The Atlantic

The Lust in the Heart of Rolling Stone

The editor Jann Wenner has been accused of trading work for sex—as a new book describes his “jovial sexual harassment” and other forms of self-gratification.
Source: Julie Jacobson / AP

In 1975, Led Zeppelin finally gave an interview to Rolling Stone. The band had frozen out the magazine after its critics panned Jimmy Page’s “weak, unimaginative songs” and Robert Plant’s “strained and unconvincing shouting,” but the freelancer Cameron Crowe, still a teenager, was able to break back in. Crowe’s editor, the Rolling Stone founder Jann Wenner, gave him some guidelines for the interview, including to interrogate the band about its “hippy dippy lyrics,” which Crowe did not end up doing.

Crowe filed the piece and received a phone call summoning him to San Francisco to meet with Wenner. In HBO’s new documentary Rolling Stone: Stories From the Edge, produced by Wenner with Alex Gibney and Blair Foster, Crowe recalls the encounter. “I want to tell you about your Led Zeppelin story,” Wenner said to Crowe. “Thank you, we’re going to run it, but you failed.”

The piece had been too soft on the band. “You wrote what they wanted you to write,” Wenner said, before handing over a copy of Joan Didion’s Slouching Towards Bethlehem for the young writer to study.

The anecdote is a useful one in the mythology of a magazine founded to treat the ’60s rock boom with adult seriousness rather than Tiger Beat squeals. Watch Crowe’s 2000 film Almost Famous, inspired by his time as a teenage stringer, and you see a similar scene in which the critic Lester Bangs, played by Philip Seymour Hoffman, advises the Crowe stand-in to keep his distance from his subjects: “You want to be a true friend to them? Be honest, and unmerciful.”

In , Crowe now reflects on Wenner’s steeliness: “Jann could have easily said, ‘Run the fucking story, who gives a shit. That’s a editor and a publisher.”

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