As founder and editor of Rolling Stone magazine, Jann Wenner was chief publicist and mythmaker for the social revolution of the 1960s. So if you choose to read his new memoir Like a Rolling Stone—a question on which I refuse to take sides, you have your own life to live—you might be surprised to discover that there were moments back in those early days when young Jann thought he didn’t really fit in.
He tried to be a rock musician, for example, but he gave it up. The “lifestyle” was too uncertain, too disorderly, he felt. “I liked structure, organization, and leadership.”
Then there was the time Wenner crashed at the pad of Ken Kesey, author of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and founder of the troupe of tripping hippies known as the Merry Pranksters. But Kesey’s place was a mess—he had an “open-door policy” for guests and you never knew who the cat might drag in. “My feeling was that I didn’t belong there.” Too yucky.
As a sophomore at UC Berkeley, at the dawn of the Free Speech Movement, Wenner joined a group of radical students that called itself SLATE. But the membership! “A lot of beards, thrift-shop wardrobes, work boots, and bad breath.” Make no mistake: For Jann Wenner bad breath is a deal-breaker, even when the proletariat is trying to wrest control of the means of production. “You are so bourgeois,” his fellow revolutionaries told him.
And the revolutionaries were right (about him being bourgeois, not about the means of production). It’s a fine line Wenner walked, all through the 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s, as a loud advocate for the more enjoyable parts of the ’60s revolution. He was strongly in favor of sexual libertinism, drug legalization, anti-militarism, and the redistribution of everyone’s wealth but his own. He was also in favor of building up a successful publishing business, crushing the competition, acquiring private aircraft, buying many, many houses, filling a warehouse with fancy cars, and amassing a personal fortune in the low-to-mid eight figures.
Before long, Jann Wenner had leapfrogged the bourgeois altogether and
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