Opinion » Letter From The Editor

Sticky Fingers


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For the past week or so, I've been working my way through Sticky Fingers: The Life and Times of Jann Wenner and Rolling Stone Magazine. It's an enormous (550 pages or so), densely detailed biography that takes on Wenner's life from his tumultuous childhood through his equally tumultuous adulthood. Author Joe Hagan seemingly interviewed everyone who ever interacted with Wenner, and few details of his complicated and messy personal and business relationships are spared.

Wenner founded Rolling Stone in San Francisco 50 years ago this month. By the mid-1970s, what began as a small music magazine had morphed into the bible of the counter culture, with groundbreaking writing on politics, drugs, race, sex, and, of course, music. Wenner's little rag began attracting many of the country's best writers, illustrators, and photographers.

The mercurial editor and his staff lived the life they wrote about. Office supplies included cocaine, pot, and hallucinogens of every description, and everyone slept with everyone, including the rock stars they covered — and, in some cases, shamelessly promoted.

Wenner was gay but also slept with women — many women — as did his sexually ambiguous and long-suffering wife, Jane. One of the overriding themes of the book is the casual debauchery of seemingly everyone involved in the magazine and the music business. Reading about the sex-and-drug escapades of Annie Liebowitz, Hunter Thompson, Mick Jagger, Jackson Browne, Joni Mitchell, David Crosby, and dozens of others is titilating for a while, but it soon becomes almost wearying in its excess.

The 1970s were a different and complex time. Despite the rise of feminism and androgeny, machismo and misogyny were rampant. Being openly gay was a brave and uncommon decision. Sexual liberation, open relationships, and rampant party drug use often led to more seriously self-destructive behavior. What is now perceived as sexual predation was often standard operating procedure in the anything-goes disco era.

But it was all happening behind closed doors. Devoted readers of Rolling Stone knew little about the personal lives and predilictions of their favorite writers and photographers — or the stars they covered. Today, with the advent of social media, it's much harder to keep secrets. Today, Wenner and others from that era would likely be outed by irate staffers for initiating various improprieties.

It's probably worth noting that Jann Wenner and Alabama Senatorial candidate Roy Moore are the same age. About the time Wenner was hitting on anyone who walked into his office in San Francisco, Moore was reputedly wandering around a mall in Gadsden, Alabama, chatting up teenage girls.

The fact that so many (but certainly not all) of the men who've been accused of sexual predation in recent months — Bill O'Reilly, Harvey Weinstein, Donald Trump, Bill Cosby, and Moore, to name but a few — are in or near their 70s is no accident. They are dinosaurs from an era when powerful men could get away with just about anything. Those days appear to be ending, as more and more women come out with tales of harassment and predation.

Which makes it a bad time to be running for Senate if you have Moore's purported sexual history. His support among his fellow Republicans — including his possible future colleagues in Congress — seems to be evaporating as more of the creepy details of his predatory behavior emerge. But polling shows that Moore's Trump-core base, including the evangelical right, are mostly unmoved by the increasingly lurid and detailed allegations against him. And the candidate himself, at this point, anyway, appears determined to stay in the race.

I predict he will come to regret that decision, as the sins of the past — and the sticky fingers of the truth — come out.

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