April 23, 1969
Rolling Stone Gathers Youth
By Nicholas von Hoffman, Washington Post
SAN FRANCISCO—Jann Wenner is a young man in the process of being discovered by Time and Newsweek. They’ve been calling him up asking him for information but they’re late. More than 60,000 readers have already found Jann and made the magazine he started less than two years ago into the country’s leading rock publication.
But the Rolling Stone is something other than rocking and rolling. Its 23-year-old editor believes it is part of a basic if hard to define change this is slipping across the society. R and R people all over the country certainly read it, but so do the brightest, most interesting youngsters who are into doing anything new and inventive outside of music as well as in it.
The Stone was started by Jann with $7,500 worth of borrowed capital. It now costs $900 a page to advertise in it and the rates are going up. “I think it’s twice as valuable as that. It’s the best buy on the market today. The trouble is only the art directors know we’ve got the market, but it’s the media buyers who decide,” says Jann, who apprenticed in publishing first as a student on the University of California’s newspaper and later at Ramparts. The least interesting part of him is Jann, the young business success. What commands attention is his publication and how it differs from others in the field.
The Stone isn’t splashy. It’s well designed and has some very good photography in but it lacks the eye smacking four-color splendor of Cheetah and Eye, two magazines established to mine the fissures in the Youthquake for money. One of them has already closed and the other remains an unconvincing specimen of exploitation, while the Rolling Stone prospers, with its conservative format of news, social and musical criticism and long articles about what youth is or will be interested in.
“We’re not in the Pepsi generation and we’re not putting out a publication for the Pepsi generation,” says Wenner, thus underscoring the Rolling Stone’s refusal to claim it is the voice of youth. At the same time he has trouble saying why this publication of his is read by so many of the most conspicuous and active young people: “We’re on the line between so many dichotomies. We’re on the line between underground versus above-ground press, between newspaper and magazine, between being a trade paper and a consumer paper, between dope and music.”
What may put the Stone in the modern mode is that it isn’t dichotomously rigid like Time magazine, a publication that Wenner predicts will superannuate and die “because it’s not going to make the change when the cultural change comes. Neither will Playboy, and there’s an incredible publication. I’m sure by now they have come to the realization they can charge $5 a copy and get it, but I think it will die in ten years because it’s locked into its generation. I’ve talked to some of their editors and they don’t seem to understand what’s happening on ‘the other side.’ ”
“The other side” is an aversion to dope. The Doors have a song called “Break on Through to the Other Side.” Not that the Rolling Stone proselytizes dope. It doesn’t. It isn’t a tendentious headsheet.
“The dope experience is an introduction to the fact that the social order is wrong,” he explains, “You smoke marijuana. You find out it’s fun, but every time you do, you break a law. Still within yourself you have the experience of enjoying yourself without feeling guilty... Dope, rock and roll and taking a billy club over the head are the shared experience of young people today.”
The magazine covers this melange of experience that makes for a community of shamed and disdained outlaws who are confused and resentful because they see no victims of crimes and feel no guilt for them. These experiences in and of themselves are pro-political but they open up and dispose people to listen to radical politics so the Stone writes about this in casual, non-didactic ways.
If older people back on this side find such talk hard to believe, it’s because they will not recognize the extent of the marijuana smoking and consequent cop hating and cop fighting among America’s middle class youth. The Stone does. Its new issue describes the two day set-to, in Palm Springs where 20,000 dope-smoking kids brawled with the police for two days and nights, over the Easter holiday. The magazine’s verdict was that the kids were by far more at fault than the police, but the important thing is that the rest of the country took it as another incomprehensible collegiate rumble without looking into its dynamics.
If the straight world is determined to be oblivious to the reciprocal connections between music, dope, peace, open sex, conservation and all the other topics that move young people, the people already on the other side are very sensitive to these interconnections. Jann says, “I don’t know whether we’ll win or not. There are a lot of factors going both ways. You think, yes we will, every time you go to a high school and see a zillion kids chugging around with long hair and smoking dope. It depends on how many of these kids turn on their parents. It depends on how many kids get busted. It depends on how fast the Sen. Eastlands and the Sen. Russells die and how fast the Jesse Unruhs get into power.”
A few years ago Unruh was the master mechanic of the California Democratic machine. Lately he’s been trying to change and he’s convinced some like Jann that he has evolved not into an ordinary liberal, but has gone on over to the other side. Many people may not care to travel so far into the loose and open post-Puritan society, but if they read the Rolling Stone they can keep themselves appraised of what’s happening to those who’ve broken on through and live invisible on the other side.