Sticky Fingers: A New Biography Explores the Seedier Side of Jann Wenner
Given the length of time it takes to research and write a biography, it's a pretty safe bet that Joe Hagan, the author of Sticky Fingers: The Life and Times of Jann Wenner and Rolling Stone, had no idea that his book would be published on the eve of a scandal that has engulfed Hollywood, the news media, and Washington, D.C.
Since October, we've been in the pitchforks and guillotines French Revolution phase of the ‘60s sexual revolution, which Jann Wenner championed from the helm of Rolling Stone magazine just as much as Hugh Hefner did from the Playboy Mansion and which has now entered its pitchforks and guillotines French Revolution phase. To understand how we went from the unbridled hedonism of the rock stars of the ‘60s and ‘70s, and the celebrity disco denizens of Studio 54 in the late '70s, to Hollywood moguls and news titans receiving lawsuits and pink slips on a weekly (sometimes daily) basis, Wenner is the linchpin between Led Zeppelin and Harvey Weinstein. And Hagan, who has previously written celebrity and political profiles for New York magazine, the Wall Street Journal, and Wenner’s Rolling Stone itself, does a thorough job of documenting his myriad excesses.
As Hagan writes, before Wenner founded Rolling Stone fifty years ago, while there were serious publications for the jazz aficionado such as Downbeat, and industry-aimed music magazines such as Billboard, fans of rock and roll were stuck with teen-themed publications such as Tiger Beat and 16, devoted to reminding young teenage girls how totally cool and dreamy Paul McCartney and Davy Jones were. As the old saying goes, the fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing. For 21-year-old Jann Wenner, that one big thing, as Hagan writes, is that he “made it safe for boys to ogle their male idols as rapturously as any girl might by adding a healthy dose of intellectual pretense—a phenomenon that kicked into high gear with Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, released five months before Rolling Stone appeared.”
This idea would launch a business empire that would slowly build to a one billion dollar valuation before the roof eventually caved in during the last decade. But we’re getting far ahead of ourselves.
The Sexual Predators Everyone Still Worships
In his perceptive essay at The Week in October as the Weinstein scandal was initially breaking titled “The sexual predators everyone still worships,” Matthew Walther noted that rock stars have long been given a pass for their exploitation of young women. British music journalist Mick Wall, in his 2010 history of Led Zeppelin, When Giants Walked the Earth, wrote that long before Zeppelin took flight, Elvis and the Beatles were taking full advantage of women on the road. “John Lennon later told Jann Wenner about the Beatles’ on the road adventures: ‘If you could get on our tours, you were in. Just think of [Fellini’s film] Satyricon. Wherever we were there was always a whole scene going on. [Hotel rooms] full of junk and whores and fuck knows what.’”