TOn that day, Yan Weiner was talking about his generation. To him, the popular notion that Millennials and Generation Zers have meat with baby boomers like him — from their assumptions about the priority of their music to their responsibility for climate change — doesn’t fly.
“I don’t see any evidence of that,” said the Rolling Stone founder. “Millennials are as interested in the music of the 60s and the Beatles and the rocks as they are in current music. The responsibility for failing to tackle the climate crisis squarely lies with the carbon industry, the oil companies, and the politicians who took their money, not with the baby boomers.”
Reviews like these may shock some young people because they coined the phrase “OK, Boomer” to begin with. But, then, Boomer has been a Wenner brand for more than half a century now, and it’s been very successful at the time. Although he never called himself the spokesman of his generation – and the idea of that makes him crystallize – Wiener has played a large role in both reflecting his truths and reinforcing her myths. Indeed, his desire to reaffirm his commitment to the issues and history of his demographics was one of the reasons why he wrote a new 554-page memoir titled – What Else? – Like a rolling rock. “I wanted to show what the spirit, purpose, and nature of a baby boom are,” he said.
Along the way, he also wanted to promote the track record he had created with Rolling Stone magazine that would make it one of the most resonant and admired publishing projects of the 20th century. In the process, it also established him as one of the industry’s most recognized and controversial figures. As it turns out, the controversy had a huge role in inspiring his book.
Five years ago, another book about Weiner, Sticky Fingers, was published by journalist Joe Hagan, which offered at times a grim picture of his subject. While it acknowledged Wenner’s impressive streak of accomplishments, it also portrayed him as an admirer of himself who betrayed good friends and used his magazine as much as a personal passport to the high life as a vehicle for editorial innovation and creativity. Unfortunately for Wiener, in contracting this book, Hagan gave the last word on its contents, leaving one of the publishing’s most influential figures powerless to challenge his view. “I got into it with complete faith, and I want to trust and be an open book and tell a story,” Weiner said. “I thought there was integrity there. I was wrong.”
Wiener said his first reaction after reading Hagan’s book was “Sick in my stomach. All that money, time, and effort was put into something that turned out to be so poorly written, inaccurate, and wise. I didn’t know it was in such a hateful spirit.”
Given such an experience, some will inevitably see Wiener’s book as an antiseptic correction to the earlier one. In fact, his book emphasizes more of his professional victories than his personal Piccadillo. But he also offers many candid notes, candid assessments, and amusing disclosures about the journal’s long and written history. Also, there is frank information about his personal life, from his fraught relationship with his mother to his life as a gay man who did not fully accept this identity until he was middle-aged.
Weiner spoke at length about it all via Zoom from his beach house in Montauk, Long Island. He looked tan and relaxed, spoke with boyish enthusiasm and speed, and answered even more challenging questions with quick, if not always easy to parse answers.
Born in New York 76 years ago, Weiner grew up in San Rafael, California, just outside of San Francisco with his family nicknamed Rainbow Road. His parents divorced when he was eleven, and while he describes his father in the book as a “good-hearted, generous man,” he wrote less pleasing things about this mother. He describes her as extreme narcissism, at one point comparing her to Donald Trump, who is perhaps his least favorite public figure. When she was on her deathbed and he was giving her one last kiss, his mother’s last words to him were “Get your filthy hand off me.” However, when asked about her in our interview, Weiner said, “I liked my mom. When I was a kid, I don’t know if she was too narcissistic. Only after college was she…I don’t know…” at which point his voice stopped.
When asked how he thinks her behavior affected him growing up, he said he thinks it gave him his motto “Go out and get what you want. Get out there.”
That’s definitely what he did in 1967 when he started Rolling Stone in San Francisco, where the rock scene was exploding. With $7,500 borrowed from his family members and his future wife, Jane Schindelheim, he set out to create a publication that treated rock and roll with respect like never before. The score hit a nerve very quickly, aided by insightful and insightful interviews with rock stars like Mick Jagger and Pete Townsend. The magazine was further gained traction with provocative features, such as the proliferation of the then-new band rock phenomenon and the use of a previously banned nude photo of John and Yoko on the cover. The latter elicited backlash from the mainstream press, helping to sell the issue so well that Wiener later quipped, “Print your famous foreskin and the world will pass the way to your door.”
The image was revolutionary not only because it featured the most enslaved star of her day completely bareheaded but also because it did not reflect sexuality but purity. “John had a pretty average body and his wife pretty average. So, this was their way of saying ‘we’re all the same,’ said Weiner. She was saying ‘Don’t be ashamed of your bodies.'” The cover line from Genesis was: “They were Naked and unafraid.”
In this context, Weiner was confident enough to print stories in the 10,000-word magazine in the early days. “We made this different,” he said, though he now allows, “some [stories] Go on for a long time.”
Wenner believes that some of the previous reviews of records published by the magazine are not aging either, including scorched-earth takedowns of Led Zeppelin’s early albums, as well as an assessment of debutantes by Jimi Hendrix sniffing out “poor quality of the albums’ songs and the mess of words” .
“Some of the reviews were really bad,” Weiner said. “Honestly, that’s why I got rid of Lester Bangs. No doubt he was a good barber, but he was making fun of someone’s work for no other reason than that it was a good argument for him.”
In the magazine’s early days, Weiner developed a close relationship with music industry giants such as Ahmet Ertugun of Atlantic Records, and at one point got money from Columbia’s Clive Davis to help keep his project going. Was he concerned that such things might jeopardize the magazine’s content? “I was confident I could resist it,” he said. “And people like Clive were sophisticated enough to know that our value to them depended on being honest with the reader.”
Likewise, Winner’s growing friendship with Mick Jagger hasn’t stopped Rolling Stone from directing a brutally honest coverage of the Stones disaster at Altamont. “We had no choice but to go with the real story,” he said.
Over time, Weiner became friends with stars like Bruce Springsteen and Bono, however, things got a bit more blurry. In the book, he wrote about how he and Bono were waving to each other from their balconies overlooking Central Park West. I will not deny [adding] An extra half-star in a standard review every now and then,” Weiner said. “My enthusiasm may have been overwhelming, but so what? It was all positive for everyone.”
In the end, though, it had a perceived result. As the magazine became more successful, older readers would periodically say it was “sold out”. “This was everyone’s obsession,” Weiner said. “The one who put it best is Timothy Leary, who said, ‘Our concern is not that it ‘would be very commercial’ but that ‘it will not be commercial’ Enough!“ He would say to me, “You have a role to play and that’s very important.”
Up to that point, the track record of significant stories the magazine has published over the years is staggering, from the superlative writing of Hunter Thompson, to the revelations of the Karen Silkwood scandal, to getting the scoop of the century with the inside story on Patti Hearst’s whereabouts. Even when the FBI had no idea where she was.
Through all of these victories, and his ever-growing public profile, Wiener has managed to keep his sexuality largely unknown. In the book, he writes about secret sexual encounters with men dating back to boarding school in the 1950s, a time when such things were almost universally demonized. His wife had a limited awareness of this part of his life for decades. Wenner didn’t fully accept himself with his sexuality until he approached the age of 50, inspired by his relationship with fashion designer Matt Nye. However, he has mentioned little struggle with this aspect of his life in all the previous decades. “I wasn’t looking forward to getting out of the closet,” he said. “It caused some tensions, but I was fine. I was raising young children. I had a family. I had no reason to rock any boats.”
When he discusses this topic in our interview, it’s impossible to tell if Weiner is downplaying some of the feelings he’s experienced or if he’s just an expert on segmentation. Like many highly competent people, he appears no more as a man of reflection than as a man of action, a trait that can lead to inconsistencies in his stated positions. At one point in our conversation, he called out, “A great launch. I just felt so much better.” On another occasion, he said that he might never have come out without the fact that he fell in love with Nye. It still angers him that their relationship “fizzled” over a story in the Wall Street Journal. “I don’t think that was justified,” he said. “The only reason they did it was out of sense. It was unpleasant because I was trying to deal with the decision with my wife and the other people in my circle.”
Today, with six children in his family (three of whom adopted with Nye), Weiner said being gay is just “a part of who I am. I define more as a father.”
Since selling his stake in Rolling Stone five years ago, he’s had plenty of time to focus on the role of father. Perhaps the most emotional part of the book covers his break with the magazine and the many factors that led to it. One factor, he said, is the “hard struggle against the Internet, which means that the magazine’s management is ‘no longer something prolific and groundbreaking,'” he said. ‘How do we save money?’
More than that, he burned the music. “It has become too frequent for me,” he said. “I didn’t want to read another musician’s profile.”
One of the final straws was the controversy that occurred after the magazine published a story about a gang rape at the University of Virginia that did not happen. He believes that part of what led to the magazine’s inaccuracy in verifying the woman’s story stemmed from “sympathy for the victim. It meant we shouldn’t push too hard,” he said. “Take her word, don’t subject her to any pressure or humiliation.”
Shortly after the magazine was sold to Jay Penske – the media mogul he described in the book as “a good-looking guy with a terrible haircut” – Wenner stopped reading Rolling Stone. “It’s not really about the things I care about,” he said.
Instead, he continued reading novels, traveling and raising his three young children. While he has struggled with some serious health concerns over the past few years, he said he is on the mend. He said, “I have a bad back and injured legs, but I feel fine.”
On top of that, he’s finally luxuriating in having the opportunity to celebrate his legacy in his own words. Assessing his legacy with Rolling Stone, he said, “The track record is fantastic. People can get upset, but we did the right thing.”