I've long walked a tightrope when it comes to Jann Wenner, creator and publisher of Rolling Stone, and Joe Hagan's eminently readable new "Sticky Fingers: The Life and Times of Jann Wenner and Rolling Stone Magazine" (Knopf) does not push me off the high-wire in either direction.
I feel indebted to Wenner, who helped immensely in creating rock criticism writ large, and thereby greatly impacted the often circuitous route my life would take from the moment I started interpreting his magazine's record reviews and music features as serious literature. Yet the guy seems to be in possession of one of the largest egos in human history, and a fair argument could be made that Wenner's main motivation has been to become as much of a rock star as the men and women his magazine helped to canonize. Hagan's portrait is not always flattering in this regard, but it does raise a big point, that being the unmistakable fact that Wenner's baby is responsible for some of the finest music criticism – as well as counter-cultural and political writing – ever granted publication.
Looking at Rolling Stone today is like watching a dodgy videotape of a funeral for the idea that long-form, serious, intensive, irreverent and creative music journalism should be a valuable part of our cultural discourse. It's increasingly thin in page count, the record reviews are short and largely insubstantial, and consistent fawning over the musical equivalent of click-bait has permanently damaged the magazine's credibility.
But reading "Sticky Fingers" reminds us of what was, what could have been, and what just might rise from the dead, if we all do our part. I plan to do mine.