Jann Wenner Faces Backlash Over Narrow Vision of Rock Icons

Recent remarks spark debate on rock's diverse legacy

by Nouman Rasool
Jann Wenner Faces Backlash Over Narrow Vision of Rock Icons
© Mike Coppola/GettyImages

Jann Wenner, co-founder and longstanding publisher/editor of Rolling Stone magazine, faced a sharp setback this weekend when he was removed from the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Foundation's board. This ousting has become emblematic of the ever-evolving zeitgeist of pop culture and the way we remember its history.

In a recent New York Times interview meant to publicize his new book, "The Masters," Wenner was probed about the conspicuous absence of women and artists of color from his collection of interviews. These interviews include conversations with rock legends like Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, John Lennon, and U2's Bono, among others.

Wenner's Controversial Artist Views

When David Marchese, the Times Magazine columnist, posed the question, Wenner, aged 77, defended his choices as "intuitive" rather than "deliberate." He controversially commented that he found female rock artists less "articulate" at an "intellectual level." His attempt to clarify this position only deepened the controversy, with mentions of icons like Grace Slick and Janis Joplin.

Moreover, his perspective on Black artists, referencing figures such as Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, and Curtis Mayfield, was both reductive and baffling. It's important to ask: has Wenner truly engaged with the breadth of pop music’s history? With influential Black artists from Chuck Berry to Berry Gordy, or Ray Charles to Jimi Hendrix, all contributing significantly to the pop landscape, Wenner's comments betray a narrow viewpoint.

Legends like Michael Jackson, Prince, and Quincy Jones have provided a wealth of interviews, insights, and narratives that reflect the richness of the pop music landscape. Joplin, Slick, and Mitchell, all have a storied history of articulate and insightful interviews available at a click in today's internet age.

Unfortunately, Wenner's remarks have been rightfully branded as both sexist and racist, leading to his subsequent removal from a board he helped form. While his influence was significant during the boomer generation, with Rolling Stone considered a touchstone for popular culture, the media landscape has significantly fragmented over the last three decades.

The preferences of media giants like Wenner once determined popular hierarchies, culturally and politically. However, as the zeitgeist shifted, newer genres like hip-hop claimed their space, and rock evolved, just as jazz had before it.

Perhaps, in this age where the general consensus is continually shifting, it's the myopic tendencies of agenda setters that are truly fading. The music, its legacies, and the artists continue to thrive, even without the gatekeeping of figures like Wenner.

If Wenner sought advice, perhaps it would be wise to reintroduce himself to the likes of Stevie Wonder or Smokey Robinson, both still active and revered in the music community.