Great Encounters #54: When Jann Wenner and Ralph J. Gleason named Rolling Stone magazine

January 30th, 2019

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“Great Encounters” are book excerpts that chronicle famous encounters among twentieth-century cultural icons. In this edition, Joe Hagan, author of .STICKY FINGERS: .The Life and Times of Jann Wenner and Rolling Stone Magazine, .writes about how co-founders Wenner and legendary San Francisco music critic Ralph Gleason came upon the name for their revolutionary publication, Rolling Stone magazine.

 

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photo Baron Wolman

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Jann Wenner, 1968

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photo Baron Wolman

Ralph J. Gleason, 1969

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Excerpted from .STICKY FINGERS: .The Life and Times of Jann Wenner and Rolling Stone Magazine

by

Joe Hagan

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He needed a name for his newspaper.

Jann Wenner had spent the summer of 1967 tossing around potential titles with Ralph Gleason, and for a while they settled on one:New Times. .It was almost right, but not quite. Wenner proposed another: .The Electric Newspaper. .Gleason eyed his young charge and drew on his pipe.

That summer, Gleason was drafting an essay forThe American Scholar .that summed up his grandest ideas about the revolutionary impact of rock and roll. He quoted Nietzsche’sBirth of Tragedy .and R. H. Tawney’s. Religion and the Rise of Capitalism. and opened with a quotation from Plato: “Forms and rhythms in music are never changed without producing changes in the most important political forms and ways.”

The Beatles, he declared, were the genesis of a new age. Along with Dylan, that “tiny demon of a poet,” the Dionysian energy of rock was destroying the old social forms and inventing a new value system around “the sacred importance of love and truth and beauty and interpersonal relationships.” They came at the proper moment of a spiritual cusp, as the Martian in Robert Heinlein’s .Stranger in a Strange Land. calls a .crisis,” .he wrote. “This was, truly, a new generation—the first in America raised with music constantly in its ear, weaned on a transistor radio, involved with songs from its earliest moment of memory.”

After Bob Dylan and the Beatles, he wrote, the record business “took another look at the music of the ponytail and chewing gum set, as Mitch Miller once called the teenage market, and realized there was one helluva lot of bread to be made there.”

He titled the article “Like a Rolling Stone.”

Rolling Stone!. The nature of youth, gathering no moss. A Muddy Waters song, an age-old reference from the Bible. There was a popular band with that name and the six-minute radio hit by the generation’s tiny demon. (Inspired by Gleason, Wenner had tried calling his rejected rock anthology “Like a Rolling Stone: Rock and Roll in the Sixties.”)

Gleason blew out a little smoke: “How about ..Rolling Stone?”

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Excerpted from. STICKY FINGERS: The Life and Times of Jann Wenner and Rolling Stone Magazine .by Joe Hagan

Copyright © 2017 by Joe Hagan

Reprinted by permission of Alfred A. Knopf/Vintage Books, an imprint of the Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC.

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