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Sticky Fingers Print-ready version

The Life and Times of Jann Wenner and Rolling Stone Magazine

by Joe Hagan
Knopf
October 24, 2017

Here are the Joni references in the book "Sticky Fingers: The Life and Times of Jann Wenner and Rolling Stone Magazine":

Chapter 6:

Wenner delighted in provocative photography celebrating liberated and alternative sexuality (mainly lesbianism) and published whole guides to buying and smoking marijuana, a habit so ubiquitous that a page 3 image of a boy smoking a joint shocked no one. There were poems by Richard Brautigan and Allen Ginsberg; stories on comic artist R. Crumb and pop artist Roy Lichtenstein; interviews with Miles Davis and Tiny Tim; premier LPs by new artists like Joni Mitchell ("A penny-yellow blonde with a vanilla voice") and Sly Stone ("The most adventurous soul music of 1968"). Rolling Stone recorded every tossed-off "um" and "uh" of Frank Zappa and Jim Morrison (including a long and pretentious poem Wenner reluctantly agreed to publish), every hiccup of John Lennon and Yoko Ono, which Jonathan Cott grokked for readers with the sensitivity of the Oxford scholar he had once hoped to be until Rolling Stone took over his life.

Chapter 7:

As John and Yoko became increasingly messianic, appearing on the cover of Rolling Stone with a white dove in February 1970, McCartney was preparing a solo album, complete with liner notes trashing his former writing partner. "John and Yoko in one corner," wrote Wenner in May 1970, "Paul and Linda McCartney in the other." (Wenner compared it to a lovers' breakup.) Increasingly, the music was going inward, dark, and solitary - the moody introspection of Joni Mitchell and Graham Nash in Laurel Canyon, four hundred miles south, and the working-class primitivism of hard rock, Led Zeppelin, and Black Sabbath, which Wenner personally detested.

Chapter 10:

In the summer of 1971, Joni Mitchell released the seminal song "California" from her fourth album, Blue, wherein she finds herself in Europe surrounded by "pretty people" who were "reading Rolling Stone, reading Vogue." Plucking a dulcimer and ululating, a luminous goddess of the 1970s, she pined for California and promised to return once her skin turned brown. Mitchell's poetic juxtaposition of Rolling Stone and Vogue was telling, capturing the glint of celebrity and self-regard that now animated the youth culture, where Warren Beatty and Jack Nicholson were the enfants terribles of Hollywood and Mitchell's friends and lovers from Laurel Canyon, managed by David Geffen, the new Rasputin of 1970s rock, jostled for space in the pages of Rolling Stone.

Geffen, a striver from Borough Park, Brooklyn, famously started out in the mail room at the William Morris Agency and became a twenty-seven-year-old millionaire managing L.A. superstars Jackson Browne, the Eagles, Joni Mitchell, and Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young. Though Wenner's first memory of Geffen was meeting him in the early 1970s during a hospital visit to Neil Young, Geffen said he'd known Jann Wenner since the late 1960s through mutual partners. ("If you're gay," said Geffen, "it's a small world.") They once went to a concert where Wenner tried plying Geffen with speed, but Geffen balked, telling Grover Lewis he found Wenner's offer "absolutely shocking." As he'd been doing since 1967, Jann Wenner made puncturing Los Angeles egos a staple of his San Francisco newspaper. Rolling Stone panned Déjà Vu by Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young as "too sweet, too soothing, too perfect, and too good to be true," backhanding them as a careerist supergroup who valued fame over art. Neil Young's After the Gold Rush was regarded by Rolling Stone as "uniformly dull," and 1972's Harvest critiqued as a weak follow-up to After the Gold Rush. Wenner splashed David Crosby on the cover in 1970 with a picture of him bugging his eyes like Charles Manson (which Crosby hated), and even his first solo record from 1971, If I Could Only Remember My Name, recorded in San Francisco with members of the Grateful Dead and the Jefferson Airplane, was met with a sneer from Lester Bangs, who called it "a perfect aural aid to digestion when you're having guests over for dinner." ("Did it hurt my feelings? Yes, it really fucking did," said Crosby.)

Joni Mitchell, who was living in David Geffen's guesthouse in Beverly Hills, expressed ambivalence about her rock-and-roll fame. "Inside I'm thinking, 'You're phony. You're being a star,'" she said in a quotation Rolling Stone put under her unsmiling photograph. (She also mused on photography as a kind of rape.) After she released "California," Rolling Stone published an infamous two-page chart called "Hollywood's Hot 100," annotating the internecine relationships of the Los Angeles "haute monde," from A&M's "Aristocrats" (Gil Friesen and Herb Alpert) to the singers and sidemen, including the CSNY "Bachelors," with Joni Mitchell at the center of it all, her name printed inside a lipstick stain and surrounded by arrows suggesting she'd slept with David Crosby, James Taylor, and Stephen Stills. "We heard about that right away," recalled Charlie Perry. "I was told, 'Why do this to Joni? She's just looking for love like all of us.'"

The call Perry was referring to was almost certainly from Geffen. "That was an outrageous thing," recalled Geffen. "It was something expected more of a gossip magazine than [what] Rolling Stone would be. She was very offended."

The chart had no attribution or byline but was created by Jerry Hopkins, Wenner's L.A. correspondent, who said he initially drew it up as a joke. It was Jann Wenner, he claimed, who insisted on publishing it in February 1972. "I was horrified," Hopkins said, "but not nearly so much as Joni was. I am grateful only that my name was not attached." ("Joni...if you see this, I'm sorry," said Hopkins.)

Joni Mitchell didn't speak to Rolling Stone for seven years. Jackson Browne was dating her at the time and recalled her fury and his own: "I thought, 'What the fuck happened to our magazine? What happened to our generation's voice?'" After it appeared, Wenner went backstage at a Mitchell concert, evidently high and seemingly oblivious to her fury over the article. "He couldn't actually tell that Joni was livid that he was there," said Browne. "Did he even read the magazine?"

(Later, Browne broke up with Mitchell, sending her into a near-suicidal depression and inspiring the song "Car on a Hill," from 1974's Court and Spark, which also includes a song about David Geffen, "Free Man in Paris." Reviewing the album, Jon Landau observed that Mitchell "has composed few songs of unambivalent feeling.")

Wenner often blamed his writers for negative stories and reviews. But the Mitchell backhand was not a mistake: Rolling Stone doubled down by naming her "Old Lady of the Year" in 1972 "for her friendships with David Crosby, Steve Stills, Graham Nash, Neil Young, James Taylor, et al." And all this antagonism toward the Los Angeles scene flowed directly from Jann Wenner, who saw these richly egoed rockers as fair game for his newly muscular journalistic enterprise. His pointed tool for raking muck was Ben Fong-Torres, whom Wenner referred to as "the inscrutable Oriental." Fong-Torres was a first-generation Chinese American; his father immigrated to San Francisco as a Filipino national using the fake name Ricardo Torres, thus Fong-Torres. After freelancing for Rolling Stone in the late 1960s, Fong-Torres quit his job producing an employee magazine for the local telephone company and became Wenner's full-time workhorse in 1969, churning out reams of Random Notes gossip. His first story as a staffer was an interview with Joni Mitchell. Among the few Rolling Stone employees to study journalism in college, he described his approach in the introduction to the second volume of The "Rolling Stone" Interviews: "I know to do research beforehand, to be friendly during the warm-up ('I heard your new album just yesterday.' Pause, shaking head slowly. 'Whew!'), to take notes and keep the recorder going while maintaining contact and, afterwards, to make no promises."

Chapter 13:

John Lennon once said "there are fuckers and fuckees," and Wenner, by dint of his barrel of ink, was destined to be a fucker. "I think to a certain degree, we're all starfuckers," said David Geffen. "In Jann's case, it was very important to him. He didn't seem to care or realize that if you think you're friends with people and write bad things about them, they're not gonna be okay with that. If you're gonna be my friend, along with that comes certain responsibility. He forgot that part. I know people that wanted to kill him!"

Geffen was one of them: When Wenner quoted him saying he had a good relationship with Bob Dylan, and then quoted Dylan in the same article saying he didn't like Geffen, Geffen arranged to have all the Warner Communications subsidiaries - Warner Bros., Atlantic, Elektra, and Asylum Records - pull their ads for three issues in 1974. Ex-Beatle George Harrison was furious at Rolling Stone for coverage of his 1974 solo tour, and his distaste put him in good company: John Lennon, Joni Mitchell, the Eagles, and, for a time, Bob Dylan.

Chapter 16:

Jann Wenner was pacing in a red T-shirt that said "Gonzo" across the chest.

Joni Mitchell glared at him from across the field.

Peter Cetera of Chicago, a band that Rolling Stone called "rock and roll Doc Severinsens," swung hard, hit a triple, and drove in the first run, putting the Eagles up 1 - 0.

Don Henley, in a polyester jersey that said "Bullshit" on it, cracked open a bottle of champagne.

The ticket stubs told the story: Rolling Stone Magazine vs. The Eagles, the Sunday afternoon of May 7, 1978. It was a supernova of 1970s spectacle, a "grudge match" of slow-pitch softball between the biggest rock-and-roll magazine and the biggest-selling rock-and-roll act, played out before five thousand spectators at Dedeaux Field at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. A cheerleading team from Hollywood High School, hired by Wenner, danced on the sidelines. Chevy Chase and Daryl Hall rooted from the stands. Jerry Brown, governor of California and erstwhile boyfriend of Linda Ronstadt, showed up to give quotes to the press ("Of course the Eagles are going to win," he said). Jimmy Buffett, slated to be the umpire until he broke his leg in a previous game, followed the action via CB radio. Joe Smith, now head of Elektra-Asylum Records, announced the game over the PA system, asking the audience to rise for the national anthem and then blasting "Life in the Fast Lane" by the Eagles.

As any reader of Rolling Stone knew, Don Henley and Glenn Frey of the Eagles hated Rolling Stone. The music editor, Peter Herbst, who started in 1977, had described their live act as a bunch of "formless blobs" onstage who "flaunt no athletic grace - if anything, they loiter." Critics Dave Marsh and Paul Nelson considered them featherlight West Coast pap, as did Stephen Holden, who in a grudgingly positive review said they lacked a decent singer and that when they "attempt to communicate wild sexuality, they sound only boyishly enthused." Meanwhile, Chuck Young wrote up a snarky item in Random Notes making fun of the band's losses in intramural softball against a team led by Jimmy Buffett. Glenn Frey, whose competitive streak was legend, wrote in to correct the record and challenge Rolling Stone to a game: "Anytime you pencil-pushing desk jockeys want to put on your spikes, we'll kick your ass, too."

In Random Notes, Young replied that "Mr. Frey is apparently unaware that his own manager, Irving Azoff, supplied the information for the story." Though the band's animosity was real, this was a canny PR stunt concocted by Wenner and Azoff, his newest friend and rival, who wore a mocking T-shirt to the game that asked, "Is Jann Wenner Tragically Hip?" An elfin man with large glasses and a Prince Valiant haircut, Azoff was known as Big Shorty. Standing only five feet three inches, he was arguably the most powerful figure in the record business, managing FM hit makers the Eagles, Jimmy Buffett, Steely Dan, and Boz Scaggs. He grew up in Danville, Illinois, and learned about the music business from his subscription to Rolling Stone. "I used to sit and read my Rolling Stone about David Geffen and Bill Graham, and to me, they were gods," he told the magazine. Azoff moved to L.A. with one of his first clients, Dan Fogelberg, and went to work for Geffen's company, which managed the Eagles. When Geffen sold his company to Warner Bros., Azoff took over the Eagles, formed Front Line Management, and sued Warner to get the Eagles' song publishing back, claiming Geffen had snookered them out of millions. "We started telling Irving our problems with the band, our producer, how we wanted our records not to be so clean and glassy and how we were getting the royal fuckin' screw job," Frey told Cameron Crowe in 1978. Geffen never forgave Azoff, whose name he spat in bitter disgust for the next forty years. But Wenner admired Azoff's success, and they soon became ski partners in Aspen. Wenner would take up residence at his ski lodge for weeks at a time as they mocked each other's height and status - "How's my favorite upstart?" Wenner wrote to Azoff. "Why are you richer than me?" - and did business in the pages of Rolling Stone, with Cameron Crowe the diplomatic go-between. Crowe wrote up friendly cover stories on Azoff's clients, and Azoff became Crowe's mentor, allowing the writer to hang out while he trash-talked and negotiated over a phone, as David Geffen used to do in the early 1970s. (Geffen once let Grover Lewis listen in while Joni Mitchell had an emotional meltdown over the phone; in the next call, Geffen booked her at the Greek Theatre.)

[...]

And then the Eagles clobbered Rolling Stone 15 - 8.

Glenn Frey declared the victory "divine retribution," and Joni Mitchell, rooting for the Eagles from their VIP dugout, exulted in the win. She had recently called up writer Janet Maslin to scream about the negative review of Don Juan's Reckless Daughter. "I'm here as an enemy of Rolling Stone," Mitchell told an L.A. newspaper. "I have a personal grudge against mister Jann Wenner. He's very irresponsible. He doesn't even read his own rag, so why should anybody else? I'm so happy they lost." Afterward, the two teams had a private party at Johnny Carson's favorite restaurant, Dan Tana's on Santa Monica Boulevard. At a candlelit booth, Peter Herbst faced off with Mitchell about Rolling Stone's criticism, while Wenner went around the restaurant browbeating his staff to collect quotations for the next issue, some of which appeared in the June 15, 1978, issue of Rolling Stone alongside a bylined article by Glenn Frey and Don Henley. On page 25 of Wenner's paper, the Eagles called him "boy publisher" and noted that Rolling Stone liked the Eagles until they became successful "because we all know that success is inherently evil and we must be protected from it at all costs."

[...]

Indeed, Cameron Crowe had managed to get back into Wenner's good graces, too, by conducting the first interview with Joni Mitchell since Rolling Stone had charted her various affairs. Wenner said he ran into Mitchell at a Christmas party at Gilda Radner's apartment and smoothed things over, winning her back for what Rolling Stone called "her first interview in ten years." But Crowe said the rapprochement came after he met Mitchell through a mutual friend and learned she admired his work. Mitchell had personally defended Crowe against New York Times critic John Rockwell, who told Mitchell in an exchange of letters that Crowe's work was puffy. Afterward, "Joni reached out personally to say, 'I'm going to do an interview, I will do it with you; if you want it to be for Rolling Stone, I will do it for Rolling Stone,' " recalled Crowe. In July 1979, on the occasion of her collaborative album with Charles Mingus, Mitchell spoke freely to Crowe of her past relationships, her difficulties with love, her struggles with critics, and her history with Bob Dylan (when she first played him Court and Spark, he fell asleep). She also expressed her feelings about the magazine's attacks on her in 1972. "That hurt," she told Crowe, "but not nearly so much as when they began to tear apart The Hissing of Summer Lawns. Ignorantly." ("There are no tunes to speak of," wrote Stephen Holden in 1976.)

Crowe counted his Mitchell interview among the best he ever did for Rolling Stone. It was also one of his last before he left for a successful career in Hollywood, later directing Almost Famous, the nostalgic 2000 film based on his early life at Rolling Stone, in which he cast Jann Wenner in a walk-on part.

Chapter 19:

In December 1983, Rolling Stone ran a list of "the most overrated people in America," wherein the magazine separated the 1980s wheat from the 1970s chaff. Overrated were Jackson Browne, Gloria Steinem, Liza Minnelli, Quincy Jones (hot off producing Thriller), Joni Mitchell, Billy Joel, Linda Ronstadt, John Travolta, Nastassja Kinski (whose nude photos, published in Rolling Stone, Wenner hung in his office), and Andy Warhol, who ran into Wenner the week the article ran. "I said, 'Gee, Jann, you put down all your best friends in your article on "Overrated People," ' " he recorded in his diary. "And he said, 'Oh yeah, I made them take Gilda Radner off that list.' He didn't say a thing about me! And he's got a big pot belly and his hair is long again."

Chapter 24:

Jann Wenner still had a lifetime's worth of grudges and hurt feelings, the legacy of the passion he inspired. The band Kiss hated him for allegedly blocking them from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (in 1977, Rolling Stone depicted Gene Simmons as an unrepentant asshole in the classic "The Pagan Beasties of Teenage Rock"). Joni Mitchell threw a drink in Wenner's face at an awards ceremony and wrote a song called "Lead Balloon": " 'Kiss my ass!' I said / and I threw my drink / Tequila trickling / down his business suit." (Jimmy Webb beat her to the punch with the Wenner-inspired "Friends to Burn," from 1993.) Jimmy Buffett was privately bummed that he couldn't get in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and Steve Miller aired his grievances at his own induction ceremony. Wenner didn't mind. He was the center of the action and disliked a lot of these people.

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