I have recently read several histories and memoirs of the 1960s and 1970s, some of which are newly published. For instance, Whole Earth: The Many Lives of Stewart Brand by John Markoff tells of the entrepreneurial creator of the influential Whole Earth Catalog in the sixties; Inventor of the Future: The Visionary Life of Buckminster Fuller by Alec Nevala-Lee concerns an architect and author widely respected by the sixties counterculture; A Long Strange Trip: The Inside History of the Grateful Dead by Dennis McNally is about the acid rock band most closely associated with Ken Kesey, the Merry Pranksters, and the Acid Tests; and Rock Me on the Water: 1974: The Year Los Angeles Transformed Movies, Music, Television, and Politics by Ronald Brownstein studies a brief period in media history when the ideals of the 1960s sprouted forth into the mainstream in the form of provocative films, TV, and music. The era of the late sixties and early seventies fascinates me because it was so influential in the evolution of my own thoughts, impressions, and life direction.
And now we have another fascinating tome written by a germinal figure from that time. Like a Rolling Stone is the memoir of Jann S. Wenner, the man who founded Rolling Stone magazine in 1967 and continued to publish and edit it until recently. I’m less than a hundred pages in so far and I can already tell that it is my cup of tea. I haven’t even got to the creation of the magazine yet but Wenner has already plunged readers into the political and cultural heart of the 1960s. He was there at precisely the right moment in time to be immersed in the prevalent usage of marijuana and LSD and other drugs, the rise of now-famous Bay Area rock bands, the Acid Tests, Ken Kesey’s psychedelic and anarchistic hangout at La Honda, and the Free Speech Movement and other protests at the Berkeley campus of the University of California. When he was still an adolescent Wenner decided to be a journalist, so he was able to see all these changes around him not only from the perspective of a hippie heavily into psychedelics and other drugs (which he was), but also from the viewpoint of a writer chronicling the events of a certain significant historical era.
As I said, I haven’t even reached the part where he starts up the magazine yet, but already the story has swept me back to a time that was intensely formative for so many Baby Boomers. It reminds me of the relaxing vibes of hippie enclaves, abortive attempts to practice free love, confusing over-usage of hallucinogenic substances, the dark threat of getting drafted and sent off to Vietnam, and the ultimate assimilation of the trappings of hippie culture into the mainstream. Personally, in the mid-seventies I left the United States to find my voice as a writer and discover what the rest of the world was like, and I didn’t return for thirty-five years. In the meantime, Wenner created one of the most influential and iconic magazines ever published.