What Should Jann Wenner Do Now?

Thom Weidlich 09.21.23


Rolling Stone magazine co-founder Jann Wenner did an interview with The New York Times in which he said some outrageous things. It caused enough controversy that he’s been booted from his leadership role at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. What can Wenner do to mend his reputation?

The interview was published on the NYT’s website Sept. 15 and in the print edition Sept. 19. Wenner, 77, is hawking his new book, The Masters, which contains his interviews with seven rock artists, including Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen and John Lennon. The problem is that all of the “masters” are white men. Not a Black (or other minority) or female artist among them.

When asked about this in the interview, Wenner opined that Black and female artists aren’t articulate about what they do. “Maybe Marvin Gaye, or Curtis Mayfield?” he said invoking two Black music legends. “I mean, they just didn’t articulate at that level.”

Rock Philosopher

As for women, “just none of them were as articulate enough on this intellectual level.” The interviewer, David Marchese, interjected, “Oh, stop it. You’re telling me Joni Mitchell is not articulate enough on an intellectual level?” Wenner responded that Mitchell “didn’t, in my mind, meet that test” of being “a philosopher of rock ’n’ roll.”

Um, this didn’t go over well. Over the weekend, Wenner was kicked off the board of the Hall of Fame (which he helped form in 1983). The funk-metal band Living Colour blasted the comments. Even his son Gus Wenner, Rolling Stone’s CEO, felt the need to distance himself from them in an email to staff, according to The Washington Post. The magazine itself posted a similar statement on X, formerly Twitter.

Wenner tried to apologize. CNN, NPR and other outlets quoted a statement sent by the book’s publisher. “In my interview with The New York Times I made comments that diminished the contributions, genius and impact of Black and women artists and I apologize wholeheartedly for those remarks,” Wenner said.

Mea Culpa

That sounded somewhat sincere. But it’s not enough. This issue isn’t going away for Wenner, who co-founded Rolling Stone in 1967 and left it in 2019 (it’s now owned by Penske Media Corp.). He will have to do something more substantive. It needs to be a major mea culpa.

In our view, he can even be forthright about it — that he’s trying to make amends for his outrageous statements and views. For example, he could work on a new series of interviews with only Black (and other minority) and female artists. Too obvious? So what. He says he understands the contributions they’ve made. Let him show it. In addition, it wouldn’t hurt to engage in dialogues with women and minority artists and groups like the Black Rock Coalition.

Under Wenner’s leadership, Rolling Stone had a reputation of being too biased in favor of mainstream, white artists. His recent comments indicate why. He needs to show he’s learned from all this.

Photo Credit: Ralf Liebhold/Shutterstock

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