner’s marriage and family life were complex, and were covered in a highly respectful manner. The Wenner’s had been married for decades, had three sons and a mansion in the Hamptons, still, Wenner was a closeted gay man. The truth of Wenner’s sexual preference was not an issue in the marriage; he had always been guarded and very discreet. In the 1990's, Jann became more outspoken advocating for gay rights associated with HIV/AIDS education and research. During the 1994 holiday season Jann announced he was leaving Jane to be with his 28 year old lover, Calvin Klein model Matt Nye. Jane was devastated; the news shocked many of their closest friends.

    In 2014, Jann was awarded the LennonOno Grant for Peace: at Jann’s acceptance speech in Iceland, he thanked Jane and Matt praising them as the loves of his life. After this casual public acknowledgement Jann’s family relationships improved significantly. Nye declined to be interviewed for the book.

    This is a splendid and potential award winning 511 page book not only of Wenner’s life but of rock music, the historical cultural influence of personalities, events and trends. It was good to see Hagan didn’t hastily compile the book or depend on sensational sordid details to encourage sales. Sixteen pages of excellent photos included. **With thanks to the Seattle Public Library.

  • Matthew

    4.5 stars.

    I had read his name and title in print for years, the definition of ubiquitous: Jann S. Wenner, Editor-in-Chief. And yet I knew very little about the man other than what purportedly amounted to be the extension of his personality – the groundbreaking cultural magazine Rolling Stone. It was clear he was a fan of music, of culture, of “the times”. But who was he besides that? In Joe Hagan’s tell-all, go-for-broke biography of the media giant, Sticky Fingers: The Life and Times of Jann We

    4.5 stars.

    I had read his name and title in print for years, the definition of ubiquitous: Jann S. Wenner, Editor-in-Chief. And yet I knew very little about the man other than what purportedly amounted to be the extension of his personality – the groundbreaking cultural magazine Rolling Stone. It was clear he was a fan of music, of culture, of “the times”. But who was he besides that? In Joe Hagan’s tell-all, go-for-broke biography of the media giant, Sticky Fingers: The Life and Times of Jann Wenner and Rolling Stone Magazine, we learn of a man who was “an incorrigible egotist”, but one who “made up for it with a life of impact”.

    And what an impact it was! Wenner captured lightning in a bottle, or in his case, a burgeoning counterculture in print, when starting his magazine 50 years ago. As Hagan’s bio begins, we learn of Wenner’s early years, his dysfunctional upbringing and subsequent precociousness; that he would be as troublesome as he was ambitious in his college years was hardly a surprise given his fractured familial state. Wenner was constantly searching for acceptance, for immediate satisfaction, something he seemingly – to paraphrase the band whose name helped inspire his legacy – couldn’t get enough of. Hagan documents the man’s vision, his give-no-fucks attitude, and the resulting youth culture he not only helped but reinvent, but redefine.

    As with most megalomaniacs – and Wenner is an extraordinary one – things got a little out of hand. As his appetite for success grew more voracious, so too did his penchant for destruction: of those around him, and of his own self. Wenner would fuck over – or just simply fuck – anyone for his own benefit. Credit to Hagan for not holding back and showing the side of Wenner that wasn’t expressed on the glossy pages of his bi-monthly rag. It’s no wonder Wenner himself has famously come out against the final product: it paints a picture of a man who, while certainly a cultural icon, is nothing short of a repugnant narcissist.

    The flaws I found with Sticky Fingers are ironic ones: the bloat Hagan so poignantly documents – Wenner’s ascension and successive excess – weighs the book down. And yet it wouldn’t have been a genuine bio without it; after all, Wenner was two men – impactful as well as ego-driven – and any story that didn’t tell both sides would’ve been historical fiction. At the end of Hagan’s biography, editor Will Dana, when asked of Wenner, raises the question: “is he 51 percent good or 51 percent bad?” It almost feels rhetorical after reading Sticky Fingers; I wouldn’t want it any other way.

  • William Sedlack

    I admire Hagan's writing and think that he did a stand-up job but I was so sick of Wenner by the end that I was thankful that the book was over.

  • Roger

    I know why Jann Wenner apparently did not like this book. He is referred to as "plump" about 47 times. Also, he comes off as a jackass. To be fair, he really seems to be one.

  • False

    What a loathsome individual. I've always felt that, and time has proven even more so. Why I read this is a mystery. At best, it reinforced every belief I had already heard about or formed about this individual: a man given to hedonism, lies, rampant narcissism coupled with sociopathy, betrayal of friends, confused children and an ex-wife only too happy to live off the continued fatted calf. He consistently lives beyond his means, has no checks or balances in his life and gives over to any impuls

    What a loathsome individual. I've always felt that, and time has proven even more so. Why I read this is a mystery. At best, it reinforced every belief I had already heard about or formed about this individual: a man given to hedonism, lies, rampant narcissism coupled with sociopathy, betrayal of friends, confused children and an ex-wife only too happy to live off the continued fatted calf. He consistently lives beyond his means, has no checks or balances in his life and gives over to any impulse without rhyme or reason. Bleh. Can "bleh" be a review? Blech. Even better.

  • Sam Motes

    Not just the biography of Jann Wenner and the cultural phenomenon in Rolling Stone Magazine he birthed but it is unique look at the music industry and celebrities in general and their interaction with and impact society. Clash of ego titans through professional and personal life challenges fills the book with interesting insights. The mini biography of Hunter S Thompson and his interaction with Jann makes this a worthwhile read on its own. I found it ironic that Mick Jagger kept threatening copy

    Not just the biography of Jann Wenner and the cultural phenomenon in Rolling Stone Magazine he birthed but it is unique look at the music industry and celebrities in general and their interaction with and impact society. Clash of ego titans through professional and personal life challenges fills the book with interesting insights. The mini biography of Hunter S Thompson and his interaction with Jann makes this a worthwhile read on its own. I found it ironic that Mick Jagger kept threatening copy right infringement on the Rolling Stone name when the band took it from a Muddy Waters song. It starts with the initial cover of the first episode with John Lennon ushering in the rag and ended with the culmination of the celebrity impact with Trump being ushered into office with all his ego and self contentedness. What a long strange trip its been. Hagan did a great job of giving a no holds barred look into the life and times of Jann Wenner and his baby. As this is his first book I look forward to where Hagan will take us in future projects he may take on.

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