published: 24 /
Lisa Torem in her 'Raging Pages' book column finds Joe Hagan’s biography of Rolling Stone founder Jann Wenner is rich with pop culture detail and keen insight, and includes candid observations from high-profile insiders.
In 2004, Jan Wenner, founder of fifty-year-old Rolling Stone Magazine, was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame by Rolling Stone Mick Jagger and record executive Ahmet Ertegun. When skimming through the photo section of Wenner’s biography, 'Sticky Fingers', authored by Joe Hagan, this grainy black and white shot speaks volumes about Wenner’s pop cult status — Jagger folds his arm around the man, as his own eyes shine.
Though the photo section is small, the content piques the reader’s curiosity: how did Wenner become head of a magazine that could make or break a career? How was he able to anticipate trends, or was he responsible for starting them? What did he expect from his writers? Was he a strict taskmaster? How did being on the cover impact artists' careers? This entertaining and informative book addresses those questions and much more.
Joe Hagan diligently researched his subject matter, getting inside the brains of new journalist Hunter S. Thompson and writer Tom Wolfe. He included observations from veteran journalist Cameron Crowe and a grand list of entertainers, including Paul McCartney, John Lennon, Bono, Elton John, Keith Richards and Bruce Springsteen.
The book is cleverly divided into three sections: 'The Wunderkind,' 'The 1970s' and 'It’s Only Rock and Roll.' The chapters are named after popular song titles. Hagan explores the tensions that develop as Jann and Jane Wenner develop the magazine's image, the resulting rivalries, the sweeping changes Wenner implements as times change and the infusion of “drug-addled” employees.
In 'Sticky Fingers', Hagan pragmatically deconstructs Wenner’s impulses. A case in point: Hagan illustrates episodes in which Wenner plays favorites or pits friends against friends to get a story, and in so doing creates ill-will. “Success would blunt Wenner’s feel for the culture and sow the seeds of his decline,” Hagan states early on in the prologue and he follows this line of thought through to the end.
The author conducted hundreds of interviews to come to his conclusions and to flesh out Wenner’s trajectory for this hard-to-put-down best-seller. It is a fast read, yet not a light one, but it is one that every self-confessed pop culture historian should keep on the shelf.