By Jim Dees – To answer that question, we have an enthralling new book, Sticky Fingers: The Life and Times of Jann Wenner and Rolling Stone Magazine (Knopf) by Joe Hagan. The book spans 50 years in the life of the magazine from its founding in 1967 by editor Jann Wenner and his wife Jane, all the way to the present when it is now reportedly up for sale.
In between are the rock and roll glory years of the 1960s-70s through the 80s-90s when the magazine went slick and published “fashion issues” through the 2000s to the present when it lost relevance, money and even credibility in 2014 over a grossly misreported rape on the campus of the University of Virginia.
It is perhaps impossible to explain to the current generation how uplifting it was to receive a magazine in the mail, especially if it was Rolling Stone in the 1970s. Like a cool, in-the-know letter from your hippest friend, Rolling Stone arrived every two weeks with interviews and record reviews of bands you cared about – even if you didn’t know it yet. It was aimed at people like you, those who spent most waking hours with music playing, who shared a type of gallows humor about life and a Nixon-inspired lefty political bent.
The book is thoroughly researched and bulging (500 pages) with anecdotes, you-are-there moments and up-close interviews with a Who’s Who of the white-male titans of the times: Jagger/Richards, Lennon/McCartney, Bob, Bruce, Bono, CSN&Y, the Dead and a stoned galaxy of others. Dr. Hunter S. Thompson comes roaring back to life in full-bore gonzo mode before he was cartooned.
Wenner emerges as someone who should be dead, either by AIDS or cirrhosis. Like many of that era, he was an avid bed-hopper and the book is chock-a-block with the names of his encounters, male and female. His wife Jane owned half the magazine (her parents put up the seed money in 1967), and the two stayed married throughout decades of their mutual infidelities and daily, chronic, drug use.
Wenner seems to have inhaled a Malibu beach full of cocaine. His staff, friends and the musicians he covered, likewise. There is so much cocaine in this book, by the last chapter, my nose was bleeding.
Over the years, like so many print publications, Rolling Stone has trimmed its pages and shrunk its physical size down to almost being a pamphlet. The menu at your local IHOP is thicker.
But this book brings back to life the magazine’s heyday as one of the true touchstones of our culture. Wenner and his “little hippie rag” moved the needle in American life. Sticky Fingers is an entertaining and revealing look into one of the great American stories of our time.
This book is as much fun as getting the old Rolling Stone in the mail.
Also on this week’s show, blues musician Sam Frazier, Jr. will blow his harp with the Yalobushwhackers. He has an album out with Oxford’s Big Legal Mess Records, Take Me Back. The disc is a collection of classic southern soul Frazier cut back in the 1960s-70s. Memphis reggae band, Chinese Connection Dub Embassy, will also join us to keep the riddims going.
Roots, rock, reggae! Join us for Thacker Thursday-
The Thacker Mountain Radio Hour this Thursday, Nov. 2 at 6 pm at Off Square Books (129 Courthouse Square). Admission is free. Hosts are Jim Dees and house band, the Yalobushwhackers. The show can be heard locally on WUMS 92.1 FM and online: http://myrebelradio.com/.
Artwork: Ralph Steadman