When bossy Rolling Stone editor Jann Wenner sent his staff on a job, he always made one thing clear: The magazine, which saw itself as the bible of rock music, wanted the definitive history of its biggest stars.
Still, it seemed clear to him that his favorite photographer, Annie Leibovitz, might have gone over the top one evening as she trotted behind Mick Jagger down a white-sand beach in Barbados.
In 1979 they all vacationed together on the Caribbean island for Thanksgiving, and as Bianca Jagger sat around after dinner with her host, music magnate Ahmet Ertegun, over cigarettes and cognac, Bianca Jagger suddenly asked where her husband was. No one knew — or where the flamboyant, 6-foot-tall Leibovitz had gone, as she too had mysteriously disappeared. Then the Rolling Stones suddenly appeared – with sand on the knees of his pants – followed closely by the photographer Wenner had hired to photograph the band.
It’s pretty obvious what must have happened between the free-spirited couple, Wenner said. “Bianca walked out without a word, and there was a general sigh of relief,” he recalls in his new autobiography. “Then she came back with a big pot of water and poured it over Mick’s head. It was funny. Justice!’
Wayward Leibovitz, he adds in Like A Rolling Stone, was not only Jagger’s lover but “was in love with him.” [Wenner’s wife] Jane, although I didn’t know that at the time, nor would it have even occurred to me.
But nothing was too outrageous for the dissolute Wenner and his equally drug-addicted cronies — led by Leibovitz and deranged writer Hunter S. Thompson — as they charted a wild and rugged course through rock music’s most decadent years.
When members of the Rolling Stones weren’t seducing his associates, they were dropping in what Wenner says were Keith Richards’ once generous gifts of cocaine, at a magazine office whose photographic darkroom was converted into an in-house drug dealer and whose boss had an astronomical habit.
When Wenner and Jagger – who some believe were more than just good friends – launched a British version of Rolling Stone, they threw a record industry party that saw the punch spiked with LSD and several guests hospitalized became. Victims included T. Rex’s Marc Bolan, who became so paranoid that he locked himself in the toilet until talked out of it by a gynecologist who was at the party.
Meanwhile, the staff were so stoned that they managed to get Bob “Dillon” printed on the cover of the magazine.
While Rolling Stone could make or break careers — Eric Clapton once fainted in a restaurant after reading a bad review in the magazine — getting it out at all was often something of a triumph.
Wenner recalls one afternoon with Jimi Hendrix when they “smoked a lot of weed, turned on the tape and took a lot of pictures.” He later managed to save at least some of her dog to produce an article, adding, “That happened too often.”
As the magazine’s editor, Wenner became uber-friends with the stars of the 1960s and ’70s—they took their drugs, vacationed on their yachts, and crashed at their wild parties.
After founding Rolling Stone in San Francisco in 1967, he became friends with everyone — at least those who mattered — including not just Jagger, but John Lennon, David Bowie, Bob Dylan, Bono and Bruce Springsteen.
Critics say he was far too kind and his desire for fame turned him into a shameless toady, whose pandering to his famous friends extended to letting them edit their own interviews.
Another allegation – equally hard to refute – was that he sold the magazine’s leftist “counterculture” stance when he became a multimillionaire with a row of houses and a private jet.
Now, Wenner has revealed everything — or rather not quite everything — in a smug autobiography that’s made waves in the US for both what’s not in it and what is in it.
Because Wenner, now 76, actually chose to write Like A Rolling Stone in response to a 2017 biography that, while he commissioned it himself, was far from flattering. Vanity Fair writer Joe Hagan’s Sticky Fingers was impeccably researched, but—much to Wenner’s anger—it portrayed him as a rock ‘n’ roll bully who kowtowed not only to the biggest stars, but also to the careers of less famous ones Destroyed artists he wasn’t interested in courting.
Wenner accused Hagan of producing a “sleazy” tome that focused too much on his sexual behavior (he left his wife and three children for a man) and heavy substance abuse.
There’s no shortage of juicy revelations in his own book, however. For example, he reveals that a photographer was only able to snap romantic snaps of Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt at an African resort — while Pitt was still married to Jennifer Aniston — because Jolie tipped him off. Wenner is an outrageous name-dropper, but at least he has impressive names to drop — including Michael Douglas, Jackie Kennedy, and Madonna.
After attending an expensive California boarding school, he dropped out of university and founded Rolling Stone with money from his wealthy parents and that of his collaborator and future wife, Jane Schindelheim.
It turned out to be a brilliant business decision. Mainstream media in the US didn’t care about loud, stinky rock ‘n’ roll back then, and music acts had nowhere to go to get noticed but this magazine and its hippie contributors.
Wenner and his wife Jane threw outrageous dinner parties for their famous friends at their San Francisco home. Leibovitz came to one dressed as a nun, while another guest rolled up a large tank of the party drug nitrous oxide on a trolley. Pete Townshend of The Who once came to see Wenner at 2am and later accused him of spiked his orange juice with LSD.
Alternatively, the stars could just head down to the magazine’s Louche offices in San Francisco and hook up with the ever-accommodating and — at 5ft 6in — diminutive Wenner.
He ran quite a circus – the perpetually drugged Hunter S. Thompson liked to pull out a giant hypodermic needle at editorial meetings and dramatically inject himself in the stomach while moaning in ecstasy.