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Sticky Fingers: The Life and Times of Jann Wenner and Rolling Stone Magazine

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A delicious romp through the heyday of rock and roll and a revealing portrait of the man at the helm of the iconic magazine that made it all possible, with candid look backs at the era from Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Elton John, Bono, Bruce Springsteen, Paul McCartney, and others.

The story of Jann Wenner, Rolling Stone's founder, editor, and publisher, and the pioneering era he helped curate, is told here for the first time in glittering, glorious detail. Joe Hagan provides readers with a backstage pass to storied concert venues and rock-star hotel rooms; he tells never before heard stories about the lives of rock stars and their handlers; he details the daring journalism (Tom Wolfe, Hunter S. Thompson, P.J. O'Rourke) and internecine office politics that accompanied the start-up; he animates the drug and sexual appetites of the era; and he reports on the politics of the last fifty years that were often chronicled in the pages of Rolling Stone magazine.

Supplemented by a cache of extraordinary documents and letters from Wenner's personal archives, Sticky Fingers depicts an ambitious, mercurial, wide-eyed rock and roll fan of who exalts in youth and beauty and learns how to package it, marketing late sixties counterculture as a testament to the power of American youth. The result is a fascinating and complex portrait of man and era, and an irresistible biography of popular culture, celebrity, music, and politics in America.

560 pages, Hardcover

First published October 24, 2017

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Joe Hagan

6 books11 followers

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 352 reviews
Profile Image for William Sedlack.
190 reviews18 followers
November 8, 2017
I admire Hagan's writing and think that he did a stand-up job but I was so sick of Wenner by the end that I was thankful that the book was over.
Profile Image for Michelle.
590 reviews158 followers
November 6, 2017
Sticky Fingers: The Life and Times of Jann Wenner and Rolling Stone Magazine is an outstanding biographical work of literary achievement. Author Joe Hagan received an invitation to Wenner’s home in 2013, originally he wanted Hagan to write for Rolling Stone, and later suggested Hagan pen his (authorized) biography. Hagan interviewed over 250 people: famous celebrities, musicians, industry insiders, including Jann’s former wife, Jane. Jann had tremendous influence and power as the editor of Rolling Stone Magazine that culturally and musically represented an entire generation/era. The vastly different ways Jann treated people—those above him, and those below him were explored. He also had a legitimate concern for being exposed, and reportedly defriended Hagan on Instagram after receiving his copy of the book.

From the Garrett Press, Jann Wenner (1946-) released the first newsprint edition of Rolling Stone Magazine on October 18, 1967. While In England, he had witnessed the demand for professional print rock journalism first hand. Jann submitted photos to “The Oracle” and wrote articles for The Sunday Ramparts—that covered numerous rock bands, he had interviewed Muddy Waters. He loved the Beatles, and sported a similar look—he had longer hair and wore designer business suits. The term “rock critic” was nearly unheard of. As a failed novelist, he lacked confidence in his writing ability. Wenner’s expertise was in other areas—highly energetic and enthusiastic; he helped organize the Monterey Pop Festival.
Jann married Jane Schindelheim in 1967, the couple worked tirelessly at Rolling Stone enlisting all the volunteer help they could find. Rolling Stone was the first commercially published magazine in the USA to focus on a serious level of rock journalism and music reviews, moving beyond the popular teen fan magazines -- Tiger Beat, Teen Beat, 16, and others.
Hunter S. Thompson and Annie Leibovitz were among the most notable famous writers and photographers that launched their careers at Rolling Stone. The stories and interviews of Wenner’s friendships with John Lennon and Yoko Ono, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Michael Douglas, Mick Jagger, Lorne Michaels, David Geffen (and others) portray his creativity and influence also his driving ambition for fame, wealth and power as he filled the role of “Mr. Rolling Stone”-- where fame and fortune usually followed those appearing on Rolling Stone magazine covers. Jann was also pictured with Bill Clinton, Jackie Kennedy Onassis and interviewing President Barak Obama.

The true nature of the Wenner’s marriage and family life were complex, and were covered in a highly respectful manner. The Wenner’s had been married for decades, had three sons and a mansion in the Hamptons, still, Wenner was a closeted gay man. The truth of Wenner’s sexual preference was not an issue in the marriage; he had always been guarded and very discreet. In the 1990's, Jann became more outspoken advocating for gay rights associated with HIV/AIDS education and research. During the 1994 holiday season Jann announced he was leaving Jane to be with his 28 year old lover, Calvin Klein model Matt Nye. Jane was devastated; the news shocked many of their closest friends.
In 2014, Jann was awarded the LennonOno Grant for Peace: at Jann’s acceptance speech in Iceland, he thanked Jane and Matt praising them as the loves of his life. After this casual public acknowledgement Jann’s family relationships improved significantly. Nye declined to be interviewed for the book.
This is a splendid and potential award winning 511 page book not only of Wenner’s life but of rock music, the historical cultural influence of personalities, events and trends. It was good to see Hagan didn’t hastily compile the book or depend on sensational sordid details to encourage sales. Sixteen pages of excellent photos included. **With thanks to the Seattle Public Library.
Profile Image for Still.
575 reviews83 followers
December 10, 2017
A masterpiece.
Absolutely the best book I've read all year.
If you ever had a heart and you grew up with Rolling Stone Magazine then you'll almost bleed out in the final 7-8 pages.

Joe Hagan, the author has done an awesome job chronicling the misadventures of the conflicted genius Jann Wenner and Wenner's professional and personal relationships throughout his life.
So laugh-out-loud funny, so misty eyed wistful, so searingly tragic.

I've yet to read the "Notes" section.
I'll be needing those for research and for pleasure.
Especially since I've been busy rearranging chronologically/numerically my back issues of Rolling Stone Magazine.
I have (minus 3 early issues) a complete run of the magazine up through 1973.
After that I own sporadic issues throughout 1974-80 (mostly the ones with Hunter S. Thompson pieces).
I also still maintain a subscription to the poor, skimpy modern-day thing it's become.
Most of the best of each issue of the magazine is to be found on-line.
I pay the outrageous extra cost of an additional $10 to have the physical magazine delivered to my home address once a month.
Or is it every other month?
Old habits die hard.
And the memory isn't so great these days.
Profile Image for Louise.
1,649 reviews291 followers
October 8, 2019
This is an authorized biography, but it is not very flattering to its subject. While Joe Hagan takes the reader from Wenner’s childhood to his life now that he’s in his 70’s, the bulk of the book is about Wenner’s signature achievement, the creation of Rolling Stone magazine.

Wenner’s family, for me, was the most interesting part of the book. Wenner’s father was a striver, as were the generations before him. He was the first in the family to capitalize on the baby boom. Wenner’s disinterested mother came from a family that was active in liberal politics. She enjoyed bohemian and bi-sesxual lifestyles and, eventually, like her son, settled into a same sex relationship. Jann and his siblings learned to fend for themselves both at home and in the schools where they were placed. As as a boy Jann was always busy, always clever, always unsettled and usually in trouble.

You see how a usually stoned Jann founded Rolling Stone, managed it and extended its brand. Wenner found a void (none of the entertainment magazines treated rock and roll seriously) and filled it and morphed the magazine for the changing times.

Posing that rock peaked as an artistic and cultural medium while the magazine was still young Hagen shows how Wenner added a new slant on politics exemplified by Hunter Thompson’s drug infused wild-man commentary. With Reagan, politics was no longer a cultural phenomenon, and Wenner broadened the mission to include the new big thing: celebrities. With this change ads from record producers and sound system companies gave way to the more lucrative ads for high end cars and brand name goods. Wenner was able to found and acquire other magazines eventually paring down to just Rolling Stone. Hagen sees RS as a dinosaur with a circulation of 1 million and name recognition that exceeds its current significance.

Wenner is portrayed as a bundle of horrible traits: the boss from hell, a back-stabber, a con-man, totally greedy (his mother, clearly not the nurturing type, thinks so) ... name the negative trait, Hagen applies it to Wenner. There are bits of info that undermine this, for instance: He’s called a cheapskate but he seems liberal in giving out company credit cards; he fires on impulse but given Hunter Thompson’s missed deadlines, editing needs and just the general liability of having him around, Thompson should have been fired long before he was and should have never been brought back; It appeared to me it was Wenner's idea and start up cash for “The Fast Times …” and the writer he mentored turned on him, not the other way around; and saddest of all, Wenner supported the staff that wrecked the credibility of RS by the 2014 false rape story. In the last chapter, in a summary of Wenner’s life, Hagen finally gives some positive spin on Wenner.

Hagen interviewed 200 people. I’m guessing he felt obliged to include some little nugget from everyone. I didn’t check the notes to piece together who said what, but I think there are a lot of sour grapes over bad reviews, slights in R&R Hall of Fame inductions (Wenner is a founder) or writers not getting paid enough. Some squibs are tangential and Hagen is not averse to name dropping. This is a typical wedged in concept: Hunter Thompson took drugs with David Kennedy at David’s home while Ethel’s juke box, filled with 45’s by her boyfriend Andy Williams, was playing. Now, how important to the life of Jann Wenner is this?

A long list of celebrities, politicians, movie stars and writers appears. Some, like Mick Jagger, who has a trademark issue with Wenner, often appear. Others are cameos. The unusual Jann & Jane marriage is described as is Jann's life with Matt Nye. Wenner is called "star struck" particularly regarding John Lennon and Mick Jagger. Hagen notes Wenner’s circle and “rolodex” are from a earlier era.

There are a lot of good B & W pictures. The index did not work for me the few times I tried it.

The book is important for documenting the development of one of the last solely owned surviving international magazines and the culture that spawned and created it. For that this book is a 4. As a biography, it seems like a hit job. While this may be an accurate portrait of its subject, I’m not convinced.
Profile Image for Jeff.
685 reviews28 followers
January 4, 2018
No review will be endeavored given that Joe Hagan didn't bother to write a biography. Rather, it's a group of essays, poorly formed, about its subject. Wenner has become someone rich and powerful, so perhaps it was too difficult to sit on the interviews to which Wenner's power gave Hagan access. There was news in the chorus. He's interviewed Dylan, McCartney, Mick Jagger, Keith Richard, Pete Townsend -- the lot. There's a subject matter in Jann Wenner's epicurean refinement of rock tropes both in the pages of his magazine, Rolling Stone, as well as in his burning narcissism; wouldn't it have been lovely if Hagan had been able to push the material his research offered him to understand what Wenner's peculiar contribution to the counter-culture was? It seems to have happened between Wenner's editing of the Altamont issue of Rolling Stone in early 1970 (an issue Wenner has been careful not to make too exemplary a standard) and the Patty Hearst case, a period during which Wenner seems almost to have lost the magazine several times. But who can make any sense of Hagan's representation of this period? A biographer's first job is to do a time-line, a chronology, so her/his readers can follow the story of the subject. Hagan needs to report on Paul McCartney's views of Wenner, so he can't be bothered. But then: Hagan has not written the biography. Greil Marcus has called Hagan's book "vile". I think the reason for Marcus's judgement is that, short of offering a narrative that can catch out Wenner's networking machinations, Hagan relies on dish from his informants to mount what is finally an incoherent picture of the period, the journalistic movement (rock criticism) trying to work itself out in it, and the person (Wenner) responsible for forging it. During the late-1969 - 1974 period, in Hagan's botch of it, you can be reading about Wenner in 1971 on p. 162, and still be reading about Wenner in 1971 a hundred pages later; the challenge for Hagan is that he's undertaken an analysis of Wenner's relationship with Jagger early in the book, yet a hundred pages on, he must fill us in on a developing friendship with Art Garfunkel that occurred during the same period. Chronology is the obvious antidote to this; nor do I name the only instance of it.

Then there's the problem of the networker's romantic entanglements, which -- typical of the period -- was motley when it came to sex. When he was almost fifty Wenner "came out" as gay, but to those with access to his private life, the trajectory never seemed so clear. For Hagan, bi-sexuality gets coded throughout the narrative as "sexually confused," an epithet used half a dozen times in the first two hundred pages, mostly to describe Wenner. Hagan means to clean up Wenner's "confusing" sexual experience by "playing" bi-sexuality as false consciousness, but he never quite pulls it off. Both Wenner and his wife Jane slept with persons of both sexes; when a 16-year old son of a Harvard academic shows up at Jann Wenner's NYC hotel room door in 1971, Hagan describes the 16 year old as "handsome and confused." It's intolerable; for Hagan, Sasha Grey would be describable using the same terms. Such epithets don't give the reader confidence Hagan is going to be able to work out the Sixties, to say nothing of Rolling Stone's erotic maelstrom. Reckoning the Hagan officiousness as it tries to get a bead on Pan-like Annie Leibovitz' votary drift amid the sheets is a hoot. At one point in this half-baked narrative, Hagan just starts printing his notes: "Said Leibovitz . . . " "Said Jane Wenner . . ." "Said Garfunkel . . ." Hagan's rush to get this biography to press is every bit as corrupt as the relinquishment through which rock criticism devolved into Random Notes and Us magazine. The moral rot is all over this book.
Profile Image for Harry Buckle.
Author 11 books146 followers
October 24, 2017
A five star book...about a less than one star opportunist, Rolling Stone Magazine owner Jann Wenner. Having my self spent 50 years in the music industry, fortunately with some success, I observed the birth of Rolling Stone and followed it- both the US and ill fated UK edition, until the current day. I share the view of Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, John Lennon and others that Wenner was an odious hanger on, and remarkably free of charm or talent. The magazine did however fill a much needed national gap in the US music media at the time. Given the costs of distribution, the margins available and other factors Mr Wenner is to be congratulated on seizing the moment. In those early days the majorly influential British New Musical Express had not yet become a home for fine creative writing, but was well respected by musicians and consumers on both sides of the pond. (I'm more Irish by the way, so we could diverge here to Hot Press or the equally excellent Australian mix of surf and music- Tracks.) So, there was a skill in taking Rolling Stone along the Playboy/Esquire/Village Voice route by adding some good writing. As my music companies started to have success around the world I found myself joining the PR folks at the major US music companies, concerned not to upset the by then 'all important Rolling Stone', and desperately trying to restrain my artists from venting their derision and distain for Wenner. 'For gods sake don't let him come backstage' was regularly to be heard. But given that Radio and TV promotion in the US music market was the most majorly corrupt in the world (Payola- oh no Sir, not us.) a decent feature in Rolling Stone could help promote a band more than somewhat. When Paul McCartney was eventually...endorsed into the Wenner dominated Rock N Roll Hall of Fame, Stella McCartney wore a T shirt that said: About F***ing Time. Mr Hagan's seriously excellent book tells a truth 'About f***ing time'. I note that many rank Donald Trump above Mr Wenner in their listing of US persons they respect! Given the still considerable influence of the magazine I fear that, much as I love them, not so many of my music industry contemporaries will put their heads above the parapet to tell it like it is. Mr Hagan's book does tell it like it is...and not 'all the news that fits' Mr Wenner's self seeking and still internationally ignorant ideal.
November 16, 2017
I went to see author Joe Hagan speak at WORD bookstore in Greenpoint, Brooklyn the night I purchased this biography. Before I say anything else, I admire Hagan as a reporter and a biographer. I think that writing the biography of someone like Wenner who gave himself the post as gatekeeper to rock and roll and its history is more than an undertaking. Wenner has always controlled the narrative and this book is the first time he isn’t. What Hagan found through loads of personal documents, letters, photographs, and interviews with Wenner is remarkable. The bubble has burst and I thank Hagan for that.

The story Hagan told the crowd at WORD is that he bumps into Jann Wenner, they strike a friendship, and Wenner asks Hagan to write this book (just in time for Rolling Stone's 50th year). Hagan wasn't quite sure about the assignment as a few biographies had been stopped when authors got a little too close to home for Wenner's liking. Wenner asks Hagan to send him some writing and his profiles and interviews with Henry Kissenger and Hillary Clinton convince Wenner—“if you’re good enough for HRC,” Wenner told him, “you’re good enough for me.”

More information comes from Yoko Ono, McCartney, Bruce Springsteen, Lorne Michaels, Bob Dylan, Mick Jagger, Annie Leibovitz, Cameron Crowe, Pete Townshend, Art Garfunkel and most surprising of all, Wenner's wife Jane. There are also interviews with staff members, writers, editors, business partners, record executives, and so on.

Hagan dives deep into Wenner's past and hears what friends and colleagues really have to say about Wenner as a businessman and a public figure. Wenner doesn't read the finished manuscript until it's too late. It's announced that Wenner will no longer be appearing with Hagan for interviews and publicity events. And after the book officially is published, Wenner made a statement to CBS News that the biography was "bullshit," among other things. The wild hypocrisy of giving someone permission, giving them interviews, to write your biography and then simply not being happy with what was found and calling it BS just baffles me.

This is the story Joe Hagan told us at WORD, most of which I had read online that day and the day before as the news broke about Wenner’s disapproval of the biography. But hearing Hagan tell the story in person was so much better. Joe Hagan is a hero.

I grew up with The Greatest of All Time issues, Anniversary editions, and Best Of editions of Rolling Stone magazine. It was a gatekeeper to music for so many for so long. And now for the first time, there's a different side to the story. A story about an egomaniac that let the subjects of his interviews edit their copy; about someone who fought for the anti-establishment cause in the pages of RS and took home extra money while he underpaid his staff; a closeted gay man who encouraged the gaze on rock stars, cementing the idea of celebrity, fame, and success with bare skin--men and women alike--who "tell all!" This infuriates me because Wenner is also the same person who legitimized music journalism. Before RS, there weren't people writing smart copy and criticism about music. He gave that a space and took it seriously and demanded everyone else did too. Without that, I wouldn't be here and neither would a lot of the writers I love.

The details of Wenner’s subjectivity are obnoxious. The line I know from 'Almost Famous' about "the magazine that broke up Cream and ripped every album Led Zeppelin ever made" is true. Wenner hated the *sound* of Zeppelin (and Black Sabbath) and either ignored them or tore them a new one in his pages. (Cameron Crowe was often assigned to write about the bands Wenner didn't care for--Zeppelin, Jethro Tull, Deep Purple.) He held grudges in business for personal reasons. Paul Simon and Wenner once dated the same woman and until Bridge Over Troubled Water made Simon & Garfunkel household names, Wenner refused to review their records.

When MTV hit planet Earth, Wenner resented the fact that someone else had the idea first and then "commanded his business managers to prepare an immediate and total makeover of RS to exploit MTV for subscriptions/edit coverage/ties ins."

Mostly, I’m angry and I can’t understand why because I should've known better. I’ve known he was an eyeroll-inducing washed up executive for a while now but I didn’t see it coming on this level. When I talk about Wenner and this biography I talk myself in exhausted circles about how ironic and capitalistic and backwards he was (is) compared to everything Rolling Stone is supposed to stand for. The magazine didn't have a fact-checking department until the 1970s. In the 80s, the “Me Decade,” he eventually ran US Army ads (Wenner was a draft dodger, got out on “homosexual tendencies” among other things). The story ends with the investigative piece about the UVA on-campus rape, a piece that was not vetted by RS' legal department on a basic oversight. Basically, no one fact checked the story. But if you're reading this review, I'm guessing you might know the ins and outs of these details from following along in the news as it happened.

Without Rolling Stone there probably wouldn't have been a Hunter S. Thompson (Wenner's byline is "Jann S. Wenner" to pay homage and, well, copy HST). The biography spends a lot of time with him and with John Lennon. Wenner was a champion of both, and idolized Lennon to a point where he never stopped making money off of him. The public death of John Lennon is sad to me and it happened eight years before I was born. But I didn't know the famous Rolling Stone cover of naked John curled around Yoko was taken *on* December 8th, hours before he was murdered. Wenner had a feud with John over the ‘John Lennon Remembers’ book (Lennon only wanted it as a magazine piece and Wenner made the book anyway, “taking the money instead of the friendship,” as Yoko put it). After Lennon’s death Wenner was inconsolable and wound up finding lifelong friendship in Ono.

The excerpts about Tom Wolfe were another highlight for me. The majority of Tom Wolfe's later work (The Right Stuff, The Bonfire of The Vanities, A Man In Full) are all thanks to Wenner's encouragement and space he gave him in RS to publish chapter length excerpts. Wolfe calls Wenner a "generous genius" as an editor and is thankful he was always pushing him to write more.

Both Wolfe and Hunter Thompson are present throughout the book because Hagan holds himself to their journalistic approach to a subject: "I felt duty-bound to convert my gratitude for Jann Wenner's generous access into the kind of no-holds-barred narrative journalism that Wenner was famous for publishing."

But the REAL ending, the real shocker, is the *very* end of the biography. "The story begins with John Lennon and ends with Donald Trump," Hagan said at WORD and he writes in the Afterword. Wenner and Trump are the same age and both are egomaniacal narcissists that lust after fame, money, and power. Wenner put Trump on the cover and saw his candidacy for president "as an opportunity."

"Wenner had a kind of grudging respect for Trump. Not for his politics, but for the way he bent the world to his ego,” Hagan writes. “Jann Wenner's oldest and dearest friends--people who worked for him in the 1960s and after--could not help but notice the likeness between Trump and the Jann Wenner they knew. The crude egotism, the neediness, the total devotion to celebrity and power."

Wenner was never in it for the youth causes or the changing music scene. He stayed devoted to his own generation, not current youth. He just wanted to be close to the rock stars he admired. So as the politics and culture changed, Mick Jagger, John Lennon, and Bob Dylan kept appearing on the cover as Wenner grew up, continued to make more money and harness more power. Apparently, to this day Wenner harasses publicists to get him backstage access only matched by the artists themselves.

This biography focuses more on the 1960s and 70s Rolling Stone and leaves out what was going on in the magazine in such a detailed manner in the 80s, 90s, and onward. Hagan stuck with Wenner as a businessman, detailed his involvement and ruling over the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and stays close to his personal life. A lot of time is spent on Wenner's sexuality and how much he hid for so long. Wenner didn't want to be seen as an "other" in society and feared being ostracized from the social clubs he climbed so far to be a part of.

Hagan recognized that the true hero here is Jane Wenner, Jann's wife. Without her, he couldn't have borrowed the money from her family to start the magazine and he couldn't have hidden in their marriage, creating a semblance of normalcy. Of course the hero is a woman. It always is.

So much has been written about this biography, especially in the corners I peruse the most: The Music Internet and Book Internet. And the reviews and features about this book all said something I will echo: read this book if you are remotely interested in rock and roll, music history, and the way celebrities are portrayed in American culture. It’s juicy and I had a hard time putting it down.

I feel extremely proud for Joe Hagan. He changed things for readers, and changed the narrative of Rolling Stone FINALLY. My generation needs this. The star of Jann Wenner and his control--his gatekeeping on rock history of what is good and what is worth it--needs to be stopped. As far as I'm concerned, Rolling Stone is just a yearbook for the artists of the 1960s. And even though The Rolling Stones were around before Rolling Stone, now when I hear their songs I wonder if they are really *that* good or if I think they're good because Jann Wenner told me so.

So much has changed for me and so many tiny parts of life trigger me to remember stories I read in ‘Sticky Fingers.’

Thanks for the inspiration, Joe Hagan. I can't wait to be a biographer one day.
Profile Image for Tosh.
Author 13 books626 followers
July 10, 2018
Somewhere in the bottom of some moldy cardboard box, I have the first issue of Rolling Stone Magazine or newspaper, with John Lennon on the cover. A remarkable publication for a 12-year-old to read who was obsessed with pop/rock music culture. At the time, there was nothing like it, and although there were other magazines like Crawdaddy (which in theory is a better rock mag than Rolling Stone), it did have that 'Random Notes' section, which was a bit of gossip, but also announcements about new albums coming out. As a record buyer, even at a young age, I really needed a publication to let me know what's coming out. As a sophisticated teenager, I eventually had to read Melody Maker/New Music Express to entirely get the picture of the rock generation as it was happening. Jann Wenner, in thought, should be a significant figure in my life. He isn't.

I subscribe to Rolling Stone for years, from the first issue to the late 1970s, and found myself disappointed that the paper didn't cover the punk rock era, nor aspects of the glam rock movement. When it went into politics, I admire the importance of such a move; still, I instead read about T-Rex or even The Sweet. On the other hand, through the genius Jonathan Cott, Rolling Stone did publish amazing interviews, for instance, Glenn Gould! I think they even did a fantastic Paul Bowles interview as well. So, in the 60s and early 70s, Rolling Stone was a journal that took chances. When the entire organization moved to New York from San Francisco, it became a different publication. "Sticky Fingers" pretty much describes everything that went wrong under the leadership of Jann Wenner. If one can trust this biography, Wenner is a horror show of a person. There are so many great publishers out there who struggle to put out amazing literature, yet, Wenner is very much a mediocre fellow, who not only got seduced but became the bland of the blandest of New York society.

"Sticky Fingers" is a hard book to put down, in the same vein as watching a horrific car accident taking place in front of your eyes. You shouldn't look, but here it is in black and white print on paper, and it's depressing for me to know that I devoted my reading habits to a magazine that is basically shit. Now, it's super shit. But it started off so well, and just became a corporate rock mag. Sad tale.
Profile Image for Steve.
803 reviews226 followers
January 17, 2018
At some point, very late in the writing process (I believe the book was virtually done), Jann Wenner withdrew his support for Joe Hagan's biography. But by then the damage was done. Wenner had granted Hagan access to his meticulously kept archives (letters, pictures, clippings, etc.), as well as granting him numerous interviews, and encouraging others (Jagger, McCartney, Jane Wenner, Art Garfunkle, etc.) to speak frankly to Hagan. There were over 250 interviews over a four year period. And boy, there was some serious unloading going on in those interviews. Wenner is reportedly upset by the book, calling it "tawdry," which to some extent it is. Hagan seems to have found every nasty story and rumor, and seeded them throughout the book. That said, one has to believe the major reason he's upset is not so much because of the sex and drug stuff (lots of that), but because he feels betrayed by these rock gods (and his friends) who have themselves, for years, felt betrayed or used by Wenner time and again. But Mick, Paul, Jackson, Art aside, no one was more used than Wenner's long suffering (and exotically beautiful) ex-wife, Jane. Jane is hardly a saint, but she clearly loved (and loves) Wenner. She was instrumental in getting the magazine started, and over the years supplied a necessary human touch to counterbalance Jann's various backstabbings (both editorial and personal). Her voice in this book adds a balance and depth to the story that Wenner probably didn't anticipate, and certainly would have tried to control if Hagan had allowed him editorial oversight. There would be no Rolling Stone magazine without Jane. Even Jann (grudgingly) admits that. Jane's name is still on the magazine's Masthead.

Hagan, despite the trashy (and guilty pleasure) stuff, keeps his eye on the arc of Rolling Stone Magazine (which is basically an extension of Wenner himself), dutifully recording its highs (!!!) and lows. The Rock years, Altamont, Manson, the political shift during the Hunter Thompson years (a much shorter period than Thompson's long running appearance on the magazine's Masthead would suggest), Mick, Mick, Mick, right up through the devastating UVA false rape story that so damaged the magazine's reputation. As I was finishing this book, for curiosity's sake, I went and bought a copy of Rolling Stone. As a reader from the early 70s, it was kind of shocking and definitely sad to see what Rolling Stone is now. It's 58 pages long, and has the dimensions of People Magazine. There's only one real album review (!!!), a long interview with Bono (Wenner's pal), and a couple of interesting but short articles. The last RS magazine I had bought was over 10 years ago. I had kept it (it has a Bob Dylan interview). It's about 140 pages long, and about a third larger. A big magazine in every way. You can't help but feel that Wenner's remarkable (and remarkably frustrating) creation is slowly swirling toward the drain. Hagan's book is a solid, entertaining, funny, and at times numbing account of how Rolling Stone Magazine and Wenner got to that downward spiral.
Profile Image for Judith.
296 reviews
December 2, 2017
OMG, are there any editors left out there. If so, they missed this book. There was no reason that over 500 pages needed to be published. It was unbelievably redundant and reeked of unnecessary details. Made up dialogue belongs in fiction, not a book that supposedly presents facts.
Profile Image for Hank Stuever.
Author 3 books2,016 followers
December 5, 2017
Exhaustive (in almost every sense), but luckily it comes with a meticulously detailed index, which enables some necessary skimming once a reader hits whatever part he or she doesn't find that interesting. Because it can't ALL be interesting, even when the subject is Rolling Stone and its impact on culture.

Jann Wenner, whose ego was already legendarily huge, says he doesn't like the book -- probably because it dwells too much on his overdue coming-out as a gay man and drug use and betrayals of friends, colleagues and other behavior that isn't so flattering. Seems to me author Joe Hagan worked very hard to deliver an honest, good-and-bad biography; if Wenner doesn't like it, then that should be all the endorsement you need.

I've been a Rolling Stone subscriber since 1981, when I was in eighth grade. Though its breadth and impact are diminished, I still enjoy getting it. Wonder what happens next, now that Wenner is looking to sell it? One more example of the end of everything.
Profile Image for Cathy.
433 reviews33 followers
October 31, 2020
More than you want to know about the founder and the inception of the publication Rolling Stone. I wish the author had done a deeper "think piece" on Rolling Stone, a book that reflected on the music and culture of the seventies, eighties, and nineties. Much research went into this book, but it fails to deliver more than a chronology of events and personalities. Did all that music and idealism bring forth anything more than a lot of bad behavior? Women are absent from the first half of the book, except as decorative objects or groupies. I didn't read the Rolling Stone back in its heyday because it seemed oriented to white boy music. Yet it provided a platform for some really provocative voices: P.J O'Rourke, Hunter S. Thompson, Cameron Crowe, et al. I take it back; that alone was worth it.
Profile Image for Roger.
Author 2 books1 follower
November 11, 2017
I know why Jann Wenner apparently did not like this book. He is referred to as "plump" about 47 times. Also, he comes off as a jackass. To be fair, he really seems to be one.
Profile Image for Leslie Basney.
907 reviews
March 8, 2020
I guess I thought (wanted) the story to be sex, drugs and rock and roll which it definitely was along with a vast amount of misogynists, miscreants and parsimony. So much for the Age of Aquarius.
Profile Image for Jason Diamond.
Author 9 books120 followers
October 27, 2017
I love a good media/publishing bio, and Joe Hagan's is one of the best I've ever read. Sure, the excess and greed on display make the subject into some coked up Machiavellian character, but it's also the people around him (some literally out of a Joan Didion novel), and the way Hagan uses his subject as a mirror to hold up to an entire generation, that makes this such a compelling book.
Profile Image for Lise.
110 reviews9 followers
September 14, 2018
Just because you’ve done something interesting in your life it doesn’t mean your entire life is interesting! Waaaay too much time spent on Wenners unremarkable childhood. Interesting about the start of Rolling Stone but then it’s just a gossipy list of people Wenner pissed off or had unrequited crushes on. Wenner himself comes across as a narcissistic bore.
Profile Image for Carol Storm.
Author 28 books182 followers
October 3, 2019
Fascinating book but hardly enjoyable. Jann Wenner comes across as an absolutely loathsome human being and his motives are even shabbier than I could have imagined. The author does an amazing job digging up dirt on the sick, twisted, dysfunctional Wenner family, making it clear that young Jann was rejected by both parents and learned to leech off other people sexually, financially, and emotionally, at a very early age. What's never made clear is why a scumbag high society wanna-be like Wenner would be attracted to rock and roll, which many regarded at the time as the rough and brutal music of the streets. There were a few fascinating comments about how Wenner hated the "primitivism" of Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin, but most of the book was gossip about artists with only the most tangential relation to rock and roll, such as Joni Mitchell and James Taylor.

Oh, I can't end this review without doing a call back to my review of KNIGHT'S CROSS, the biography of Erwin Rommel. At the end of that review I pointed out that while Rommel was a decent man, he ended up fighting for pure evil, but that his personal character was such that even his worst enemies cheered his victories. Jann Wenner is literally Rommel turned upside down. Wenner was a completely loathsome personality who ended up being associated with everything that was most positive about the Sixties. Yet his personality was such that even his victories disgusted his closest friends. By the end of this book I pictured Rommel and Wenner chained together in hell, running across the flaming wastelands, like Tony Curtis and Sidney Poitier in THE DEFIANT ONES.

But it would probably be Hunter Thompson instead.

Profile Image for William Kuhn.
Author 15 books132 followers
November 3, 2018
I met Jann Wenner while I was writing READING JACKIE. He was a charming guy. Though I could see he was a larger than life figure, trying to influence me by implying he was closer to Jackie than he was, I liked him. I was grateful for the stuff he told me. He definitely had an influence on her life as an editor. Several people who worked for him at ROLLING STONE ended up being her prized authors.

The problem with this biography of Wenner is that it is so relentlessly negative. I don't really think it's a good idea to write a biography about someone you fundamentally dislike and distrust.

I like celebrity gossip as much as the next guy. The constant diet of celebrity news in this book, however, was like having chocolate cake for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It makes you feel a little sick.

I have no doubt that the author was passionately devoted to doing his job.
Profile Image for Scott Wilson.
246 reviews8 followers
November 29, 2017
Hagan gets four stars for the writing itself, which hums such that the pages vibrate under your fingers, turning even when you've decided that you've had enough of Wenner's company for one sitting.

But Hagan's tone is so contemptuous throughout that the tawdriness of his subject and those in orbit around him bleeds into the story. There are moments when the references to Wenner's closeted assignations feel homophobic. And there's a palpable glee in using Wenner's story to tear down figures such as Hunter Thompson and Tom Wolfe. Some of this is understandable — it now seems self-evident that any number of one-time lions would have been (or, if you're Gay Talese, would today be) well advised to shut the fuck up after age 45 or so. Thompson in angry twilight, Wolfe in smug senescence: equally grotesque, for different reasons, some of which are depicted in broad strokes here.

In fact, Sticky Fingers seems built to register just such a complaint, and not only about its vain, shallow, greedy, sometimes downright ignorant subject. The book functions as a deeply withering shadow history of baby boomers and their icons, as united under the big tent of Wenner's Rolling Stone. Hagan judges virtually the lot of that generation an embarrassing blot on the whole culture, from rock all the way up the political ladder. (Bill Clinton's cameo is one of the book's late highlights, a thumbnail image of what Wenner might have become had he been about 40 IQ points smarter but — crucially — not much more driven and not much less in control of his impulses.) It's oddly possible to consume the book and come away liking Wenner slightly more than most of the other compromised, shabby figures whom Wenner set out first to chronicle and then to emulate. By being just talented enough to spot the truly gifted, and unrepentantly mercenary enough to use (to use up, really) anybody he could get his hands on, Wenner has basically won.

Won what, though?
Profile Image for Steve Peifer.
430 reviews18 followers
November 20, 2017
It’s the dreary story of a dreary person. The biggest problem is the old joke about the guy who read Playboy for the articles. Why did my generation love Rolling Stone? We loved it because originally it was all about the music, and no one was was covering it like RS did.

There is so little about music in the book that I’m afraid that the author missed the point. Lots and lots about music celebrities, but virtually nothing about the music. It made for a very flat book, and one that made you long for an author that could capture why RS was beloved in its day. You won’t find it out here.
Profile Image for Michael.
541 reviews50 followers
January 10, 2018
"[The ad campaign] created a simple message: Rolling Stone readers weren't dope-smoking hippies living in teepees anymore, but rather status-seeking Yuppies like Jann Wenner who clawed for money and sports cars...On the left panel stood a fringe-wearing hippie (perception); on the right, a briefcase-toting businessman (reality). Perception: a handful of dirty pennies; reality: an American Express card. In another, onetime youth culture presidential candidate George McGovern was juxtaposed with Ronald Reagan. This was Jann Wenner's true coming-out party, a celebration of the baby-boomer journey.

Wenner objected to just one of the ads: a peace sign contrasted with a Mercedes-Benz symbol...'What it says is selling out,' he wrote, 'abandoning positive values, moral drift, selfishness, blind ambition, and so forth...In the end, you are denigrating the very thing we're selling.'

But in the end, Wenner decided to use the image anyway."

Of course he did. If there's one thing this biography proves, it's that Jann Wenner, the second-most influential magazine publisher of the last 60 years (behind Hugh Hefner), never saw a cherished generational shibboleth or touchstone he couldn't exploit or commodify.

Hagan's gossipy book is like Michael Wolff's controversial new expose on the Trump White House (though more journalistically sound, apparently): it may not be the book its subject likes, but it's the one he certainly deserves.

The perfect eulogy to the "baby boomer journey."
Profile Image for Brandon Forsyth.
891 reviews146 followers
December 8, 2017
Absolutely brilliant. Joe Hagan has crafted something truly special here that manages to be equal parts even-handed biography, sobering social critique, and gossipy tell-all. Wenner has truly been in the middle of U.S. popular culture for so long that it would be easy to make this book a look at how the counter culture of the '60s sold out and got nice private jets, but Hagan excels at always putting the emotional life of his subject at the forefront, while dishing on who slept with whom. I'll admit to not really knowing who Wenner was before starting this, but I feel now that I know him intimately, and that's due to both the depth of Hagan's research and the compassionate yet merciless brush with which he paints him. I know Wenner has said he's not a fan of this - he might be the only one.
Profile Image for False.
2,262 reviews10 followers
November 14, 2017
What a loathsome individual. I've always felt that, and time has proven even more so. Why I read this is a mystery. At best, it reinforced every belief I had already heard about or formed about this individual: a man given to hedonism, lies, rampant narcissism coupled with sociopathy, betrayal of friends, confused children and an ex-wife only too happy to live off the continued fatted calf. He consistently lives beyond his means, has no checks or balances in his life and gives over to any impulse without rhyme or reason. Bleh. Can "bleh" be a review? Blech. Even better.
Profile Image for Justin HC.
136 reviews4 followers
January 25, 2018
SO LONG, became such a slog. The more I read, the more I lost track of why I was supposed to care about Wenner and his go-go world. Maybe the shallow vibe of the swirl of people surrounding Wenner mirrors his own drugged out superficiality, or reflects the constantly diminishing relevance of Rolling Stone, but it didn’t make finishing the book any less of a chore. Well written (sentence for sentence), though.
Profile Image for John Lamb.
539 reviews26 followers
November 18, 2017
Summary: Jann Wenner is kind of an asshole. But gosh darn it, he sure is an entertaining asshole to read about.
161 reviews
December 28, 2017
I had to give up half way through the book, something I seldom do. I was never a Rolling Stone reader, so perhaps that explains my lack of enthusiasm. Mr. Hagan establishes in the first chapter that Jann Wenner is an obnoxious ass. We also learn that he is dishonest, lacking of good judgement, abusive, and has a serious drug problem. The book does delve into his complicated relationships with important people in the music industry, notably Mick Jagger and John Lennon. However, it is mostly a rehash of tales of drugs, sex and rock & roll, in that order. I finally decided that Jann Wenner, his magazine, and the people he associated with, just aren't that relevant to me.
Profile Image for patty.
583 reviews10 followers
December 13, 2018
The personality parallels of Wenner and 45 are astounding. I was thinking about this as I read through this lengthy, yet well-researched book. Eventually that point is addressed in the final chapters.

Anyone with a career in media ( or seeking same ) should read this book.
Profile Image for Michael Criscuolo.
70 reviews6 followers
October 21, 2022
One hell of a book. It works on every level: as history, as biography, and as compulsively readable storytelling. Hagan's writing has the kind of energy and dry wit that is well-suited for this particular tale. A new classic.
Profile Image for Jon.
84 reviews130 followers
April 14, 2018
An all time great read for the music lover and fan of '60s, '70s, '80s culture. I was an avid Rolling Stone reader since almost as long as I could read and remember, I recalled so many of the issues discussed. Little did I know the stories and genius(es) behind each one. An intimate look at Wenner, Liebvovitz, Hunter (!), Crowe, so many of the greats that made RS the voice of this era.

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