Jann Wenner Has a Surprising Defender: Bob Dylan

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Rolling Stone commenting on Jann Wenner, Sept. 18, 2023

Two months after Jann Wenner disgraced himself in an interview with sexist and racist remarks about Black and female artists, none other than Bob Dylan has come to his aid. Speaking at his concert at New York’s Beacon Theatre on Thursday night (November 16, 2023), Dylan said to the audience, “Jann Wenner is here tonight. He was kicked out of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. We don’t like that. We’re trying to get him back in.” Dylan didn’t identify who “we” was. (The comment was first reported on by Roger Friedman of Showbiz 411, who was in the audience.) Dylan was referring to the Sept. 16 decision by the Rock Hall’s Foundation to remove him from its powerful Board of Directors. That decision came almost immediately after Wenner’s ill-fated interview with the New York Times, intended to help promote his new book of interviews with seven rock music giants—all of whom are white men—with the horribly ironic title The Masters. Dylan’s comments to the concert audience were somewhat inaccurate. While Wenner is no longer a member of the Hall of Fame’s Foundation, he is still a member of the Hall itself: He was inducted in 2004 via the institution’s Ahmet Ertegun Award, named for the Atlantic Records co-founder who created the original vision of the Rock Hall.

On Sept. 18, Wenner was essentially canceled by Rolling Stone, the magazine that he co-founded in 1967 and led to its once-mighty influence as the arbiter of cool music. As the backlash continued from Wenner’s sexist and racist remarks about black and female artists in his interview with the New York Times, Rolling Stone released a statement in a post on the social media network formally known as Twitter (and now calling itself “X”), that Wenner’s “recent statements… do not represent the values and practices of today’s Rolling Stone.” The magazine distanced itself from its longtime chief, noting in its Sept. 18, 2023, post that he “has not been directly involved in our operations since 2019,” adding, “At Rolling Stone‘s core is the understanding that music above all can bring us together, not divide us.”

An email sent to 92NY ticket holders on Sept. 20

Two days later, his book publisher cancelled all of his promotional events. On Sept. 20, an email was sent to ticket holders notifying them of the cancellation of a planned interview Wenner was to have with acclaimed director and former Stone writer Cameron Crowe. The email indicated the event, scheduled for months at New York’s prestigious 92NY on Oct. 18, was axed noting, “Wenner’s publishers have cancelled all his promotional events this fall.”

At the Rock Hall’s 2023 induction ceremony on November 3, new inductee Bernie Taupin said, “I’m honored to be in the class of 2023 alongside such a group of such profoundly ‘articulate’ women and outstanding ‘articulate’ Black artists, along with all of the other musical masters here tonight.”

In the Sept. 15 New York Times interview, conducted over the phone, Marchese, who worked briefly for Rolling Stone a decade ago, lobbed Wenner several softball questions. The 77-year-old not only swung-and-missed—repeatedly—he also managed to shoot himself in the foot with his responses, even when offered to clarify himself. Marchese asked him why the book’s seven interview subjects were all old, white men, while ignoring equally prominent women or people of color, citing Carole King, Stevie Wonder and Madonna, as examples, among many others.

The reporter, David Marchese asked him why the book’s seven interview subjects were all old, white men, while ignoring equally prominent women or people of color, citing Carole King, Stevie Wonder and Madonna, as examples, among many others.

“The people had to meet a couple criteria, but it was just kind of my personal interest and love of them,” was Wenner’s reply. “Insofar as the women, just none of them were as articulate enough on this intellectual level.” More of the interview is here.

The Masters? Really?

Other reactions to the comments made by Jann Wenner: The first artist of note to speak up was blues-rocker Joe Bonamassa, who won’t be eligible for nomination to the Rock Hall until 2025. When news broke of Wenner’s being removed from the Hall’s board, the guitarist wrote, “This man has done more to bring down the credibility of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame than anyone else. He has been punitive, elitist and frankly kept artists out of the hall over petty grudges and ego. [His ouster] is a good thing.”

On Sept. 17, Vernon Reid, the founder of the rock band Living Colour, and himself a Black man, wrote, “The Jann Wenner [New York Times] interview was astonishing in his level of contempt for Female, Black, & Brown (never even came up) artists, but not at all surprising. He literally states that he should have included a token (imo) Female & Black to blunt the criticism he’s currently getting.”

Living Colour posted a follow-up statement on Sept. 18. “We, the members of Living Colour, would like to address Jann Wenner’s recent apology for controversial statements made in support of his new

“The very idea of a book called “The Masters” which blatantly omits the essential contributions of black, people of color and women to Rock & Pop Culture speaks to a much larger and more systemic problem. His New York Times interview statement that African American and female artists are not “articulate” enough to express themselves about their own work is absurd on its face.

“For someone who has chronicled the musical landscape for over 50 years, it is an insult to those of us who sit at the feet of these overlooked geniuses. To hear that he believes Stevie Wonder isn’t articulate enough to express his thoughts on any given subject is quite frankly, insulting. To hear that Janis Joplin, Joni Mitchell, Tina Turner, or any of the many Woman artists that he chooses not to mention, are not worthy of the status of “Master”, smacks of sexist gatekeeping and exclusionary behavior.

“Mr. Werner’s apology only solidifies the idea. That his book is a reflection of his worldview suggests that it is narrow & small indeed.”

Rob Bowman, a professor and music journalist, who is reportedly a member of the Rock Hall’s nominating committee, lashed out at Wenner and the Hall itself in a Sept. 24 interview with the Toronto Sun. “I have never seen anyone be so foolish, so inflammatory and wrong-headed,” he said. “It’s really sad that in 2023 someone his age could say something that goes against everything.”

He continued: “All of the founding fathers of rock are black, starting in 1948 or ’49. Only when Elvis hits six or seven years later is there a white artist on the scene.

“Rock has always been about much more than white men playing guitar,” Bowman said. “Jann never knew much about soul and funk. He wasn’t interested, and that’s sad.”

Kathy Valentine, a 2021 Rock Hall inductee with the Go-Go’s, wrote on Sept. 16, “I’d take the articulate and intellectual words of Patti Smith over vapid, self-important, self-appointed arbiter of what is deserving of attention in rock Jann Wenner ANYTIME.”

Referring to the New York Times interview, singer-songwriter Janis Ian wrote, “Gee, guess I was never articulate enough for Jann. Guess Baez wasn’t. Certainly Liz Phair, Dolly Parton have no way with words…

“I was living in Mort Schuman’s (sic) apartment on 72nd Street and Riverside Drive when Rolling Stone began. A lot of artists and other entertainment industry people lived on the same block, and we all read Crawdaddy and RS. To me, Crawdaddy was like reading the NY Times, and RS like reading the old NY Post. Still, there were good writers, interesting reviews, and since almost no one else gave female songwriters or female artists in general much play, I wasn’t surprised.

“I enjoyed a lot of it when it began, but some years later a friend who worked there told us ‘All Jann cares about now is landing the Volkswagen account. Forget it.’ Money and being allowed to hang with ‘the boys’ were the important things, I suppose.

“This article explains a lot.”

Jann Wenner in Rolling Stone‘s early days

Another interview, scheduled for Sept. 28 at the Montclair (NJ) Literary Festival, was canceled within hours of Wenner’s remarks to the Times.

Wenner tried to walk back his comments about Black and female artists being inarticulate. In a statement issued late on Sept. 16 by Little, Brown, he wrote, in part, “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.”

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14 Comments so far

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  1. Circus Reader
    #1 Circus Reader 19 September, 2023, 02:08

    Somewhere out there Keith Emerson and Greg Lake are enjoying the hell out of this…..

    Reply this comment
  2. mak
    #2 mak 19 September, 2023, 13:42

    Must be he missed the part where we (white guys) stole rock and roll from black artists.

    Reply this comment
  3. Zenguy1213
    #3 Zenguy1213 19 September, 2023, 23:06

    It’s long been known that Wenner is a pompous jackass! In the words of Mr. Lennon, “Instant Karma’s gonna get’cha,”

    Reply this comment
  4. Timflyte
    #4 Timflyte 22 September, 2023, 00:58

    Maybe he was planning a volume 2 if this sold.
    Maybe his interview w Janis was when she was stoned ? Who knows , but it’s kind of sad , when a person who’s writing a book has to include people that he doesn’t want to include in order to be correct. There’s no mention of Hank Williams , Merle Haggard , Loretta Lynn , Willie Nelson , Buddy Holly , etc.

    Any rock n roll masters book that doesn’t include Fats Domino , Chuck Berry , Little Richard , Elvis Presley, Big Joe Turner , Bill Hayley , The Everly Brothers , etc., is suspect.
    Joni Mitchell ? R n R ? Not sure bout that…
    I guess you’d have to determine what is rock n roll , what is pop or folk , etc.
    That seems to be the problem.

    So what ? Big deal. Write your own book , call it ” the real masters ” .
    His book , as he stated , is his book.
    If he feels the others weren’t what he thought was right , so what his opinion.
    Just to make it clear , I think he’s an ass with a capital A , but it is his book , his opinion.
    Living Colour giving their opinion ? Who cares , they sound more heavy metal ( at least the song I heard ) than r n r.
    If you think they’re r n r. Fine that’s yer opinion. The world needs to start thinking about more important things than some old guy writing a book. Who cares ?
    Who actually commenting was planning on even buying the book ? Not me.
    I stopped liking Rolling Stone in ’74.
    The R n R hall is a joke.
    It might as well be called popular music & culture in the US. Hundreds of world artists are not in it , but who cares , right ?
    People need to lighten up.
    Don’t be so hurt by words
    These people could not have dealt with the things that I have dealt with in my lifetime.
    Words are just that. Toughen up.

    On another topic, I enjoy the work done here.
    Keep up the good work & keepa rockin’

    Reply this comment
  5. D.W. Washburn
    #5 D.W. Washburn 22 September, 2023, 01:19

    So do The Monkees get in the Rock Hall of Fame now?

    Reply this comment
    • Jeff Tamarkin
      Jeff Tamarkin 22 September, 2023, 15:58

      Not necessarily. Wenner hasn’t been on the nominating committee for several years and nothing changed after he left.

      Reply this comment
  6. Celya723
    #6 Celya723 22 September, 2023, 01:20

    Loathsome POS apology is too little, too late and should never, ever have been said in the first place. That loser needs to shuffle off into the dark cave he inhabits and order his grocery & takeout deliveries to his garage side door so he remains out of sight so long as he breathes this earth’s air.
    “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.”

    Reply this comment
  7. KJo
    #7 KJo 22 September, 2023, 02:59

    I think Jann might be trying to cancel himself.

    Reply this comment
  8. BKennyB
    #8 BKennyB 22 September, 2023, 08:53

    It’s been a long time coming; otherwise known as “just desserts!”

    Reply this comment
  9. Joe Coffee
    #9 Joe Coffee 24 September, 2023, 18:36

    Janis Ian is absolutely correct. Crawdaddy should’ve been the last one standing between the two pubs. Paul Williams was a fan and wrote thoughtful essays; Wenner sounds like he was more of a groupie.

    Reply this comment
  10. Bill Royaloak
    #10 Bill Royaloak 18 November, 2023, 06:22

    The RRHOF is as big a joke as Jann Wenner, just a soulless tourist trap. Dylan finally tries to speak and it’s just Capone’s vault rolling around in his 80 year old head.

    Reply this comment
    • wyldebill66
      wyldebill66 27 November, 2023, 03:53

      Maybe it’s soulless, but still I’ll always treasure standing next to the mellotron played on Strawberry Fields.

      Reply this comment
  11. Mick
    #11 Mick 18 November, 2023, 09:51

    Nothing really surprising about Dylan’s statement. He’s merely repaying a debt. I’d be curious to hear what the other interviewees have to say about the subject. Dylan always has maintained that he’s not a spokesperson for anything. He’s merely an entertainer. I’d agree with that.

    Reply this comment
  12. beatseeker
    #12 beatseeker 21 November, 2023, 07:25

    remember when jann interviewed lennon and wanted to make a book about it? well, lennon said no, jann did it anyway(!). THAT’S when i realised jann was an asshole… and my favorite songwriter(dylan) is turning into my drunk uncle….

    Reply this comment

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