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Rolling Stone founder Wenner bio paints him as ruthless leader

The Rolling Stones were wrong — you can always get what you want.

At least if you’re Jann Wenner.

“Sticky Fingers: The Life and Times of Jann Wenner and Rolling Stone Magazine” takes an exhaustive look at the now 71-year-old media magnate’s life as his signature publication turns 50 in November.

Despite an ending that tries to soften the previous 545 pages, Wenner comes off as a narcissist desperately seeking acceptance by the cool crowd.

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He’s also ambitious and treacherous, once even crossing his idol John Lennon to turn a quick buck.

"Sticky Fingers: The Life and Times of Jann Wenner and Rolling Stone Magazine," book by Joe Hagan, released in 2017.

“Sticky Fingers: The Life and Times of Jann Wenner and Rolling Stone Magazine,” book by Joe Hagan, released in 2017.


The bio, four years in the making by author Joe Hagan, relies on 240 interviews, thousands of articles and dozens of books. It arrives in stores Tuesday.

How badly does Wenner come off? He’s already complaining about the content in this decidedly unauthorized biography.

Wenner is presented as a doughy boy drawn to all that glitters, someone who demands to be center stage even with little reason to be there.

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The counterculture chronicler is compared to President Trump more than once. At worst, he comes off as a professional sycophant, dictatorial and greedy.

Yet there’s no denying Wenner’s genius for creating popular and profitable magazines. Wenner describes himself as “the first child of the baby boom” — and his pediatrician was Dr. Benjamin Spock.

(Mike Coppola/Getty Images)

So from the beginning, it seemed as if Wenner was destined for the nexus of the zeitgeist. He adored JFK, dreamed big, followed rock music and catered to celebrity.

Wenner, in a nuclear-proof vault, obsessively catalogued every letter, memo and backstage pass from his journey — as if it might one day go on display in his presidential library.

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And, yes, he had White House aspirations.

Hagan had access to the archives and spent considerable time with Wenner, his ex-wife, Jane, and others — including ally Bruce Springsteen and a skeptical Paul McCartney.

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Former Beatle Paul McCartney holds up the hands of the late John Lennon’s son Sean Lennon (l.) and his wife Yoko Ono after John Lennon was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994.


The book’s tone is set early as Hagan lays out Wenner’s first meeting with Lennon and Yoko Ono.

“The hirsute supercouple were smaller than anybody imagined, but John Lennon still towered over Jann Wenner, who at five-six so often found himself gazing up at his heroes like a boy vampire,” he writes.

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The awestruck Wenner still brokered a deal with Lennon to print incredibly long interviews intended exclusively for the magazine. And over Lennon’s objections, he later turned them into a book.

Lennon never spoke with him again.

In 1974, Lennon even sent Wenner a Polaroid of himself and McCartney poolside with the caption: “How do you sleep???!!!”

Years later, McCartney would wage his own battle with Wenner over The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

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Wenner and Ono in 2009.

(Michael Loccisano/Getty Images)

Though The Beatles were inducted in 1988, with Lennon following six years later, an irked McCartney didn’t enter as a solo act until 1999.

Wenner, deeply involved with the Hall as a committee member and an honoree himself, had asked McCartney to induct Lennon. Given that they were a songwriting team, McCartney asked if he, too, could be inducted.

Wenner insisted it wasn’t up to him.

“In all my dealings with him, it’s never up to Jann,” snipes McCartney. “It’s up to these ‘other people’ who are down the corridor somewhere. His thing just happens to be ‘Owner/Editor’ on the door but they’re responsible for things.”

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McCartney and Wenner attend the 30th Annual Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame Induction Ceremony in 2015.

(Kevin Mazur/WireImage for Rock and Roll Hall)

Wenner made a promise to McCartney: Induct Lennon in 1994, and join his old Liverpool mate in the hall a year later.

When the time came, McCartney was spurned — and he was furious. At McCartney’s 1999 induction, daughter Stella stood alongside her Beatle dad wearing a shirt that read: “About F—ing Time!”

Broken promises and feuds erupting into rage course throughout this tale. Expect to see a lot about the book and Rolling Stone over the coming weeks: HBO has a two-night documentary on how the magazine molded popular culture for half a century.

This book began with Wenner approaching Hagan — they both live in Tivoli, Dutchess County — about the proposed project.

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Hunter S. Thompson 

Hunter S. Thompson 

(David Hiser)

Wenner has long had an eye for writing talent: Hunter S. Thompson, Tom Wolfe and Mike Taibbi are among Rolling Stone’s stable of contributors.

Hagan, whose analysis throughout is sharp, nails it with this take on the gonzo Thompson:

“Had (he) never come along, Rolling Stone might have survived as a rock-and-roll trade paper, but instead it was about to become the most adventurous and ambitious newspaper-cum-magazine of the 1970s, Thompson imbuing Rick Griffin’s Summer of Love logo with a new sensibility.

“For the next several years, Wenner’s identity would be wrapped up with the image he saw in Thompson’s warped aviators — the sunglasses that Thompson would call, in the most famous piece of writing he would ever publish in Rolling Stone, ‘Sandy Bull’s Saigon-mirror shades.’”

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(Annie Leibovitz/Rolling Stone) **RESTRICTIONS: PRINT ONLY. NO WEB USE.**


(Annie Leibovitz/Rolling Stone)

David Cassidy (l.) and John Lennon and Yoko Ono on the covers of Rolling Stone.

With Annie Leibovitz shooting some of the most iconic photos to ever grace magazine covers, Rolling Stone was always talked about.

One of those covers featured a naked David Cassidy in 1972. The photo was cropped just so, but this was scandalous to his fans. At the time, he was the androgynous teen crush from “The Partridge Family.”

Cassidy wanted to be seen as a serious rocker and relished the bad-boy image this cover was supposed to generate.

Those images on the newsstands did exactly what they should: Make people stop and take notice. Springsteen recalls talking on a pay phone in Freehold — his family didn’t have a home phone — and spying the first issue with Lennon in an army helmet.

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Rolling Stone was still a newspaper selling for a quarter.

“They were the only validating pieces of writing that somebody else out there was thinking about rock music the way you were,” Springsteen says.

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Wenner and singer-songwriter Bruce Springsteen attend a dinner for the 26th annual Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony.

(Dimitrios Kambouris/WireImage)

Over the years the kinship between Springsteen and Wenner deepened. At Wenner’s 60th birthday bash, with Robin Williams, Bette Midler, Larry David and Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), Springsteen sang a ditty he wrote for the occasion.

It included the lyric: “I never guessed a man whose magazine once changed my life/Would one day want to have a threesome with my wife.”

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Make no mistake about Wenner’s cultural importance. It could be argued that without Wenner, the name Kardashian would be no more than a trivia question about one of O.J. Simpson’s defense attorneys. Donald Trump could have remained just another bloviating real estate developer.

Sure, fan mags had existed for 60 years before Rolling Stone, but Wenner took things to a new level. And he was always clever.

Launching Rolling Stone, his promotion was a roach clip with each subscription.

The magazine hit its journalistic bottom in 2014 with a detailed story about frat brothers gang-raping a woman named “Jackie” on the University of Virginia campus.

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The story was told in scathing detail, immediately becoming major national news. There was just one problem: The whole thing was a lie.

Careers were crushed, lawsuits filed and former UVA Dean Nicole Eramo won $ 3 million after his portrayal as insensitive to rape victims.

Jann and Jane Wenner at their home on Ord Court in December 1970.

Jann and Jane Wenner at their home on Ord Court in December 1970.

(Robert Altman/Robert Altman)

Giving testimony about the monumental screw-up, Wenner looked at Eramo and apologized.

“I’m very, very sorry,” he said. “Believe me, I’ve suffered as much as you have.”

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That seemed unlikely — yet the line is pure Wenner. His magazine’s reputation was now shredded and he was deeply affected, but there’s a sense of smug entitlement that seeps throughout the book.

Hagan describes Wenner as a striving social climber, “keen to obscure his Jewishness and his latent homosexuality.”

Wenner’s complicated love life is examined, as is his long marriage to wife Jane.

It’s clear they needed and loved one another and somehow survived endless drug-fueled parties. They had a custom-built entertainment center with wood partitions, his and hers, for coke snorting.

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Jane Wenner and Annie Leibovitz, 1977.

Jane Wenner and Annie Leibovitz, 1977.

(Jean Pigozzi)

The party seemed never-ending with people wandering into their Upper East Side townhouse. Continuing as the point man of his generation, Wenner switched from counterculture to making money and living large.

He especially enjoyed owning his own plane.

Eventually, Wenner came out and divorced his wife. He’s been with his partner, Matt Nye, for over 22 years. He’s raised children, started a magazine empire and shared the wealth, covering the hospital bills for a friend dying of AIDS and paying writers far more than other publications.

Through it all though, you can’t help but feel that as much as Wenner has, he doesn’t always get what he needs.

Wenner and John Belushi

Wenner and John Belushi

(Jean Pigozzi)

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