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Jann Wenner Looks Back at a ‘Rolling Stone’ Life
Friday, January 27, 2023


He was born in January 1946, which put him at the leading edge of the Baby Boom generation--the largest, best educated and wealthiest generation in American history.

His pediatrician was Benjamin Spock; his father, a baby formula magnate and sci-fi fan. And, in time, Jann Wenner would gain a reputation as “the greatest editor of his generation” as he gave readers of “Rolling Stone” a seat at the table with the likes of Bob Dylan, John Lennon, Mick Jagger and Bruce Springsteen.

Last week Wenner invited his neighbors—residents of the Wood River Valley where he has had a home for decades--into The Argyros for a conversation about his life and work.

The occasion: the publication of his memoir “Like a Rolling Stone,” which he culled from family letters and journals he kept through the years. The two-inch thick 576-page hardback tome has become a New York Times bestseller in the few months it’s been out.

“I thought, if I could tell the story, it could be a true account of that period in America,” he told the audience, referring to the period of drugs, sex, rock and roll, hippies and fiery protests he lived through.  “I enjoyed writing it. It was like reliving my life, it was like evaluating my life.”

Wenner was an Aspen skier when friends introduced him to skiing in Sun Valley. Once he skied Sun Valley he was smitten. He kept returning, often sharing a condo with John F. Kennedy Jr. And it wasn’t long before he and his wife Jane brought Broadford Farm, a hundred-acre home shaded by cottonwood trees along the Big Wood River near Bellevue.

The house had been built of logs in 1890 and served as a city hall and jail during the Wood River Valley’s silver mining boom. And it proved a great, non-glitzy place to raise six kids, said Wenner, who eventually traded it for a home way out East Fork.

“There couldn’t be anything more delightful than a small town like Hailey. I got to know people, make great friends. I’m blessed by all of you,” he said, taking in the sell-out audience at The Argyros.

Wenner described how he went to Berkeley, which he noted had been ground zero for organizing the Freedom Riders. He was 21 in 1967 when he founded “Rolling Stone” magazine--the first magazine to include both popular culture and politics between the covers.

“We shuffled between an entertainment magazine and a muckraking magazine,” he said.

Before he sold “Rolling Stone” in 2017, Wenner cultivated the careers of journalists like Hunter S. Thompson, Tom Wolfe and photographer Annie Liebowitz.

“You have to understand what the talent is for and what the talent wants to do. I had to learn to steer Tom in the direction he is wanting to go,” recounted Wenner, who gave copies of his book to those who attended the talk.

Wenner’s stable of journalists produced rough and tough journalism that tackled such things as Patty Hearst’s kidnapping, and the Chares Manson. They produced some legendary interviews with the likes of Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. 

At the same time, Wenner started “Outside” magazine, using it and “Rolling Stone” to tackle some of the first serious pieces on the environment.

Wenner became personal friends with Yoko Ono and with Jackie Onassis, who threw a party for him when he and his wife established a new home in New York. Onassis introduced him to movers and shakers at parties and was eager to share gossip at periodic luncheons they enjoyed together.

Wenner also became personal friends with Bruce Springsteen, John Lennon, Bono and Bob Dylan.

“I fell in love with music—rock and roll. There’s so much joy in it,” he said.

Inclusion in “Rolling Stone” magazine was so coveted among rock stars that Dr. Hook & the Medicine Show sang “The Cover of the Rolling Stone,” lamenting that their band had not yet appeared on the cover.

“Wanna see my picture on the cover…Wanna buy five copies for my mother…Wanna see my smilin’ face on the cover of the Rollin’ Stone.”

Wenner said he agonized that his friendships with rock stars might keep the magazine from pulling punches when it came to reporting on them. At the same time, he said, his friendships allowed him to give readers an insider’s point of view in his stories about them.

“I wanted to meet these people. I wanted to meet John Lennon… Sometimes we had to deal with a lot of ego. But I thought it was important to have relationships with these guys—they were important artists of their times. My best friends are some of these people. They came to Broadford and played guitars.”

In the 1980s Jenner became part of an effort to build a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland.  Their first inductees, honored at a black-tie dinner in the gilded ballroom of the Waldorf Astoria, included Stevie Wonder and Ray Charles. Mick Jagger began his acceptance speech saying “We’re being rewarded for 25 years of bad behavior.”

“I thought: What am I doing here?” Wenner recounted. “These were the teenagers who started rock and roll. We thought it was time to honor the greats of rock and roll so we did it.””

Today the Hall of Fame is a place where you can see such memorabilia as all the plastic room keys that The Eagles saved.

“Great stuff,” he said.

Wenner said one of his fondest memories remains the 25th anniversary concert of the Hall of Fame in 2009.

It featured Crosby, Stills and Nash, Jackson Browne, Bonnie Raitt, James Taylor and others. The roof was lifting off the building by the time Art Garfunkel sang “Bridge Over Troubled Water.”

“These were songs that resonated with everyone’s personal history,” he said. “I was certain that ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ was the greatest performance of that song ever done.”

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