- Rolling Stone cofounder Jann Wenner is publishing a book composed of interviews with rock “masters.”
- Those “masters,” who include Bono, John Lennon, and Mick Jagger, are all white men.
- Wenner said that Black and female artists couldn’t “articulate” at the same “level” as the white male musicians in his book.
Rolling Stone cofounder Jann Wenner, who left the publication in 2019, is coming out with a new book, “The Masters,” about rock legends — Bono, Bob Dylan, Mick Jagger among them. And while his list of seven “philosophers” of the musical genre doesn’t include any artists of color or women, Wenner says that there’s a reason.
“They just didn’t articulate at that level,” Wenner told The New York Times in an interview with columnist David Marchese.
Wenner’s book is composed of interviews conducted during his Rolling Stone days, including his watershed conversation with John Lennon in 1970, in addition to a new one with Bruce Springsteen. Marchese confronted Wenner on an acknowledgement in the introduction of the book that female musicians and musicians of color are simply not in Wenner’s “zeitgeist,” and pushed him on how he selected his subjects — and Wenner pushed back.
The “zeitgeist” Wenner was referring to was specifically in reference to Black performers, not women, he told the Times. His selection was “intuitive,” based on some criteria, but steeped in his “personal interest and love” — and it’s worth noting that many of the artists featured are his friends. Artists like Grace Slick, Janis Joplin, or Joni Mitchell wouldn’t have brought the same philosophical reflections on the genre as the white men he had spotlighted across his career, Wenner said.
Wenner’s comments represent a real moment of saying the quiet part out loud, and were thoroughly dissected — and widely criticized — on social media: Rock is a genre that, while indebted to Black artists and Black musical traditions, has historically pushed them to the periphery. In an excerpt from his book “Just around Midnight: Rock and Roll and the Racial Imagination” published in Slate in 2016, Jack Hamilton effectively summarized how focusing on individual “geniuses” — some could say “masters” — predicates exclusion.
“There is a tendency toward stories of individual rock ‘genius’ that foreclose discussions of race by celebrating individual artistry and intellect,” Hamilton wrote. “While many black performers of the 1960s have been relegated to book-length histories of black music generally, white artists like Bob Dylan or the Beatles receive increasingly lavish biographies and isolated critical treatments of musical output.”
When it comes to women, it’s easy to name a number of influential rockers — and name them Marchese does, from the aforementioned Joplin, Slick, and Mitchell, to others like Carole King and Madonna.
When Marchese asked how Wenner could know that artists like Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, or Curtis Mayfield couldn’t “articulate” at the same “level” as the white artists he had interviewed across his career without actually speaking to them, Wenner said that his judgment was based on reading prior interviews or listening to their discographies.
Ultimately, however, Wenner said that his own interest was paramount.
“You know, just for public relations sake, maybe I should have gone and found one Black and one woman artist to include here that didn’t measure up to that same historical standard, just to avert this kind of criticism,” Wenner said. “Which, I get it. I had a chance to do that. Maybe I’m old-fashioned and I don’t give a [expletive] or whatever.”
Anyway, here’s a picture of Wenner interviewing Jimi Hendrix in 1968.
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