Jann Wenner’s Like A Rolling Stone: A Memoir would more aptly be titled A US Weekly Story of My Life. Its focus on his wealth, his celebrity friends and acquaintances, his wife and his husband, his Gulfstream II, his drug use, his magazine awards, his vacations in rare places, and other detritus of the self-centered rich would more appropriately appear in his publication US Weekly than Rolling Stone. I finished the book because I couldn’t avoid the mindless trappings of it: as if I were waiting in the dentist’s office with time to kill before a root canal.
Wenner’s work is evident in the book. It is competent writing yet the frequent mentions of famous people made it tedious. Why do we want to hear a person chatted with Bob Dylan about real estate? Or exchanged birthday gifts with Mick Jagger? Or vacationed with Ahmet Ertegun, a co-founder of Atlantic Records? Wenner had a substantial life yet this memoir is a puff piece. It could have been more, especially regarding the history of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, of which he is a member (because of his work with Rolling Stone) and past chairman.
I expected better writing. How could he have worked with and edited so many great writers — Hunter S. Thompson and Tom Wolfe particularly — and present such a dry, soulless narrative? He got a story down, yet it is not the story expected. It is largely devoid of the excitement that was San Francisco in the 1960s and 1970s. It didn’t improve after the story of the magazine moved to New York in 1977 where he met and spent time with a different set of celebrities including Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, John Lennon, Yoko Ono, and Bruce Springsteen.
There are a few redeeming qualities. The Rolling Stone story of Annie Leibovitz is one. The development of political campaign coverage by Hunter S. Thompson and others is another. I can’t put my finger on many more redeeming qualities shortly after finishing the book. I wish I could.
Perhaps a reason for Wenner’s lack of commitment to exceptional prose in the book can be found in this quote from page 296, “If I were asked if I could do it again would I still have used all that cocaine, I wouldn’t hesitate. No. It was a waste of money, energy, and precious time.”
I’m keeping Like a Rolling Stone: A Memoir on my bookshelf as a reference for now. If I find another home for it, I’ll gladly give it away. Somebody had to publish Rolling Stone the magazine. I never figured it would be a person who came across in his writing as a dilettante when he had the capacity and interest in being deeply engaged in his work and the telling of its story.
As former Rolling Stone writer Kurt Vonnegut wrote in Slaughterhouse Five, “So it goes.”