Book Review:  Like a Rolling Stone by Jann Wenner; Part Three: Surreal Lifestyles

When I wrote part two of this review, I was about two-thirds of the way through the book. After moving from west to east and forsaking cocaine, Wenner went through further changes. One of the most monumental occurred when he met a man named Matt, fell in love, left his wife Jane, and married Matt. He and Matt eventually adopted and raised three babies; he and Jane reconciled and the families from his first and second marriages bonded. Wenner bought other magazines such as US Weekly and Men’s Journal, creating a substantial publishing empire. He continued to fly all over the globe partying with the rich and famous, but to his credit in Rolling Stone magazine he also continued to provide topnotch journalism about important issues facing the country.

All of this makes for fascinating reading, although it becomes somewhat surreal as he goes on and on about jetting to exotic locations to stay as house guests with celebrities and buying one home after the other, usually mansions in high-ticket areas, whenever the urge strikes. It is a close-up look into a world that most of us only glimpse from afar. One of the strangest aspects of this memoir is the way that Wenner describes his privileged adventures in a casual, almost blasé manner, as if it is a normal sort of existence for most people. Of course, he was the founder and publisher of one of the most important magazines in the world, and as such, he had access for interviews not only to musicians and movie stars, but also to presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, and other politicians such as George McGovern, Al Gore, and John Kerry.

Don’t get me wrong, though; the uniqueness of Wenner’s perspective did not detract from my enjoyment of the memoir. When I learned of it and I started reading, I expected something countercultural and raw, which was the same expectation I had when I began, for instance, the Stewart Brand biography I mentioned earlier. That the history of Rolling Stone and Wenner took a different direction than I had anticipated was a surprise, sure, but in a way I should have seen it coming. After all, the magazine wielded enormous power in pop culture; getting on its cover was a huge splash of publicity for aspiring rock groups and singers and also those who were intent on remaining on top. And if you read about the lifestyles of the musicians who break through into fame and riches (an example is the memoir Life by Keith Richards) you discover that money buys them a lifestyle of globetrotting profligacy, for the most part. That’s not to detract from the sincere efforts at the betterment of humankind that some of them attempt (I’m thinking here about accounts in the memoir concerning Bono, Bruce Springsteen, Wenner himself, and others), but for most of us it’s another world, a world as alien as a science fictional universe. Still, I recommend this book. It is well-written and interesting; I merely caution you not to expect a countercultural viewpoint.

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