Sometimes music and liberalism collide. Case in point, a recent interview conducted by David Marchese of the very liberal New York Times, with the co-founder of the very liberal Rolling Stone magazine, Jann Wenner. It should have been a friendly interview, given Mr. Marchese once worked for Rolling Stone as an online editor in the past.
Wenner, who left Rolling Stone in 2019, also sat on the Board of Directors for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Foundation, until his interview with the New York Times was published. And, he is the best-selling author of “Like a Rolling Stone,” a memoir of his tenure at the publication.
His forthcoming book “The Masters,” consisted of some re-purposed interviews he conducted while at Rolling Stone, with Bono, Bob Dylan, Mick Jagger, Jerry Garcia, and John Lennon. Peter Townshend is also interviewed along with a new interview he conducted with Bruce Springsteen.
The collision began when David Marchese asked Jan Wenner a simple question:
David Marchese: “There are seven subjects in the new book; seven white guys. In the introduction, you acknowledge that performers of color and women performers are just not in your zeitgeist. Which to my mind is not plausible for Jann Wenner. Janis Joplin, Joni Mitchell, Stevie Nicks, Stevie Wonder, the list keeps going — not in your zeitgeist? What do you think is the deeper explanation for why you interviewed the subjects you interviewed and not the other subjects?
Jan Wenner: “Well, let me just…”
David Marchese: “Carole King, Madonna. There are a million examples.”
Jan Wenner: “When I was referring to the zeitgeist, I was referring to Black performers, not to the female performers, OK? Just to get that accurate. The selection was not a deliberate selection. It was kind of intuitive over the years; it just fell together that way. The people had to meet a couple of criteria, but it was just kind of my personal interest and love of them. Insofar as the women, just none of them were as articulate enough on this intellectual level.”
Well DAMN. A very liberal NY Times writer demands to know why the very liberal Rolling Stone guy didn’t follow the liberal rule of “inclusivity.” Why didn’t he pretend to be a good liberal and include any women or Black folks in his book? The collision wasn’t over. Let’s get back to the NYT interview
David Marchese: “Oh, stop it. You’re telling me Joni Mitchell is not articulate enough on an intellectual level?
Jan Wenner: “Hold on a second”
David Marchese: “I’ll let you rephrase that.”
Jan Wenner: “All right, thank you. 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. You know Joni was not a philosopher of rock ‘n’ roll. She didn’t, in my mind meet that test. Not by her work, not by other interviews she did. The people I interviewed were the kind of philosophers of rock. 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 on that level. ”
Later in the interview, Mr. Wenner says maybe “just for public relations sake,” he “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.”
I guess that is a nod to what Mr. Wenner believes would have been a good “affirmative action” public relations effort.
Toward the end of his interview with Marchese, Werner says he doesn’t “think rock ‘n’ roll changed everything.” He says it didn’t overturn segregation or end the war in Vietnam but it played a large role in those events. He adds this: “Despite the Trump thing, despite the Republican presidents of the last 30 years, which have held back enormous amounts of progress, society has become so much more liberal. I think rock ‘n’ roll played a huge role in that. Did it do everything? No. Was it the sole thing? No. But we did a lot.”
Within hours of the interview with The NY Times being published, the Rock & Roll Foundation removed Mr. Wenner from their Board of Directors, and afterward, he released a statement to the Hollywood Reporter, in which he apologized for his inflammatory remarks. And be assured, his remarks about Republicans and Trump had nothing to do with his removal.
Despite everything, I doubt Mr. Wenner’s reputation, at least among his fellow liberals will take a lasting hit, despite his removal from the Rock and Roll Foundation board. Liberals can articulate racist and sexist views all day long. As long as they profess their utter disdain and hatred for Republicans – Trump in particular, they will be forgiven.
I also don’t care at all that Mr. Wenner chose to pick seven white guys as the interview subjects for his book. It is HIS book, and he has every right to pick who he wants as subjects to represent his “zeitgeist” of “rock ‘n’ roll.” Had he simply stated that his choices were based on his subjective view of those who had the biggest impact on the genre, it is doubtful he would have opened himself to being removed from the board of directors. But, instead, he chose to give The NY Times interviewer a window into his “thinking,” which revealed his hostile disdain for Black “performers,” and women. If Mr. Wenner were not a liberal, he would have opened himself to charges that he was advocating “white supremacy.” But, that phrase is only thrown around by the left, when they are attacking “right-wingers.”
While I don’t want to give short shrift to the sexism Mr. Wenner’s comments revealed, and the utter disdain he showered upon many of the wonderful women who have contributed to American rock, I do want to focus on the racial aspect.
In that regard, the broader issue is this. Liberals to a large extent control America’s entertainment industry. Including the music industry. And that industry is rife with what liberals like to call “institutional racism” as well as overt sexism. We see hints of it in Hollywood where liberals have now instituted misguided and offensive “diversity” quotas to make sure that movies that are nominated for the Academy Awards have minority representation. We saw the rampant sexism erupt when decades-old jokes about the infamous “casting couch” morphed into the “me too” movement and took down liberals like Harvey Weinstein and Bill Cosby.
The liberal-dominated music industry has been “racist” since the birth of popular commercial music. Liberals “segregated” music like they did the broader society with their “Jim Crow” laws. Whites over here – Blacks over there, and everybody stay in your lane. If you’re a white artist – create what want. You are free to create rock, pop, soft rock, country, metal, punk, traditional “straight ahead” jazz, decorator jazz, classical, rap, and go wherever your creativity takes you. If you’re black – not so much.
In my younger years, I remember sitting in the office of a white record executive, a young guy in his late twenties or early thirties. I was with a well-known and highly respected Black musician, whose work is on dozens of iconic hit records in the rock genre. He was pitching a record deal with his own original music, which was replete with compelling and dare I say “articulate” stories. He was told, and I’ll never forget this, that his music was “too intelligent,” for Black audiences, it just “wouldn’t sell.” There was never a discussion about the viability of his music for “non-Black” audiences. Lest you think this was a one-off view, the same response, with less offensive language was “articulated” by a prominent Black female record executive at another label. Her response was to tell the artist his work “isn’t Black music.” To which he replied – he thought everything from Duke Ellington to Jimi Hendrix was Black music. Didn’t matter. The “Stay in your lane” construct was baked into the record industry then, and it is still baked in.
That thinking also explains why certain record executives will promote wholesale filth, posing as “music,” to be marketed, primarily to Black consumers. These liberal executives have no hesitation in marketing misogynistic, violent, hyper-sexualized often “inarticulate” records that have now defined a category of “rap” music to the world. As we are treated to an elite liberal voice his criticism of the lack of “articulate,” Black artists.
In spite of the “stay in your lane” mentality Black Rockers have emerged. I remember being at an Aerosmith concert in Long Island, New York years ago, with Mothers Finest opened for them, listening to the hateful racially tinged obscenities being directed at this mixed-race band of excellent musicians from members of the audience. Groups like The Bar-Kays, The Chambers Brothers, Sly & The Family Stone, Rasputin’s Stash, Living Colour and artists like Richie Havens, Tracey Chapman, Joan Armatrading, and Edwin Birdsong have left their mark on defying the color barrier. If you visit the origins of Rock and Roll there are so many pioneers who contributed to its development, including the likes of Chuck Berry, Howling Wolf, Albert King, B.B. King, and songwriters like Otis Blackwell who wrote some of the Elvis Presley classics. In the contemporary age, how can the musicianship of artists like Prince, or Maurice White and Earth, Wind, and Fire not be part of an informed discussion?
Thankfully, the institutional racism and sexism of the liberal-dominated music industry is slowly being dismantled. Technology is playing a part, because artists of all colors and genres no longer need to get on their hands and knees and beg record executives to front the money for recording sessions that put them hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt before their works are released. They can simply purchase the gear to record themselves at a fraction of what recording sessions used to cost. They can also promote their own material on social media platforms, although there are still challenges thanks to the unfair royalty arrangements that are in place at some of the largest. Artists are finding more ways to go direct to the consumer – and taking the liberal middle-man (and woman) out of the equation is slowly changing the nature of the business.
At least that is a hopeful development – in a liberal industry that is run by people whose antiquated ideas of race and gender still carry too much weight.
UPDATE: There has been another development in the ongoing controversy that erupted over the interview Jann Wenner did with the New York Times last week.
On Monday, Gus Wenner, the current president and CEO of Rolling Stone magazine, threw his dad Jann under the bus. In a statement that was reported by Billboard magazine, Gus Wenner denounced the statements made by his father, which have been widely condemned in the music industry, and which led to Jann Wenner being removed from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame board of directors. You can read more about it HERE.
Op-ed views and opinions expressed are solely those of the author.