Jann Wenner Ousted From Rock Hall Board in Fallout From Interview

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Pete Townshend and Jann Wenner, NYC, Oct. 2012 (Photo © Greg Brodsky)

Jann Wenner has been ousted from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Foundation’s powerful Board of Directors. The decision, via a terse September 16, 2023, announcement from the organization, follows the publication one day earlier of an interview the Rolling Stone magazine co-founder, and longtime co-editor/publisher did with the New York Times. in which he criticized black and female recording artists. The interview, with writer David Marchese, was intended to drum up interest in Wenner’s latest book, The Masters: Conversations With Dylan, Lennon, Jagger, Townshend, Garcia, Bono and Springsteen, to be published September 26, 2023, via Little Brown and Company. Instead, the once-powerful Wenner, who could seemingly make or break music acts by offering coverage in the magazine—and as the longtime chair of the small, secretive and extremely non-transparent Rock Hall nominating committee was the ultimate gatekeeper of which artists were considered for induction—is in the headlines for all of the wrong reasons. [Late Saturday (Sept. 16), Wenner tried to walk back his “badly chosen words.” See below.]

“Jann Wenner has been removed from the Board of Directors of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Foundation,” read the Hall’s statement. Wenner had stepped down as chairman of the Foundation in 2020.

Variety reported that Wenner’s ouster from the Board happened after an emergency conference call with fellow board members—including veteran music industry executives Irving Azoff and Doug Morris, talent agency CAA’s head of music Rob Light and Bruce Springsteen manager Jon Landau. Billboard noted [in an article behind a pay wall] that Wenner tried to plead his case but ended up angering them instead with a “self-serving and poorly articulated” attempt at an apology. Various reports indicate that Landau, who wrote for Rolling Stone decades ago, was the sole “no” vote other than Wenner for the dismissal.

In his excellent reporting in a story published on the New York Times’ website on Sept. 19, Ben Sisario obtained a statement from Landau. “Jann’s statements were indefensible and counter to all the hall stands for,” he wrote. “It became clear that the vote to remove him from the board would be justifiably and correctly overwhelming. My vote was intended as a gesture in acknowledgment of all that he had done to create the hall in the first place.”

Yet, Wenner’s cozy, longtime dual role as gatekeeper at Rolling Stone and the Rock Hall as to who gets in print and who gets inducted has long been questioned. Until recently, those thoughts by industry insiders and artists were said under hushed tones for fear of retribution. A 2017 biography of Wenner, Sticky Fingers: The Life and Times of Jann Wenner and Rolling Stone Magazine, included this quote from the media titan. Referring to the Rock Hall, Wenner said, “In a sense, it’s owned by Rolling Stone; it’s a creation of Rolling Stone. It’s unfair to some people to say that. But that’s what it is. It’s my thing.”

In the Sept. 15 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.

Jann Wenner

“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.” Marchese, incredulous, asked, “You’re telling me Joni Mitchell is not articulate enough on an intellectual level?”

Wenner dug himself deeper. “It’s not that they’re not creative geniuses. It’s not that they’re inarticulate, although, go have a deep conversation with Grace Slick or Janis Joplin. Please, be my guest.” [Joplin died in 1970; Slick retired from music in 1989.]

Wenner continued: “Of black artists — you know, Stevie Wonder, genius, right? I suppose when you use a word as broad as ‘masters,’ the fault is using that word. Maybe Marvin Gaye, or Curtis Mayfield? I mean, they just didn’t articulate at that level.”

Still later, Wenner said of the choice of the seven white men for the book, “The selection was intuitive. It was what I was interested in. 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.”

At one point, Wenner acknowledged that he occasionally allowed his interview subjects to edit the transcripts before they were published. When asked to explain the cozy relationship, he said, “By and large, they helped. Because the interviews I did, they’re not confrontational interviews. They’re not interviews with politicians or business executives. These are interviews with artists.”

Jann Wenner, at his own induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2004, with Mick Jagger and Rock Hall Foundation founder Ahmet Ertegun

Wenner later tried to walk back his comments about black and female artists being inarticulate. In a statement issued late Saturday (Sept. 16) by the book’s publisher, he wrote, “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.

The Masters is a collection of interviews I’ve done over the years that seemed to me to best represent an idea of rock ‘n’ roll’s impact on my world; they were not meant to represent the whole of music and it’s diverse and important originators but to reflect the high points of my career and interviews I felt illustrated the breadth and experience in that career. They don’t reflect my appreciation and admiration for myriad totemic, world-changing artists whose music and ideas I revere and will celebrate and promote as long as I live. I totally understand the inflammatory nature of badly chosen words and deeply apologize and accept the consequences.”

Related: Rolling Stone distances itself from Wenner, and book publisher cancels his promotional events

On Sept. 20, Wenner’s planned interviewed by former Rolling Stone writer Cameron Crowe on Oct. 18 at New York’s prestigious 92NY was cancelled by his book publisher, Little Brown. Another interview, scheduled for Sept. 28 at the Montclair (NJ) Literary Festival had previously been cancelled, also due to Wenner’s remarks to the Times.

There was a time for many members of the rock and roll generation when they eagerly awaited a new issue of Rolling Stone, every two weeks, to read interviews with and album reviews of their favorite recording artists.

From the book publisher’s original announcement about The Masters: This is a fly-on-the wall experience, with the extraordinary musicians who dominated rock and roll, bringing you closer to the artists who changed history.

During fifty years of publishing the “Bible of Rock and Roll,” Wenner conducted a series of interviews that are now regarded among the most important historical documents of rock. Some of these conversations broke headlines—in 1970, his interview with John Lennon exposed the unvarnished tensions that led to the breakup of the Beatles. Pete Townshend reveals the hubris and anger of a young man, and of rock itself. And Mick Jagger only trusted one person to publicly interview him about his private life and his backstage account of the world’s greatest rock band. The Masters intimately profiles major artists, from London, California to New York and L.A., who changed music history.

Wenner was born in New York City and raised in San Francisco and Marin County. He founded Rolling Stone in 1967. Over the ensuing decades, the magazine won many awards for its design, photography, public service, and journalism, and was instrumental in launching the careers of many groundbreaking journalists and photographers. He also founded and published Outside, US Weekly, Family Life, and Men’s Journal. He is a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which he co-founded and is the youngest inductee in the American Society of Magazine Editor’s Hall of Fame. He turned 76 on Jan. 7, 2023.

Related: Our review of a 2017 biography of Wenner

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21 Comments so far

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  1. JCB
    #1 JCB 30 June, 2023, 12:25

    Jann is a despicable man, who helped destroy R+R as we knew it, and helped usher in the era of the garbage we are inundated within today’s music. He also sent the R+R Hall of Fame in the direction of money over integrity. History will not be kind.

    Reply this comment
    • Jmack
      Jmack 1 July, 2023, 13:17

      Well, that may be a bit harsh because he did create what was once a great magazine, but that magazine has gone into the garbage heap. I read mojo a fantastic music magazine.

      Reply this comment
      • Revo1117
        Revo1117 25 September, 2023, 15:50

        Not so “harsh”, and a pretty fair assessment of Wenner. Yes, he created RS and got some great interviews (i.e. Lennon, 1970 for one) but even the mag is crap now. His time at the RRHOF was a complete joke, showing his petty personal snubs.

        Reply this comment
  2. Ray
    #2 Ray 16 September, 2023, 22:05

    Maybe my Jethro Tull will finally get in. Always did want to see a Hall class of Tull, King Crimson, Steeleye Span, Fairport Convention and Richard Thompson both as a solo artist and member of Fairport.

    Reply this comment
    • Bobby D’
      Bobby D’ 17 September, 2023, 00:22

      Jethro Tull not in the hall a tragic example how off base they are on putting bands in that should’ve been in YEARS AGO … I agree I hope you Ian Anderson and Martin Barre get put in this term !!!!

      Reply this comment
    • Goldy
      Goldy 17 September, 2023, 07:38

      Maybe now Tull and so many other more-than-deserving bands will get their just reward.

      Reply this comment
  3. Kevmac63
    #3 Kevmac63 17 September, 2023, 00:09

    Wenner is an awful man and has no integrity. The way he had his minions write terrible reviews for McCartney’s early solo albums is proof that he is not an honest man.

    Reply this comment
  4. Carrieann
    #4 Carrieann 17 September, 2023, 00:35

    Maybe the Monkees will finally get in ? ?

    Reply this comment
  5. JennyB
    #5 JennyB 17 September, 2023, 00:41

    It’s about time someone used their brains and tossed Wenner to swing in the wind. He was maybe instrumental in starting Rolling Stone but that particular mag saw its 15 minutes a long, long time ago. Maybe now the bands that should be in the Hall will be…they deserve the recognition. I’ve always believed his own bias kept the real R&R bands from being inducted and that now that he’s gone, they’ll be given the chance they deserve. Thx, guys, you did the right thing! Oh, and the notion that females aren’t articulate enough…let me be articulate, Wenner. Do everyone a big favor and pound sand!!!!! Peace to all and rock on!

    Reply this comment
  6. LowPlainsGrifter
    #6 LowPlainsGrifter 17 September, 2023, 00:47

    Like the rooster that believed that the sun came up only to hear him crow,
    he the megalomaniac put himself on a
    pedestal higher than the
    subjects of his prose.
    He and his like-minded ilk turned a
    would-be admirable,respectable
    foundation into an elite members only club.
    Dancing not with who he brought to the dance.
    The Rolling Stone music newsrag has become
    nothing more than birdcage lining,
    even before you read the pages.
    A study in how not to operate a lasting
    musical culture and heritage institution.

    Reply this comment
  7. Timflyte
    #7 Timflyte 17 September, 2023, 00:48

    I liked the magazine before it went commenting on politics and other topics and left music behind. The people left out of the r n r hall is disgusting, but so is some of the non r n r that are out in. But, it’s not a museum for only the music I like, so I let it roll. But as far as this news goes, he clearly states it was his personal picks, ones he wanted to include. It’s too bad he’s not allowed to put in his book, his own picks without someone questioning his choices.

    So if a woman writes a book, she has to include people she doesn’t want to include because it’s the right thing to do? The guy doing the interview sounds like some Mama’s boy who is offended if someone says fart. There are books about Joni, Stevie Wonder, Carole King, etc. Books almost about everybody famous and not famous in music. So his pick was 7 old (old now, but not when they crafted their art ) white guys, it’s his book. So what? You don’t like his choices, don’t buy the book.

    He was fed loaded questions, trying to make a big deal about why he likes a certain artist. It’s sounds almost like the communist warnings of my youth, that the government tells you what you can like what you can do.

    Jann should’ve just said (as he did say) it was my personal choice cuz I wrote the book, and when asked about the others, say maybe next time. There’s been plenty of coverage on those other artist in Rolling Stone over the decades.

    Reply this comment
    • Jeff Tamarkin
      Jeff Tamarkin 17 September, 2023, 09:36

      The controversy isn’t so much about who he included in the book. It’s because he said that women and Black artists are not as “articulate intellectually” as the white males he did include. That’s what got him kicked out.

      Reply this comment
      • Timflyte
        Timflyte 18 September, 2023, 02:31

        Not defending his words mind you , just trying to understand them , maybe , in his mind , his opinion , those he chose , do / did articulate their opinions more to his understanding . Maybe the other people mentioned by the interviewer , don’t come across in one on one interviews. How would any of us know , since we’ve never spoken one on one to any of the people that we’ve bought albums of , and have followed the careers of. All I know about anyone is from books I’ve read or articles or filmed interviews. All which are edited in one form or another. In reality , all the people I’ve ever listened are really just images on paper/media and sounds off media.
        I don’t really know them other what’s been presented to me.

        Reply this comment
  8. Circus Reader
    #8 Circus Reader 17 September, 2023, 01:00

    This is a great day for all the prog rock artists that have suffered numerous slights over the decades at the hand or direction of this pompous fool. Better late than never…..

    Reply this comment
  9. Julie Arp
    #9 Julie Arp 17 September, 2023, 05:39

    What took them so long?! Think of so many artists that should have been inducted YEARS AGO. He’s a complete tool.

    Reply this comment
  10. BKennyB
    #10 BKennyB 17 September, 2023, 07:32

    Wenner should have been kicked off the Hall’s board long ago; everyone knows he single-handedly kept worthy artists – like Todd Rundgren – out of the hall for years. It’s also why many artists don’t value the honor of being included there. His book? That’s one I’ll gladly avoid buying.

    Reply this comment
  11. Jillie
    #11 Jillie 17 September, 2023, 08:17

    Wenner is a male chauvinist jerk.. now the R and R Hall of Fame might as well be the Rap Hall of Fame.. Good Riddance !!

    Reply this comment
  12. v2787
    #12 v2787 17 September, 2023, 08:59

    Good riddance to Wenner. He was/is a jerk. Now, finally, maybe some of the really deserving acts can actually get into the R’nR HOF (and we can stop with the idiocy of acts like Madonna, Tupac, and ABBA, who never had anything to do with rock ‘n roll).

    Reply this comment
  13. Jeff Tamarkin
    #13 Jeff Tamarkin 17 September, 2023, 10:30

    I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but some commenters here seem to think that Wenner’s ouster means their favorite artist will now be inducted. But nothing will likely change. Wenner hasn’t been involved in the nominations/induction process for several years, and the current board has already made it known that they are basically through with the ’50s and ’60s. It’s still a long shot for most of the artists that have been shunned up until now.

    Reply this comment
  14. JennyB
    #14 JennyB 17 September, 2023, 11:47

    I appreciate your comment about being inducted “a long shot” but at least now these bands will have “A shot”. Regardless about how much influence Wenner had, on or off, the Board, I believe these people are still intimidated by this pompous foolish man. As it stands, I guess that being a woman makes it very unlikely that I would be able to grasp the written word according to the Great Rock Impresario. Sympathy for the man who bought into his own power. Peace and Rock on!/

    Reply this comment
  15. Yazmatazz
    #15 Yazmatazz 18 September, 2023, 08:56

    I say good riddance Jann as well. But I do agree with Jeff T, this doesn’t mean that our favorite artist will now be inducted. If you want to know the direction, the Hall is headed, just pick up a recent copy of the magazine and read it. That is if you can get through all of it. As I told Peter Wolf once many years ago, during a random chance meeting, “you guys deserve to be in the Hall of Fame!“ he said, “thanks man! But it’s not your support that we need… L O L Cheers.

    Reply this comment

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