November 9, 1967– Rolling Stone Magazine Publishes its First Issue
“Magazines that depend on photography, and design, and long reads, and quality stuff, are going to do just fine despite the Internet and cable news.”
It is now geared mostly for geezers, but in its day, Rolling Stone was revolutionary. 50 years later, the magazine still publishes biweekly (plus a website) with a focus on Rock Music, Politics and Pop Culture. It was founded in San Francisco by Jann Wenner, who is still the magazine’s publisher, along with music critic Ralph J. Gleason.
I am still just crazy about magazines. Even with some of my favorites biting the dust (I really miss Spy), I still gave up on Rolling Stone about a decade ago, when the Artist Of The Year was someone I had never heard of, making me feel impossibly old. It was Wilco. I know who they are now, but you get the drift. But, when I do happen upon a copy somewhere like the doctor’s office, I become absorbed and read it cover to cover.
Wenner set up Rolling Stone Magazine in 1967 in a small loft in San Francisco with help from a $7000 loan from friends and family. The first run was 5000 copies. Since then, Wenner has won a bunch of awards and transformed his magazine business into a multimillion-dollar global publishing empire, licensing Rolling Stone in 20 countries and setting up two other lifestyle magazines.
By 1967, Rock ‘N’ Roll was evolving and maturing at a fast pace, and Wenner provided a written platform that reflected and even shaped those changes. Wenner wrote many of the articles, columns and reviews for Rolling Stone and facilitated penetrating interviews with popular figures such as John Lennon, Bob Dylan, Mick Jagger, Bill Clinton, Steve Jobs and dumb-fuck Donald Trump. Wenner says that the name of magazine is an homage to the 1950 blues song, Rollin’ Stone by Muddy Waters, the band the Rolling Stones, and Dylan’s hit single Like A Rolling Stone.
Wenner made it clear that Rolling Stone was not just about music:
“It’s also about the things and attitudes that the music embraces…”
That’s what he wrote in the very first issue, dated November 9, 1967. Some of those other things include films, books, politics and celebrity gossip, anything that might interest a literate readership. Wenner described Rolling Stone as “sort of a magazine and sort of a newspaper”. Prior to the launch, Wenner had worked as a journalist for NBC News and the political/literary Ramparts Magazine. Despite the Rock music theme, he brought a professionalism that set Rolling Stone apart from the other counterculture periodicals of the era.
Under Wenner’s guidance, some of admirable writers became famous in its pages: Tim Cahill, Joe Eszterhas, Cameron Crowe, Lester Bangs, Joe Klein, Patti Smith, Michael Hastings, Matt Taibbi and P. J. O’Rourke. Hunter S. Thompson wrote for the magazine’s political section. Thompson first published his most famous work Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas in Rolling Stone, where he remained a contributing editor until his passing in 2005. Tom Wolfe wrote a four-part series in 1973 titled Post-Orbital Remorse about the depression that some astronauts experienced after having been in space. The material eventually became his non-fiction book The Right Stuff (1979). Wolfe’s first novel, the satirical Bonfire Of The Vanities (1987), with his take on ambition, racism, social class, politics, and greed in 1980s, appeared in serial form in the magazine to critical acclaim.
Wenner’s keen eye has brought a strong visual focus to Rolling Stone, where the great photographers Annie Leibovitz, Richard Avedon and Mark Seliger made an art form out of celebrity photography.
Never shy of covering controversial subject matter, Rolling Stone has brought some controversy of its own. In the November 19, 2014 issue, the story A Rape On Campus about an alleged gang rape on the campus of the University of Virginia was printed. Separate inquiries by Phi Kappa Psi, the fraternity accused by Rolling Stone of facilitating the alleged rape, and The Washington Post, revealed major errors, omissions and discrepancies in the magazine’s story. Reporter Sabrina Erdely’s piece was subject to intense media criticism. The Washington Post and Boston Herald called for magazine staff involved in the report to be fired. Rolling Stone issued three apologies for the story. And lawsuits are still being litigated.
The August 2013 Rolling Stone cover, featuring then-accused, later convicted, Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, brought widespread condemnation. Critics claimed the magazine was “glamorizing terrorism”. The online edition of the article was accompanied by a short editorial stating that the story “falls within the traditions of journalism and Rolling Stone’s long-standing commitment to serious and thoughtful coverage of the most important political and cultural issues of our day”. The controversial cover photograph that was used by Rolling Stone had previously been featured on the front page of The NY Times.
Rolling Stone gets it right most of the time. In July 2010, it ran an article by Hastings, The Runaway General, quoting criticism by General Stanley A. McChrystal, U.S. Forces-Afghanistan commander, about Vice President Joe Biden and other members of the White House. McChrystal resigned shortly after his statements went public. That same year, Taibbi documented illegal and fraudulent actions by U.S. banks in the foreclosure courts, Invasion Of The Home Snatchers.
With all the stories about impossible deadlines, all-night writing sessions and general debauchery he experienced with rock stars and hard-living journalists like Hunter S. Thompson, Wenner really should have been a goner years ago, or at least showing a bit of wear and tear at 71-years-old. Instead, he and his magazine look handsome and strong than ever.
In September, Wenner Media announced that 51% of Rolling Stone is up for sale, in case you want to get into the media business.
Wenner came out of the closet in 1995. He is in a longtime relationship with fashion designer Matt Nye. Together, they have have three children. Rolling Stone has always done a first-class job of covering LGBTQ issues.
Some artists have been featured on the cover many times, and some of these pictures became iconic. The Beatles have appeared on the cover more than 30 times, either individually or as a band. The first 10 issues featured, in order of appearance: John Lennon, Tina Turner, The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Donovan, Otis Redding, Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Monterey Pop Festival, Lennon and Paul McCartney, and Eric Clapton.
The Ten Best Albums Of All Time:
The Beatles – Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
The Beach Boys – Pet Sounds
The Beatles – Revolver
Bob Dylan – Highway 61 Revisited
The Beatles – Rubber Soul
Marvin Gaye – What’s Going On
Rolling Stones – Exile On Main Street
The Clash – London Calling
Bob Dylan – Blonde On Blonde
The Beatles- The Beatles
Ten Best Albums Of 2016:
David Bowie– Blackstar
Chance The Rapper– Coloring Book
Car Seat Headrest– Teens Of Denial
Frank Ocean– Blond
Radiohead– A Moon Shaped Pool
Rolling Stones– Blue & Lonesome
Kanye West– The Life Of Pablo
Leonard Cohen– You Want It Darker
Young Thug– Jeffery