Book Review:  Like a Rolling Stone: A Memoir by Jann S. Wenner; Part Two: Life in the Fast Lane

As I read on in this memoir, my impression of Rolling Stone magazine changed. I was never a regular reader because I didn’t have easy access, but I read it occasionally back in the seventies and eighties when I was on the road in Europe and Asia. I envisioned it as a sincere voice of the counterculture, an attempt to counter the conservative rants of the mainstream east coast magazines. Wenner disillusions me somewhat on that score by clarifying that to him Rolling Stone was never about making a difference in the world; it was always about the money. When he wasn’t working on the magazine, he was partying with the rich and famous. Among his close friends were Mick Jagger, John Lennon, Yoko Ono, Michael Douglas, and Jackie Kennedy, the wife of the former president. He does a lot of name-dropping of powerful people whose mansions he stayed in and whose jets he traveled in. He partied in exclusive restaurants and on semi-private islands in the Caribbean. He even, eventually, bought his own jet so he could zap from one place to the next more expediently. Alcohol and drugs were ubiquitous, especially cocaine, the preferred drug of rock and roll bands and their entourages. Wenner describes how there was always hard liquor and cocaine available in his office; in fact, most of the Rolling Stone staff members were fueled by cocaine, and the office had regular dealers who would keep users steadily supplied.

Somehow, though, despite the drugs, drink, distractions, and dysfunction, the magazine got some good journalistic work done. Much of this was accomplished by Wenner’s skill in recognizing talented writers who would go after big stories that other publications were afraid to touch.

The bulk of the memoir is told in the form of short vignettes about various people Wenner met and interacted with, events he attended, major national or international news stories he and his staff covered, and descriptions of decadent partying with famous and wealthy people. It comprises a fascinating glimpse into the lifestyles of the one percent, the world’s privileged people, who can remain wasted a lot of the time and hop into their jets or yachts and go wherever they please whenever they want.

As the story progresses, Wenner does describe some major changes that he and the magazine go through. For one thing, he moves the entire operation from the San Francisco Bay Area where it began amidst the countercultural movement to New York, where he hoped to ensconce it amidst more established, traditional, and respected journalistic endeavors. In moving from west to east, the magazine shed its pretensions of being a voice of the hippie movement and took its place in the mainstream. On a brighter note, after Wenner and his wife Jane decided they wanted children, they adopted a son and then Jane got pregnant. As a result of contemplating his position as a family man, Wenner decided to give up the cocaine that he had been snorting for decades. He cleaned up and attempted to fulfill his role as a father.

(To be continued.)

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