Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Sticky Fingers - A Book Review

I am sure many of you reading this were like me and at one point had a subscription to Rolling Stone Magazine.   And I wouldn't be shocked to learn that many of you also collected back issues of the music magazine, especially if the Beatles or John, Paul, George or Ringo were on the cover.

I had heard that the biography of the founder of Rolling Stone,  titled Sticky Fingers The Life and Times of Jann Wenner and  Rolling Stone magazine was an interesting book, especially for Beatles fans, so I thought I would give it a try.     I am an extremely fast reader but this 560-page book took me over 3 weeks to finish.   This book is "semi-authorized" in that Jann Wenner asked the author to write the book and was allowed to edit things that were about his personal life, but did not touch what was said about him professionally.

Jann Wenner (the name is pronounced "Yann" come to find out I have been mispronouncing his name wrong all these years) supposedly started R.S. magazine because he wanted to meet John Lennon.   The book starts with a wonderful story of Jann and his wife Jane along with John and Yoko watching the film "Let it Be" almost alone in a California theater in 1970.   This would be the first time John had seen the finished cut of the film and John left in tears. 

Jann was a Beatles fan and thought John Lennon was basically the Beatles and the other three really didn't matter.    He loved John so much that he put John as Private Gripweed on the cover of the first issue in 1967.  The San Francisco magazine wasn't doing well financially in 1970 and John agreed to give Jann an exclusive interview with him and Yoko to help sell more magazines (well newspapers at that time).  Part of the verbal agreement was that Jann would not use the interview outside of the confines of RS.     This was, of course, the most controversial of all John Lennon Interviews are known today as "Lennon Remembers."

Jann went back on his word and published the full interview in book form.   This made John Lennon extremely angry and he cut ties with Jann Wenner and Rolling Stone Magazine.     In the big picture, the "Lennon Remembers" interview was not a good idea all around.     Wenner didn't do well with the other Beatles either.    Paul didn't like him because he thought that he favored John too much and George didn't like him because of the infamous "Lumbering in the Material World" article about the Dark Horse Tour.      The book doesn't say anything at all about Ringo.     It amazes me that RS was able to become so big without The Beatles support.

The book goes into a lot of detail about Jann's personal life.   It paints a picture of a self-centered, party boy that was addicted to cocaine,  and treated people poorly.    He would sleep with both men and women even though he was married to Jane.    However, I guess it didn't really matter because Jane had her affairs with a variety of men and women herself.     By the time they moved the magazine from San Francisco to New York City,  the Wenner's were living a jet-set rich life and were deep in debt.    In the 1970's they loved to hob-knob with the rich and famous, even though most everyone disliked Jann (they all adored Jane).     Personally, I found this time in the 1970's to drag on and on in this book and it could have been majorly cut down.

A few interesting things:   In 1974 Jann received a Polaroid photo of John and Paul at the beach house.   The description of the photo given in the book does not match with anything I have in my files.     There possibly could be another photo from April 1, 1974, of John and Paul that we haven't seen! 

In 1977, there was a Rolling Stone 10th anniversary TV special that had a Beatles segment that is really messed up!   $100,000 was spent on this segment of the failed show and you just need to look it up on Youtube to get the full trainwreck.   People dressed up as Strawberries dancing around to a guru looking guy singing "Strawberry Field Forever??"   I wonder if John or Paul saw this mess?

When John was murdered in 1980,  Jann was devastated.  Now, John had not forgiven Jann for the Lennon Remembers book.   He purposely gave the big interview in 1980 to Playboy and made it clear to Jann that he was allowing RS to do the photos and talk to him just because he needed the publicity for Double Fantasy.  But Jann was a slick guy, and after John's death, he became friends with Yoko Ono.    He started going on talk shows and talking about his "good friend John Lennon." Jann and Jane, along with Yoko and Sam H., would go shopping for expensive furniture together, and Yoko considered Jann to be a real friend. Sean even ended up being the Godfather to one of Jann's sons.  And the John Lennon tribute issue of RS with naked John curled up to a fully clothed Yoko is one of the best-known photos and best selling magazines of all time.

1986 --  Yoko and Andy Warhol with Jann photo bombing in the background 

The book also goes into detail about Jann's involvement in the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame and how Jann lied to Paul McCartney, which is why Stella wore the infamous "about f---- time" t-shirt when her Dad finally was inducted. 

Jann was always willing to give new writers a chance and was a good businessman who made a lot of money.    He just led a crazy life with a lot of sex and drugs.  In 2014, Yoko Ono gave him a peace award in Iceland because she thought he was depressed, and that would cheer him up.    Rolling Stone has had its ups and downs over the years and has gone through so many changes, but it remains still a mainstay when it comes to rock n roll journalism.

Sticky Fingers was an interesting book, but it was a slow reader.    I would only recommend it to fans of rock and roll who are particularly interested in how this classic magazine was run.

The link below is the affiliate link to Amazon where you can purchase this book..   I get a small percentage of anything purchased through this link.  Money made from the Amazon Afflication is used to pay the annual fee to keep this site online.  Thank you for your support.  Sara


  1. So, basically, Jann Wenner is a piece of s***. No surprise there. For your information, Jackson Browne told me personally that he will not sign copies of him on the cover of that mag and not to believe a word of the articles. That they are nothing but a pack of lies. Daryl Hall told me pretty much the same thing. The fact that Wenner betrayed John after his 1970 interview tells you all you need to know about this character. His involvement with the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame and some of its questionable inductees is a whole other story. 😠

  2. Rolling Stone went downhill the minute it went upmarket in the move from San Francisco to NYC, and the 1977 10th Anniversary TV special and Sgt Pepper musical fiasco signalled the end of it.
    The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame was bad hype from the start. PM would have showed more class by avoiding the whole charade instead of being miffed that he was added as an afterthought. You see, the music was the magic, not the awards, and by flipping that situation so that rock stars wanted that award badly, Jann Wenner set himself at the top of the tree, instead of the non-playing non-writing rich attendant he was.
    The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame was another nail in the rock coffin, taming the music, and every player who succumbed to this false flattery, including dear old PM, found themselves doused in formaldehyde.
    I value a photo of PM cooling his heels innocuously on public transport on the London Underground or a bus line far, far more than a shot of him as a celebrity receiving a parasite's award on stage.
    Well, Rolling Stone channelled some lovely New Journalism in its San Francisco golden age - - check out Joe Esterhauz, Tim Cruise, Grover Lewis - - but even Hunter Thompson was winding down by the time Wenner moved to New York to become a corporate big shot. The golden age of magazine journalism had ended by then all round. But more important magazine editors were Harold Hayes, Clay Felker, and Warren Hinkle.
    The best part of the Wenner bio I seem to remember is the opening, with JL and Wenner watching LET IT BE in a San Francisco cinema in public.

  3. I liked the mag back in the day when the pop scene was interesting but I let my subscription expire in the latter 90’s. Wenner is an opportunist with good timing. RS is known to play favorites, have an agenda, and use people. They sold out Jack Douglas when he had to sue Yoko Ono for royalties earned on Double Fantasy. Wenner claimed Jack was a nobody but was made to look like a fool under cross when it was brought out that he was mentioned repeatedly in their own magazine and had been behind many successful lp’s in the 70’s. I still remember in their reviews section where they canned a well established band’s new record at the time and on the next page gave Yoko Ono’s new one a glowing review. Hmmmm 🤔... In the fullness of time the canned album still sells favorably and remains well known. Yoko’s went the way all her work does.
    Glad to see Wenner’s past catching up with him. It’s about time. He’s been accused of sexual harassment too. I know of at least 2 writers that have claimed that it was either sleep with him and write for RS or the door. Nice guy, that Jann. One wonders with the pop scene being in the doldrums for years and years now if their subscription rate and advertising revenues are really starting to make them feel the pinch.

  4. Good work Sara!
    My first subscription copy
    of RS was the famous Lennon
    Ono nude issue.

  5. GEEZ and I thought I was bitter about him! Lol. Anonymous #1

  6. I do have many R/S vintage copies from 1969 through early-70s and some later - - mostly for Hunter Thompson's writing and some Wolfe. Much of this journalism, including rock journalism, has been anthologized since as Literature and Cultural History - - But it's beautiful to open out that broadsheet pulp paper and read the print as it was first encountered, fresh off the newsstand, when the writing was 'live' and the music was happening and the grapevine was climbing the walls wondering Will They Get Back Together.
    Seeing all the bands and writers and albums and movies pervading those pages, now it's hard to believe all that creativity was happening all at once, from one side of the Atlantic to the other. How depressing that all that culture was paved over by banality - - but how marvelous that it happened in the first place.

  7. Thanks for reviewing this, Sara. Mustve been frustrating to be a rock critic back then -- you feel so self-obsessed and empowered that you take cheap shot after cheap shot at an album in a review, only to find that it goes to #1 because NO ONE cares what you think (i.e. - 1973 Living In The Material World LP). And btw it wasnt just Wenner! John apparently got pizzed at Dave Marsh because he wrote an "open letter" to John that was published in '78 in RS that John down for retiring...John read it, and then got word to Marsh to get a life and grow up.