The book is chockablock with anecdotes of Wenner and his photographers ogling famous bodies. In 1973, Leibovitz plainly equated her desire to capture people on film with a desire to screw them—which, Hagan writes, she often ended up doing. The petty jealousies that typically accompany matters of the flesh thus were factored into the magazine as well. Paul Simon endured years of tepid coverage in Rolling Stone, according to Hagan, due to Simon having slept with the woman Wenner wanted to marry.
If journalistic and carnal curiosity were frequently conflated within the pages of Rolling Stone, lines were crossed behind the scenes as well. The marriage of Jann and Jane Wenner makes for one of the most compelling threads of Sticky Fingers, with Jane an active force in shaping the magazine as well as a semi-tragic figure who answered her husband’s dalliances with her own until he left her for a younger man. The Rolling Stone offices were often havens of drug and sex, presided over by the boss. A staffer who quit after being allegedly hit on by Wenner in 1973 recalls that the editor bragged “he had slept with everyone who had worked for him.”
Hagan’s description of Wenner as being “known for his jovial sexual harassment” has made the rounds this past week as Wenner has joined the ranks of famous media men accused of sexual impropriety. As first reported at BuzzFeed, the freelance writer Ben Ryan says that in 2005, Wenner offered him a writing contract if he’d sleep with him. “It was the most pure form of sexual harassment,” Ryan wrote in his diary at the time. Wenner’s response: “I met him 12 years ago and did flirt with him. There was no quid pro quo. He refused my advances, but still went on to have his assignment from Men’s Journal published.”
Explicit quid pro quo or not, to anyone who’s immersed themselves in Hagan’s book, the notion that Wenner might have an ethically dubious take on sex and power is unsurprising. But the fallout from Harvey Weinstein makes Wenner’s story about more than one man’s rapaciousness. Whether the setting is magazine offices or movie sets or recording studios, society is learning how many media men fit the description Art Garfunkel used for Wenner in Sticky Fingers: “He leads with his appetites—I take, I see, I have.”
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Rolling Stone’s initial aim, as laid out in the inaugural issue, was to be for “every person who ‘believes in the magic that can set you free’”: the hippy dream of progress through truth, art, and personal liberation. It’s a high-minded goal that has, in many ways, been met thanks to Wenner’s ambition and eye for talent. The magazine’s legacy really is towering, encompassing the essays of Thompson and Greil Marcus, the photography of Leibovitz and Richard Avedon, and a trove of pivotal interviews and exposés.
The documentary Rolling Stone: Stories From the Edge stylishly ticks through many of the milestones, often rooted in the magazine standing somewhere between friend and adversary with respect to its subjects. There was Ben Fong-Torres capturing the lurid dynamic between Ike and Tina Turner in 1971, enraging Ike upon publication. There was Vanessa Grigoriadis analyzing the tragedy of Britney Spears circa 2007 as a sign of celebrity culture’s destructiveness. There was Michael Hastings so charming General Stanley McChrystal that he was able to shockingly complicate the government’s spin on its wars abroad in 2010.