Jann Wenner Says Women And Black Artists Were Not Intellectually Articulate Enough To Be Interviewed For His New Book Of Rockstar Interviews
Jann Wenner, the founder of Rolling Stone (though he no longer runs that publication) and co-founder of the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame (from which he has also stepped aside) has a new book coming out. It’s called The Masters, and it features Wenner’s interviews with seven iconic rock stars: Bono, Bob Dylan, the late Jerry Garcia, Mick Jagger, the late John Lennon, Bruce Springsteen, and Pete Townshend. To promote The Masters, he did a New York Times Q&A with David Marchese, a brilliant interviewer who famously does not shy away from posing awkward and sometimes combative questions to famous people, saying the thing we’re all thinking (or the thing we wish we’d thought of).
Wenner is rightfully catching a lot of shit today for the interview, mainly because of his stance that he only interviewed white men for his book because, in his estimation, there were no women and minorities who were as intellectually articulate as the “philosophers of rock” chosen for this project. In the introduction to his book, Wenner writes that performers of color and women performers were not in his zeitgeist, which led to some questions from Marchese about why he chose the subjects he chose. “The selection was not a deliberate selection,” Wenner said. “It was kind of intuitive over the years; it just fell together that way. The people had to meet a couple criteria, but it was just kind of my personal interest and love of them. Insofar as the women, just none of them were as articulate enough on this intellectual level.”
When Marchese pushed back — “You’re telling me Joni Mitchell is not articulate enough on an intellectual level?” — Wenner responded:
It’s not that they’re not creative geniuses. It’s not that they’re inarticulate, although, go have a deep conversation with Grace Slick or Janis Joplin. Please, be my guest. You know, Joni was not a philosopher of rock ’n’ roll. She didn’t, in my mind, meet that test. Not by her work, not by other interviews she did. The people I interviewed were the kind of philosophers of rock.
Of Black artists — you know, Stevie Wonder, genius, right? I suppose when you use a word as broad as “masters,” the fault is using that word. Maybe Marvin Gaye, or Curtis Mayfield? I mean, they just didn’t articulate at that level.
And how does Wenner know that, if he didn’t give these people a chance to speak?
Because I read interviews with them. I listen to their music. I mean, look at what Pete Townshend was writing about, or Jagger, or any of them. They were deep things about a particular generation, a particular spirit and a particular attitude about rock ’n’ roll. Not that the others weren’t, but these were the ones that could really articulate it.
In the story, Wenner also defends interviewing his rockstar chums, letting them go back through the transcript to “clarify” what they wanted to say. He defends Rolling Stone’s approach to the notorious University of Virginia rape story. On a lighter note, he defends giving five stars to Mick Jagger’s godawful solo album Goddess In The Doorway: “Having sat there and listened to Mick make it, I was in love with it. I confess: I probably went too far. So what? I’m entitled.” One thing he does not defend is telling Maureen Dowd that Jagger and his bandmates now look like Lord Of The Rings characters: “A friend shouldn’t say that kind of thing.”
UPDATE: On Sept 17, a day after the interview ran, Jann Wenner was removed from the Board Of Directors of the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame Foundation, which he co-founded.