May 11, 2007
After 40 Years, Magazine Still “Rolling” Forward
By David Lieberman, USA Today
JANN WENNER looks pretty good for a 62-year-old founding father of rock. Fit, tanned and sporting a salt-and-pepper three-day growth, he radiates warmth and speaks with the enthusiasm of a wide-eyed teenager.
If you believe the tales of impossible deadlines, late nights and general debauchery he experienced with rock stars and hard-living journalists such as his friend the late Hunter S. Thompson, he should be six feet under. Or at least showing a bit of wear and tear.
But the Rolling Stone founder, who is credited with dragging the counterculture into the mainstream, has not only survived the parties and turmoil his magazine has reported on for the last 41 years, he has become one of the most successful independent publishers in history.
He admits he was lucky enough to start out on the cusp of a golden age of music that “only comes around every 100 years” but is still excited by the music of artists such as Prince, U2, John Mayer and Amy Winehouse.
Perhaps he has been reinvigorated by his “second life”. In 1995 he separated from his wife, Jane, with whom he has three children. He then moved to New York and started a relationship with the fashion designer Matt Nye. The couple have adopted three children.
In a wide-ranging interview, Wenner discusses the pivotal changes he has witnessed in publishing, culture and politics over four decades as well as his continuing love of music. He is a fervent supporter of the US presidential candidate Barack Obama, who has already appeared three times on the cover of Rolling Stone’s American edition.
The magazine has always prided itself on being one step ahead of the mainstream. But Wenner says that with the proliferation of the media, that is no longer possible.
“The mainstream became closer to the counterculture,” he says. “Fifty years ago there were no black people on TV. You couldn’t even say the word gay. And then the evolution happened really rapidly, and the mainstream came over and adopted styles of long hair, jeans, rock ’n’ roll and the anti-war movement, because it wasn’t necessarily counterculture, it was youth culture, it was generational. But now news is on the web as soon as it happens.”
Wenner set up Rolling Stone in 1967 in a small loft in San Francisco with a $US7500 loan. The first print run was 5000 copies. Since then, he has won countless awards and transformed his business into a multimillion-dollar global publishing empire, licensing the magazine in 15 countries and setting up two other lifestyle magazines in the US.
His publications are read by 27 million people, yet he has also adapted to the internet age, attracting 12 million unique visitors to his associated websites.
Wenner is also a journalist who has interviewed John Lennon, Bono, Bill Clinton, Al Gore, John Kerry and, yes, Obama. He was supposed to interview the Democratic presidential candidate again on Friday, but chose to make his first visit to Australia instead.
Wenner is here for the relaunch of the Australian version of Rolling Stone, which was recently bought by ACP Magazines. He also attended last night’s launch party, nostalgically called The Rolling Stone Revival, featuring performances by local heroes the Living End, Powderfinger and Neil Finn.
To compete with the global nature of internet news, Wenner says the new Australian Rolling Stone will focus more on local issues and music.
“There’s a really vibrant music scene here. In a way, there’s more music going on in Sydney than in New York, so to really work well, you need to be the definitive bible on the local music scene.”
And with that, Wenner heads off to prepare for yet another party. But by the smile on his face, you can tell he will never tire of this lifestyle.