Sticky Fingers the Life and Times of Jann Wenner and Rolling Stone Magazine – review

Sticky Fingers the Life and Times of Jann Wenner and Rolling Stone Magazine
Joe Hagen. Alfred A. Knopf, $29.95 hardcover (545 pages)

The title tells the tale: first the rock cultural reference, then the editor, then the entity. Because on the 7th hours on the 7th day, Wenner created Rolling Stone and saw that it was good. But that Boy Child didn’t rest none and didn’t gather no moss, because there was a whole lotta fucking goin’ on. At least that’s the way Joe Hagen tells it.

Sticky Fingers book cover

A hep cat once said to me, “They’s two kinds of people in this world, fuckers and fuckees.” To wit: those who do the fucking and those that get the fucking done to them. But that was really old school thinking, real binary. Cause Jan Wenner was an omnivorous trans-fucker par excellence. He fucked everybody he could, literally and figuratively, or often both, and then, in return, was re-fucked by them literally and figuratively or often both. So, in the rock star god realm, was this polymorphous panoply of fucking going on. I mean at one point, early on, Jann had fucked both Lennon and Jagger (Jagger perhaps literally and figuratively, Lennon, alas for Wenner, only figuratively. Mick and John then retaliated by re-fucking Jann or fucking Jane (his wife)—poor poor Lady Jane, who seemed fucked less often literally, than figuratively, by her husband, who just didn’t have that much jam (left.)

What made the whole thing even more polymorphously perverse is how the rock star gods would go back for, as the bikers would say, “sloppy seconds.” That is to say, they would kiss and make up after the first round of mutual fucking (money being, to paraphrase Kissinger, the ultimate lubricant) and then move on to a second round of fiscal fist fucking, along with the de rigueur, commensurate, literal fucking, all while swayed by the cool winds of Cousin Cocaine. In a typical menage a tois, Wenner fucks the talented writer/ journalist Robert Greenfield, cutting up his “monster story” on the ’72 Stones glitterati tour to use as captions for Lebowitz photos, because he didn’t need Greenfield, after hiring Truman Capote to cover the second half of the tour, who in turn, re-fucks Wenner turning in some journalistic drizzle, because the story, “had no mystery to it.” No wonder the constant fucking sometimes got confusing, not knowing precisely who was on top and who on bottom. The reporter, Corey Seymour, asking incredulously—“Who just got fucked here?”—after Wenner put his own name on top of Seymour’s on a Thompson bio the reporter had assembled—“Did I just get fucked?”

“It’s a ‘droit de seignor’ thing,” replied Jann (the right of kings to have first dibs on subjects’ brides). “My god man,” a reanimated Thompson himself might have declared, “Wenner can even fuck you and your wife—with a French dildo—at the same time!”

None of this initially detracts from the pleasure dome of Sticky Fingers the Life and Times of Jann Wenner and Rolling Stone Magazine, which is exhaustively and enticingly told by Hagen, but if Wenner cooperated with this bio in the beginning, he was going to regret it by the end of the 507 pages of relentless insults. Although Jann actually comes off, in some sense, better than Jane, who though more sympathetic as a person, and by all accounts at the onset seductively charming—Wenner’s better half and equal share holder—soon descends to pure pathos, consuming equal amounts of Cousins Cocaine and Quaalude, but lacking the swaggering moxie of Wenner which gave him the guy-you-love-to-hate charm. Yet even she comes off better than Annie Lebowitz, who also fucked everybody she shot but only literally. (At one point, some of the senior editors joke about sending her to Havana to get Castro on the cover, making book on whether she would fuck the Beard first.)

The first wave of rock critics—Fong-Torres, Landau, Marsh, Bangs—come off well, as well as the avuncular inspiration for it all, Ralph Gleason, along with good old Uncle Raoul Duke, as the one writer supremely talented, but ultimately doomed by his own demons. But the book isn’t really about them, it’s about Jann and Jane and Mick and John and Yoko and Mick and Mick and et cetera and Ahmet and more Mick.

I mean let’s hand it to him, as Bill Graham did: Wenner was a “clever little cunt.” But the problem with the book for me is this: being so young in ’67 ( although at 12 I did have a quarter to buy a copy) and ’68 and ‘69, it’s like reading about a party you weren’t old enough or cool enough be invited to, or if you were old enough or cool enough to be there, then it’s just your same old fucking and snorting and swilling; so eventually, say mid-way through the book, either you’re just envious you weren’t at the party, or so bored you’d rather leave the party to go to the diner for a cheeseburger. So my guilty confession is that after about 260 pages, which brought me to about 1975, right before Wenner moved the whole enterprise to New York, I bailed on the book for basically three reasons:

  1. Reading about Mick, Mick, Mick and John and Yoko and Zimmy, OK, well that’s one thing, and because I was too young to actually have been a part of it anyway, even if I had been some Cameron Crowe wunderkind, which I wasn’t, the whole scene holds some vicarious Cheap Thrills; but going from that to Diane Furstenberg and Jackie O and Woody Allen and Art Garfunkle and David Geffen and Lorne Michaels and Michael Douglas at Elaine’s, fuck I don’t need to know that, nor that HE WHO MUST BE OBEYED had a sixsome with Don Simpson and four snow bunnies at the Aspen Lodge. Besides, Jann said the ’60s ended in 1974, and I believe him.

  2. By 1975, I was in New York, and I was having my own party, and though the closest I got to Elaine’s or the Quilted Giraffe or The Four Seasons was rubbing my grubby sleeve against the plate glass, and although I never made it to the upstairs room at Max’s, I could squeeze in at the bar and watch people slink up the stairs; besides, by then, I had as much drugs as Jann and Jane, and mine were just as good, and being that the quality and quantity of drugs in terms of personal consumption is finite, that is before you Belushi out, and at that point, what’s the point of more or better? And though I wasn’t snorting my lines off of a permanently installed, $15,000, custom-made console with secret, built in, his-and-hers drawers, the effects of The Cool Cousin are the same, regardless of the aesthetics, and besides I liked using my cover of Sticky Fingers (the album) to cut my lines, so I got to stare at Mick’s crotch while I was getting high just like Jann. (OK, maybe it was Little Joe’s dick, but I thought it was Mick’s!) True, I still wasn’t fucking as much as Jann, but then again, I wasn’t getting fucked as much either.

  3. Coming out as a gay man after being married for 24 years to a devoted, but drug-addled wife with whom you had two biological children and one adopted child, is on many levels admirable, but when it’s rationalized by “not wanting to live a lie,” it sounds a little sanctimonious. But hey, Sticky Fingers is a good read, and if you’re stuck on board David Geffen’s yacht in Ibiza or Mykonos, you might want to, to use Uncle Raoul’s phrase, power on through the 2nd half. And if you’ve had it reading about star fucking and want to work up some righteous cynicism about the Rock Mafia, Hagen is going to give you some garrote wire, but me, I’d rather go back into the archives and read some vintage Bangs or Landau or Thompson. Nothing against Wenner, mind you, never met the man, and I’ll say this, in his defense, there is NO possible way he could be as loathsome in real life as he comes across in this book.

That being said, If anyone (besides ex Rolling Stone /Straight Arrow employees gleefully texting great lines back and forth to each other while laughing their asses off) reads the New York ( East Hampton/ St. Barts / St. Tropez) years and I missed something other than fucking, snorting, screwing, swilling or watching Rock Mafia’s made mens’ net worth rise and fall like Jann’s dick on Viagra (not counting the UVA rape debacle and Sean “Pendejo” getting El Chapo busted, drop me a line ( words not powder) in care of Sensitive Skin and let me know.

–Vincent Zangrillo


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