- Good evening everyone, I’m Ann Harrison.
I’m the Dean of the Haas School of Business.
Welcome to tonight’s event.
We are delighted to have guests
from the Graduate School of Journalism,
as well as distinguished guests
from our Greater Bay Area community.
Today is the third Chris Boskin Dean’s Speaker series,
which has been made possible
by a generous donation by Michael Boskin,
in honor of his wife.
Chris, would you like to stand up?
Given Chris’s outstanding career
in both business and journalism,
the focus of this series
is on the intersection of the two fields,
business and journalism.
On the Berkeley campus
and with so many schools leading
in their field of work here,
we have such an incredible opportunity to collaborate
in an effort to tackle society’s big problems
across many fields.
The Chris Boskin’s Speaker Series
aligns so well with this effort,
and I’m especially grateful for today’s event.
And now it is my pleasure
to introduce tonight’s guest speaker Jann Wenner.
Jann co-founded Rolling Stone in 1967 with Ralph Gleason,
a veteran music journalist.
Rolling Stone was a big step forward
for rock journalism in the United States,
a place for solid pieces on the biggest stars of the time.
Notably, the magazine also devoted space
to issues affecting counterculture.
Rolling Stone was also appreciated by musicians
who had a form for the first time
in which they could talk at length
about their art and other topics
without being subject to condescension
of more mainstream periodicals.
conducted many of the magazine’s major interviews
in its early years,
including lengthy sessions with Eric Clapton, Mick Jagger,
Pete Townshend, Bob Dylan, and Phil Spector.
As editor, Jann backed the careers of prominent writers
such as Hunter S. Thompson and Cameron Crowe.
And is credited
with discovering photographer Annie Leibovitz.
Jann also published outside US Weekly, Family Life
and Men’s Journal,
and he helped to co-found the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
And now I also want to welcome Greil Marcus,
who will moderate today’s conversation.
Greil and Jann first met here at UC Berkeley in 1964.
Three years later, Jann started Rolling Stone.
A year after that
Greil published his first record review there.
And the next year,
Jann hired Greil as Rolling Stone’s first records editor.
Beyond his time with Jann at Rolling Stone,
Greil’s work includes authoring multiple books
on politics and history
through the lens of culture change in music.
Greil also taught at Princeton,
the new school in New York City,
and the American Studies program at UC Berkeley.
Jann and Greil have been in touch
ever since they met at Berkeley
during that period of the 1960s.
So I am so looking forward to hearing about your connections
in today’s conversation.
So please join me in a warm welcome to our guests,
Jann Wenner and Greil Marcus.
- Thank you.
It’s really a great thrill to be here,
to be sitting on a stage at Cal
where we both went as students,
where I taught for so many years.
And what’s really fortuitous though,
is that when we walked in,
Bob Dylan’s “Like A Rolling Stone” was playing.
And even with all the static coming through the speakers
and noise from the crowd,
the force of that song,
the just overwhelming vehement of that performance
just shot right through.
And I was always planning to begin tonight
with a passage from Jann’s book, “Like A Rolling Stone,”
fortuitous title too about that song.
And what’s really apt in a way,
is that it came from a conversation Jann and I had in 2004.
I was writing a book on that song
and I called up Jann and I said,
“let’s talk about Like A Rolling Stone,”
and he just opened up.
And I want to read you what he said that day
that turned up again in this book.
“The song is about discovering
what was actually going on around you.
Realizing that life isn’t all you’ve been told it is.
You’re liberated from your false knowledge and hangups,
but that’s frightening and you have to face that.
Suddenly you’re scrounging for your next meal.
But say, “do you wanna make a deal?”
There’s fear in that, “do you wanna make a deal?”
In that melody, in that voice,
there’s fear all over it.
And the key line is, you’re invisible now,
you’ve got no secrets to conceal.
Everything has been stripped away and you’re on your own.
There’s nothing to hide.
You’re alone with no direction home, but you’re free.
That was the message.
It was a song of innocence and experience.
I always thought it was my story,”
Jann said all those years ago.
And he says in this book,
“I always thought it was my story.
I used to go to the finest schools.
Nobody ever taught me how to live out on the street.
Now all of a sudden,
I was on the streets of Berkeley, in a world of radicals.
Hells Angels, harmonica Queens, drug dealers, dope Kings,
and one of them called the Mystery Tramp.
And then I’m at an acid test
and some stranger with a top hat comes up to me
and I stare into the vacuum of his eyes
and he asks, “do you wanna make a deal?”
That happened to me many times.”
- I was listening to Rolling Stone
on my AirPods coming up on the way over here
as I was driving through the streets of Berkeley,
and try and see if I could come back to that moment
or what was.
And I want to add to that,
knowing Greil was gonna bring this up.
And it was that sense
that when you got here in 1963 in Berkeley,
it was that moment of growing up at that particular time.
There’s always a moment of growing up and going to college
where you feel independent, you’re on your own and so forth.
But that moment, in that time, ‘63, ‘64,
there was a whole nother realization coming along.
It was more intense than any earlier people
who were turning 18, like our parents going to school.
That now you weren’t buying into the system anymore.
You weren’t gonna buy into the fraternity system
or the Ivy League system,
all those things you went to school for
just to get a job, to get a degree.
You were now being asked in this environment,
given what was going on around us,
to upend all those assumptions
and understand that you were gonna throw away
all this security of the society,
and there’s certainties that were going with it
that you were gonna go get a job.
You’re gonna actually get out there and be on your own.
And the closer you got to the kind of culture
that was starting to thrive then in Berkeley,
political and drugs,
you really were on your own out there.
But luckily when I was doing the book,
I called Greil up and we just started talking.
He said, “you should really reuse this stuff
and I’ll send you what you told me,”
which I had completely forgotten about.
And of course, it was so good for some reason
that I transcribed literally what Greil had gotten out of me
and put it right in that book and made a wonderful passage.
And it really was a wonderful passage.
You write about-
Do you wanna make a deal?
- Yeah, do you wanna make a deal?
Yeah, I was so moved by what you said.
And then you started talking and you dramatized it,
and you got to, “that happened to me too many times.”
I want to talk about something
that happened right at that time,
and that was the free speech movement
which you described very wonderfully
as a time when this campus and ultimately this country
was just going to split apart.
And you say of the administration,
that had no idea what was happening
and no idea how to handle it,
and was striking out blindly.
“They were trying to defend the rules
for no good reason other than to preserve their authority.
That was the moment it began.
The student protests of the ’60s
in front of my eyes on Sproul Plaza.”
A police car had pulled up
to arrest somebody who was violating university rules
by passing out political literature.
They put him in the police car
and within an instant,
people began to sit down around the police car
so it couldn’t move.
And you came out of a classroom,
it’s around noon, something like that.
And the free speech movement had already started.
There were things going on every day,
but it hadn’t come into focus yet.
It hadn’t brought everyone into it.
I remember a cousin of mine,
he said, “I came here to Cal from the East Coast.”
He said, “I came here to go to business school,
and all we ever do
is talk about this god damn free speech movement.”
And it was at that moment
that that conversation really began.
So there’re hundreds and then thousands of people
surrounding this police car
for two hours, five hours, 10 hours, 24 hours,
all through the night.
People get up,
are standing on top of the police car making speeches.
Anybody climbing out of the crowd, standing up.
The roof of the police car is going down and down,
but people keep climbing up and making more speeches.
And you walked out of a class
and you saw that the same as I did, and you sat down.
- I’m not sure I sat down,
but I hung around for a good while.
It was clearly an event which should have been so minor.
I mean, there was the student activists surrounding it,
but they were a minority in Berkeley,
but it was this constant decision making
by the administration of the campus then.
They kept coming up
with stupider and stupider responses to this,
which kept escalating this and escalating it
till it finally shut down the whole campus.
Not as a striper,
just nobody as Greil’s cousin
was doing anything
but talking about the free speech movement
and it galvanized and took over the entire campus.
It changed it in a way that it could never turn back.
And I remember going and seeing the Free Speech Cafe,
and they had something that was so galvanizing,
so radical then,
which was denounced by the state of California.
700 students were arrested and all that stuff,
it was really considered no-go by the powers that be
and now it was memorialized appropriately in a cafe,
or maybe they could have a record jail cell.
The beginning of the student protest movement in the ’60s
is too often falsely, erroneously,
subscribed to the student strikes
at the Columbia University in New York in 1968.
And in fact, it began here
along with so much else that galvanized the country.
The major recruiting centers
for the freedom rights in the South was here.
This campus sensed it was there,
this campus and all of the other campuses in the area
put on a protest
to the House on American Activities Committee hearings
in 1960 in San Francisco.
We’re gonna have them again by the way, soon I guess,
and drove them out of town.
And so the idea
that students would take direct action on campus
came from this moment here that they were talking about.
The guy in the police car incident,
his name was Jack Weinberg,
he’s the guy who came up with the slogan,
“never trust anybody over 30.”
We’ve learned better than that though.
We love people over 30.
We had to keep raising the bar.
And then flip it around.
“Never trust anybody under 30.”
Alice Waters founded Chez Panisse in Berkeley in 1971.
She’s always said
that it came out of the free speech movement.
Without the free speech movement
that led people to create, forge their own paths,
create their own institutions,
that never would’ve happened.
You started Rolling Stone in 1967.
Do you think the free speech movement went into that
as part of what made Rolling Stone happen
and become the kind of paper that it was?
I think that Rolling Stone,
it’s real origins are here on this campus,
and the things that happened on this campus
and the things I went through while living here.
The beginning of my acquaintance with drugs
and with rock and roll.
I think as part of the book is that,
in the book, I try and tell through my own life
and through the prism of Rolling Stone
what Rolling Stone covered and wrote about,
and who came in and out of Rolling Stone,
and the stories that people like Greil and Hunter
and all the other people came together
in a particular place, at a particular time
with a particular spirit in mind
represents the story of the last of our generation,
of what’s called, not elegantly, “the baby boom,”
but of this gray era
of what appears to be at least 40, 50 years of time
that defined America.
And after World War II,
the consequences of World War II in America.
So in that, I think that my own story,
having been raised in Marin County.
Having been born January ‘46,
having had in New York,
my parents, both World War II veterans
moved to California to find their dream,
end up in Marin County,
the kind of dream county of suburban America,
where all these schools were built,
the house, of course it was baby boom
and roads were built and highways
and growing up in a suburban area
or somewhat rural area where I was.
I was there and then I’m put here in Berkeley
and being at all these key places at key times.
My baby doctor was Dr. Spock, Benjamin Spock,
the leader of the thought,
the how you would raise these kids in the post war.
So I think, the security coming mandated,
and so I think, yes, here,
the soil of Berkeley gave birth to this.
I mean, Rolling Stone was on all those three things.
It was part political radical,
in a different way than those words may mean now,
part drugs, part music, part student,
it was out of this consciousness
and all those things I had here.
And my co-founder, Ralph Gleason,
who’s a columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle,
lived here in Berkeley on Ashby Avenue.
And it’s on Ashby, 1841 Ashby,
that we planned and plotted Rolling Stone
in his living room.
And Ralph experienced all these.
Although older person,
he was actually 48 at the time,
and was described often by his critics
as being a 48 year old man
who couldn’t decide whether he was for 12 year olds
or 16 year olds.
So he was never over 30.
We were sentenced to all the exact same things
that were on Ashby Avenue
that were happening here on campus,
and was the great champion in the local papers
for the free speech movement
and later the great champion for the rock and roll movement
with Bill Graham.
Anyway, long story short, yes.
- Probably the most famous or celebrated writer
to come out of the pages of Rolling Stone
was Hunter Thompson, who I never met,
but he was a larger than life figure
in the culture at large.
He became a great character.
He played a great role.
And I always felt after a few years that the role,
the celebrity role that he was forced to play,
that he wanted to play,
you would know infinitely better than I would,
overwhelmed his existence as a writer.
But one of the first things he wrote for Rolling Stone
was a very long story,
a two-part story called “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas:
A Search for the American Dream.”
I reread it not very long ago.
I mean, when it came out in 1971, ‘70?
‘70, I think, yeah.
It was overwhelming.
It was probably the most fun thing I ever read
and it stayed fun till the last pages,
but when I reread it a couple of years ago,
it struck me as so sad, as such a tragedy.
It reminded me so much of The Great Gatsby.
At the very end, it was all an alogy.
It was all,
the time to find what we were looking for has passed,
we’re never gonna get there.
And I’d like to hear what you thought
when you first read that and what you think now.
- Well, I think you’re right in characterizing Hunter
as being trapped by his fame
and both involuntarily and voluntarily.
He could have at any time turned it off,
but he became such a big personality and had so many fans
and was such a wonderful character and person to be around
that it was inevitable and he got swallowed by that.
And you mentioned this, I think you mentioned it,
that he reminded you of The Gatsby.
Fitzgerald was his favorite writer,
and Hunter studied him constantly.
He named his son, Juan Fitzgerald Thompson.
And Hunter, actually one time
when he was practicing writing, beginning writing,
typed up the entire Great Gatsby,
just so he could get the feel for the rhythm of it
and how Fitzgerald wrote.
And if you read The Great Gatsby,
you’ll see exactly
where Hunter got so many of those funny names
and funny devices and things he came out with.
The Gatsby is full of people with very colorful names
that kind of defined them in some way.
And so there’s a lot in there,
but it was alogic.
I mean, he had decided at that point in the ’70s
that this great burst of idealism of the ’60s
was not gonna work out,
and that the last big chance to transform society
was like a wave
and it had broken in San Francisco in the ’60s
and had washed out.
And Hunter’s vision of that was partially true,
partially not true.
I mean, Hunter liked the apocalypse as a theme
and doom as a theme.
And it’s hard to say why he came to the conclusions.
After that we sent him on the campaign trail
to cover the election,
which was certainly an exercise
in ‘72 election when Nixon and McGovern
was start off as an exercise in optimism and hope,
and of course crashed, complete doom at the end of that.
And it reminds me of later on in the late ’90s,
Hunter wrote one of his last pieces
called “Fear and Loathing in Elko.”
And he was able to write it
because there was a blizzard in Aspen
and so the drug dealers were not able to get to his house.
So he had this week of clarity.
And “Fear and Loathing in Elko”
starts with his usual description
of what he’s doing in the weather
and what I’m doing and so forth.
And he says he had this dream last night
which was a visionary sudden recollection
of driving to Nevada in the middle of the night
and going and crashing into a hoard of long-haired sheep
who were dying literally on the highway.
And he came out of his car and it was because…
And he picked up a hitchhiker
who was Judge Clarence Thomas.
And anyway, he moves to the hotel or motel in Elko
where Clarence Thomas is running a porn ring
and a lot of positives on itself.
I read that side by side with Vegas.
And whereas it made Vegas look like a dream,
happy land, Disneyland,
the cynicism and the blackness
of this thing about Clarence Thomas was really apparent
and that doesn’t look like a fairy tale.
But Hunter was one of the great transformative spirits
of Rolling Stone.
I mean, he and I, for some reason
just hit it off enormously.
I recognizing in him
the kind of talent and charisma and thinking that he had.
I mean, he wrote “The Battle of Aspen,”
it was the first thing he wrote for us.
And oh no, it was a Chicano thing,
and we shared a common purpose and mission.
I mean, we both explicitly said to each other,
we have to take this opportunity
of Rolling Stone and its audiences in 1971
and use it to try and gain power in this country,
to try and gain at least enough power to move things along.
That couldn’t we,
with the youth vote and all it represented,
in our naivete, we thought we could move this youth vote
to influence a presidential election.
And so we went about doing that.
And at the same time we recognized,
I think, in each other…
I saw in him the great writer
and the man who would be the voice of Rolling Stone.
I mean, more striking talent,
you’ve never seen more energy.
And I think he saw in me the person
and the time, the place that belongs to the vehicle
where he would have the freedom and the support
and the encouragement to do what he wanted to do.
And it worked enormously for the both of us.
I mean, I’m sure
we could have done parts of each of those tasks on our own.
He was brilliant without me
and I was gonna do Rolling Stone,
but together we really hit some extraordinary high point.
And it was his coverage of the elections
having to more than any other thing.
And by that time,
we had done the Lennon Remembers interviews,
and we had won magazine awards for covering Altamont,
breaking the Charles Manson he’s guilty story
and all that stuff.
But it was that coverage of the main story
that the United States gives to any kind of journalists;
the race for the White House.
The White House we spent that campaign trail on the A story,
the most observed, watched story about other journalists.
We did something so brilliant and exceptional
that changed journalism forever
and put Rolling Stone up
into the first rank of American publications.
And endorsement for drugs, by the way.
Take more drugs, you could get there.
That reminds me of a class I taught here.
It was on the 1978 remake
of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”
directed by Phil Kaufman, who lived in San Francisco then,
lives in San Francisco now.
And I invited Phil and his wife Rose to come to my class.
After we showed the movie in class,
it was a three hour seminar.
And so he did, and I asked him,
“why did you make this movie?”
And I figured he was gonna say something like,
I didn’t have a project, I was not a famous director,
it was offered to me, I had a mortgage to pay,
so I made the movie.
That’s not what he said.
He said, “it was the beginning of the new age movement.
I was living in San Francisco.
I looked around and all I saw were pods.”
And then his wife Rose said,
“and the problem with that time, the problem with the ’60s,
the reason the ’60s didn’t work
is that people didn’t take enough drugs.”
And that is a theme in this book too.
- It is.
I mean, I thought in the book,
I had to at least be honest about this.
If I was gonna tell a true story of our times,
I mean, there’s no question
that our generation was very tied up in a drug culture.
And now the drug culture is a pretty broad expression
to cover all the things that happened.
As I said before or then,
my experience with drugs here in Berkeley
was primarily with pot and LSD.
And at the time, there wasn’t a lot more destructive drugs
like speed and cocaine.
But I don’t wanna go through all that
just to say that I think that LSD…
Cocaine turned out to be a bad drug,
I’d like to say in the book very explicitly
that if I had to do it again, I would not.
It was a waste of time and energy and money.
I strongly believe that, but it’s not same time.
I don’t think you can really regulate and ban it,
it’s gonna happen anyway.
But LSD was a big theme in it.
And I wanted to be honest about the drug use
and what it meant,
and both its good sides and its bad sides.
And I notice now what’s coming back
when I was doing a Joe Rogan show and promoting this book,
and he brought up the idea
that he felt that everybody in the country,
that people in this country
would really benefit if there was more LSD,
if people took more psychedelic drugs.
In fact, it would be almost universally useful.
It sounds crazy,
but then you marry what’s now worth seen finally at last,
the opening of government approved use of MDMA
and other psycho drugs to treat traumatized people.
But also this broadening use of ayahuasca was again,
I mean, I think there’s a truth
to the fact that if in fact you had everybody take LSD,
top to bottom or in some fashion and whatsoever,
and people in government are making government decisions
and decisions about war and what is gonna destroy things
and pumping oil.
Would you imagine if like the heads of oil company, Exxon,
and you sat around with your fellow executives
and took LSD and went outside
and you saw how beautiful nature was
and really how we all get that feeling we’re all one,
and I’m responsible for keeping this earth this way.
And I’m being very dead serious now,
and it sounds like the fear
that we are gonna poison the water supply with LSD,
but I think you’d start to see a more abrupt end
to the policies of a lot of company.
I mean, you’d have to change.
You don’t go back and live your life the same way
having had that insight.
And I might sound like some pie-eyed ’60s drug head
or Allen Ginsburg or Tim Leary or something like that,
but I think there’s a lot of truth to that.
I think there’s a lot of value to that.
I think that’s something that should be pursued.
- Now, you were a great editor.
- Thank you.
I’m right, I know it.
- You were a great editor.
Working with you could be a revelation.
I remember bringing in one piece, you looked at it,
it seemed as if you looked at it for half a second
like to see how long it was.
And you said,
“cut the first paragraph, cut the last paragraph.
And I felt, what?
This is the Meat Cleaver School of Editing?
So I did it and looked at it,
it was a different piece.
It was so much better.
I’d spent the first paragraph clearing my throat,
and I spent the last paragraph trying to wrap it up
with something meaningful and significant
that was total nonsense.
And there it was.
Now, there’s a writer
who appeared in the first issue of Rolling Stone
and for quite a long time afterwards,
his name is Jon Landau,
he’s now Bruce Springsteen’s manager
and has been for many, many years.
But he started out in the first issue of Rolling Stone.
And I would pick up the magazine,
I would pick up the paper as we called it then,
and I would read his columns.
And I was just stunned by the authority of his writing.
He seemed to write from deep knowledge, deep feeling.
He was not a great writer, he was not a stylist.
He wasn’t someone
who would put memorable sentences together,
but somehow you read what he said
and you’d say, “wow, let me think about that.”
Tell me about your reactions to Jon when you first read him
and then having him as a mainstay of Rolling Stone.
- I first encountered Jon…
Before I started Rolling Stone, I was working,
The Ramparts had an offshoots publication
called Sunday Rampart in San Francisco.
I won’t get into all that,
but he was writing for a publication called-
Was it Crawdaddy?
Crawdaddy at Boston, Massachusetts,
which was the first real rock and roll magazine.
It was kind of mimeograph thing more.
And it was kind of mainly students
writing about really arcane essays
about their experience with rock and roll.
And at that time,
people who were writing about rock and roll
really didn’t know much about it.
I mean, they weren’t trained musicians
and there was no scholarship of building up,
there was nobody else, it was just the beginning of it.
So primarily, they would write
about the record covers or the lyrics
and discuss the artist and what the artist meant to them.
But here was this one essay every time,
it was so authoritative
and by somebody who actually knew about music,
and talked about things like treble…
All the musical terminology
and was evaluating the playing and the producing
and the production and the singing and real music.
So I looked him up immediately when I started Rolling Stone
and asked him to come write for me.
I didn’t know who he was or anything.
And he wrote back.
Anyway, he was a junior at Brandeis
and another one of the people who I write about in the book
that I think that all came together
from different parts of the country,
with different kinds of stories
of this musical scholar there, Greil here,
Hunter Thompson there, and Lee Woods at the Art Institute,
and numerous others
that came together in this time and place
I’d like to think of as a bit like the New Yorker
when it started off.
Where all these like-minded people
came together with a sensibility about time and place.
In any case, Jon,
we couldn’t afford long distance phone call thing
so we’d correspond at length by letter.
And I tried to edit him.
And it’s true of the worst writers,
they just don’t like editing.
The best writers are so grateful to have editing,
somebody looking at them
and taking care of their little things
that they’ve forgotten.
And I mean, it is universally true,
the people who are the worst
are just touchy about every god damn word.
And Jon was really touchy
and he threatened to quit on me early on
because I had edited something.
But he also got me
‘cause he didn’t like the San Francisco groups.
He didn’t like the dead,
he didn’t like the airplane on and on.
And he liked R’n’B and stuff
and he’s always telling me about it.
I’d just edit out his snarly stuff
about the San Francisco groups.
But anyway, we had it out.
We met, we became fast friends and he was…
I mean, he had the voice of gravitas,
like you could feel it.
And he’s that way today, and he hasn’t changed.
But he, I guess, became the foundational critic,
would you say- - Yeah.
- He was the most respected, revered…
He lived in Boston the entire time, he didn’t come out here,
but he managed to gain respect
both from all the critics that Greil had
on the coast here on the West coast
since we were writing our version of their records.
And also there were these critics in New York
who hated us no matter what we would do
because they thought it was their thing
and we were getting all the…
But everybody respected Landau.
- Now, there was a book about you and Rolling Stone
published a few years ago
called “Sticky Fingers” by Joe Hagan.
And it was a book
that you chose him as the person to write this book.
You cooperated with him.
You encouraged all your friends
and people who had worked with you over the years
to talk with him and be open with him.
And the book that came out
was this absolutely bizarre hatchet job.
It’s one of the number of biographies I’ve read.
I remember one about Herman Melville,
that was fundamentally, it seemed to me,
motivated by distaste,
which is a really small kind of emotion.
Distaste for you, distaste for the way you lived your life.
And distaste, I really felt this in the pages most deeply,
which is a major theme in this book.
In Joe Hagan’s book, in Sticky Fingers,
and you’ve got the sexual innuendo of the title right there.
There is a kind of ew, through the book
when this theme comes up
because you spoke very openly with him about it
and opened your life to him.
In this book,
homosexuality is a fact of your life and is a fact of life.
And over the years,
it becomes a fuller fact and a more open fact,
but it’s a fact.
It’s not a scandal and it’s not a story
and it’s not something that polite people don’t talk about.
So I’d like to know how you thought
about pushing that theme, leading that theme,
being led by that theme throughout the whole book.
First, could we just talk about Sticky Fingers.
Never have a book written about you called Sticky Fingers.
It’s not a good title.
I’m a believer in chance and karma
and the right thing at the right time and place.
And I ran to this guy up in a little town I used to live in
and he was writing.
He introduced himself to me ‘cause he’d been writing for…
He’d done a profile role for Rolling Stone
and he wrote articles of Men’s Journal,
and beyond that, he had interned.
He was a Wall Street Journal reporter
who had interned at Rolling Stone in the ’90s something,
anyway, 10 years before,
and had sat right outside my office
and when he met me he asked me questions about Ralph Gleason
and this guy’s the guy, maybe this is the guy.
So I even checked with my own editors who worked with him,
they all liked him.
I went ahead and said, do you want to do this?
And I’ll open the da da da
and went ahead and got a big contract for it.
And we sat off
and there was something always off about it, you know?
And which gets to another one of the things
I learned in my life is that…
My sister talked to him on the phone,
she said, this guy’s weird.
But the biggest thing you could learn in life,
I think in business, in other places and everything,
is to trust your gut.
If there’s something inside of you
that’s saying that something doesn’t feel right about this,
explore that emotion.
It’s probably 99% true.
And if you get that feeling, oh this thing isn’t right,
that you tried to make some decision or do something out of,
whether it’s ambition or jealousy
or because you want to appear better than somebody else
or sound, you know what I mean?
You try to do things for the right reason.
So anyway, I started to get this feeling in my gut,
but I kept playing thinking,
no, no, this’ll be all right,
they’re saying this and people call me and say,
“he’s asking so many questions
about when you knew you was gay.”
And it seemed to me
that’s another thing you wanna start with here.
So he called me on one day.
He says, just let me double,
“so in the ’80s,” he says on the phone,
“when Reagan was so popular,
you did a poll
and it showed that your readers liked Reagan more.
Now, did you endorse Reagan that year?”
I thought, are you kidding me?
I mean, have you ever read the magazine?
Do you think it’s possible we could have ever…
Do you read Hunter?
Do you think we could ever have endorsed Reagan?
How can you ask me such…
And I thought, you haven’t gotten this at all, have you?
After a year and a half working at it.
So it just, anyway went south.
And why it went south?
I think I’ve tried to figure out,
I mean, did he not like me?
You know, people don’t.
Is he jealous?
People are jealous.
And I think that there’s coming in kind of jealousy
and bitterness and maybe some…
Later I’ll get to that.
I think that came down to two things.
I think one,
he really didn’t like what the results of the ’60s were
and what we were about and what that generation meant.
I don’t think he believed in it,
I think he was too cynical.
And then he was also a journalist.
And then you get down to it,
a journalist is there… (laughs)
I’m getting in your territory.
A journalist is a person
who is generally looking for a story,
a scoop, something hot,
to uncover something, discover something.
It’s partially out of jealousy,
partially out of anger,
partially out of that’s the mission of a journalist
to find the scoop, to discover the missing information.
So I mean, he wasn’t a biographer,
he wasn’t a novelist, that wasn’t his mission.
His mission was to get dirt, to uncover stuff.
That is not a type of journalism
that Rolling Stones has ever practiced.
It is not that we haven’t published or investigated people
trying to look for bad stuff like that,
but by and large we didn’t do that
and won’t do that and didn’t do it.
And we certainly didn’t do it with artists
who were people who did not deserve that kind of thing.
They’re not involved in public service or politics.
They’re people bringing light and beauty to you
and love and they’re creative.
But it’s a kind of a grimy thing.
We don’t go out to ruin people’s lives.
You go out to investigate a story,
you wanna find out why Karen Silkwood was killed
and what happened there.
You don’t want to go reinvestigate her life
and find out how grim…
Anyway, so part of the Hagan thing,
I think, it was related to homosexuality
or something that made him really prurient,
be curious about all this stuff.
What can you do?
And when I came to write my book,
and not really write it in any way
in response to the Hagan’s book,
in fact, I never even really read all of Hagan’s book
I just skimmed through it
to look for what I was gonna have to apologize for
And to see how bad it was, how cynical.
It was so cynical
it didn’t credit Rolling Stone
with any of the good that it did
and the good intentions we had
because it was all like a marketing thing.
I decided not to pay attention,
not to deal with this book or try and refute it.
I don’t even mention it in my book.
Like the drugs, you just really have to…
If you’re gonna tell a true story,
you have to tell a true story.
And I didn’t write about drug use in the book
trying to describe it very much or get into the details.
I mean, I think that,
and likewise with homosexuality or sexuality in general,
it’s not really what…
What’s the point of writing about the details of it?
You know what I mean?
They’re not different than anybody else’s experiences.
They’ve been written about a thousand times.
What was was important here was the issue of realizing,
making a realization of who you are
in this particular climate and culture
and this place where you’re baby boomer,
the importance of exercising these freedoms
and finding these freedoms for people
and being able to discuss this openly.
Also, I’ve realized
that there’s a lot of people who read this
and it’ll affect them and maybe empower them
to do things to themselves.
And it was a secondary feeling,
it was just part of the historical record.
I’m not a big fan of going on personal life too much
and I don’t really discuss
this makes scenes of any more necessary in here.
And it’s a fact.
We have to tell this story,
it has to be told.
There’s a great letter I got,
I don’t know if I can find it.
Oh, not in here.
I doubt it.
I don’t know if I should try and see.
We got a letter from our reader once,
I don’t know, I couldn’t even find it,
but saying like four or five years into it.
And I only just found the letter
when I was researching the book
and looking through old letters.
The reader was saying,
we admire all your coverage of music and pot laws
and on and on
but you’ve never touched the issue of homosexuality.
And this is more important to me
than it is what are my rights of smoking dope.
Don’t you realize
that people in the certain parts of the country
can still get castrated for the…
And it didn’t really dawn on me at the time
until I saw at the end how right that individual was.
[Geeta] We’re gonna ask to open it up to questions.
[Geeta] Come up.
Did you have any more thoughts?
We could go for a long time, Jann, we already have.
I mean over the years, no end to it.
But people want to ask you questions.
- [Geeta] Hello, hello.
So question time, I’m Geeta Anand,
Dean of the School of Journalism
and we love journalists, so thank you.
So I’m gonna ask the first question and then open it up
or would you like to ask the first question Michael?
Oh, how do we get…
I wanna make sure people can hear your question-
- Hey, everybody hear me?
Am I speaking loud enough?
Or should we rush microphone?
You should stand up.
Can everybody hear me?
A microphone is headed your way.
Okay, thank you.
I hope everyone can hear me now.
So we are at the Haas Business School
and you were running a business.
You spoke briefly
about the slim pickings you had to start with
and how you had to build,
but you’ve been through a lot of interesting times.
You’ve been through deep recessions, inflation,
you’ve been through the disintermediation of magazines
and much of media by tech companies, et cetera.
Just thought if you had any reflections on that
that might be interesting
for both the journalism students here
but especially the business school students here.
I think they’d appreciate it if you want to-
- Yeah, I do.
I mean, I can’t speak too much to the recessions.
We were luckily somewhat immune to them.
And our main business task in the first 15, 20 years
was learning how to be in business and how to manage growth.
Our growth was rapid.
We had no experience.
And when when you’re managing growth
and going through that phase,
it seems like nothing you do is wrong.
I mean, anything that you did that was wrong
you don’t learn from, you just move on.
The next thing it gets covered up by the other successes.
It’s a somewhat easy thing.
It leads you obviously,
into making some pretty dumb moves and mistakes,
thinking you’re better than you are,
and we did that.
And rapid expansion is a trap you have to watch
and can learn about.
But the most interesting thing that really turned around
and brought the end of the magazine business
is the internet.
And I begrudge the internet very deeply for doing that
and what it’s done and what it’s doing to society
I think that the internet really needs to be regulated
and regulated badly and soon if at all possible,
and brought under the laws of the United States.
The founders of this country
gave privilege and right to the free press
on the assumption that the press
would create an informed public, a properly informed public,
which would guide public policy
and be a guardrail of democracy.
And for that reason, newspapers, magazines,
responsible journalism has been extremely important
in the history of this country.
And there’s all kinds of places
and surely there’s been accesses and so on over the years
and so on like that,
but the journalism institutions have made a big difference.
But what happened now
and the government has learned to regulate them,
and I include the television networks in this,
they’re regulated by the First Amendment.
And the First Amendment
as interpreted by the lawful Supreme Court,
forbids newspapers and magazines and television stations
and other public media
from acting with reckless disregard of the truth and fact
and malicious intent.
No such restriction applies to the internet.
And yet they are the major avenue
of public discourse in the country.
And if there’s ever been an institution
where there’s been belongs to the people,
this institution is created by the Defense Department,
have research money of the United States government
that created the internet.
Not Silicone Valley, not the hedge fund guys,
not Steve Jobs, none of them,
it’s created by government money.
And on top of that,
they were given every kind of tax break,
they don’t pay taxes.
For years they didn’t pay state taxes.
These companies have several trillion dollars
stuffed in tax free havens
and low tax countries and around the country
that don’t come back here.
And they are so virtually untaxed in so many cases.
And then on top of it,
rule 820 it’s called or 420 or whatever, I forget,
exempts them from obeying the law.
They must be responsible for what they publish.
Sure, it’s gonna cost them an extra billion dollars a year
to enforce that and do what’s necessary.
But they can afford an extra fucking billion dollars a year
‘cause they have $50 billion a year.
But it is reckless, it’s irresponsible
and destroying the public discourse
and is not necessary
and it should be brought back under rule of law.
I’m looking out into the audience for the next question-
May I just finish that question?
What the internet did with all those privileges
to my biggest business is they came in,
they stole our intellectual property,
our content that we paid highly for
to expensive writers like Greil and Annie
and so forth like that.
They put it on their thing free or made access to it free.
And then admittedly, the internet,
the digital thing is a better advertising medium.
I don’t disagree that they should be huge and popular
and diminish magazines in any way.
I don’t fight technology
but they took away our income abruptly,
really quickly and without conscience like blood suckers.
And then they came in and fooled you as a magazine,
whether it’s my magazine or Time Inc. or the Time
and said, geez, let them,
if you’ll put the content on us now,
like give it to us, we’ll give you 10% of the revenues.
But you can’t actually get your people to sign up with us.
You have to subscribe to the Apple store.
Apple will take 30%…
And every trick in the book
until all of a sudden the publishers were bled dry.
I mean, really it was like a vampire dragon squid,
with all these tentacles that had iPhones at the end of it,
sucking us all dry.
And so now I don’t have the money
to pay for the quality journalism or quality photography
that’s necessary for long form magazine journalism.
The money is going to all these hits that are so fast.
So where is the thought journalism?
Where is that kind of journalism
that is gonna tell us how to govern this country
and what our policies should be?
Sorry, thank you.
Hi, my name is Joseph Arjo.
I’m a student at the UC Berkeley Haas School of Business.
I wanted to ask you,
when you were a student here
and you were part of the Daily Californian,
did that inspire you to start the Rolling Stone
or was there some other catalyst that brought that to you?
- Some other catalyst, but I enjoyed the Daily Californian.
I was an anonymous staffer, I wrote a column every week.
I didn’t go in, I wasn’t part of the staff.
I wrote it under a pseudonym, Mr. Jones,
after the Stilton song, battle of the thin man.
Something’s happen here, you know what it is?
Do you, Mr…
And I wrote it, as I mentioned, Ralph Gleason earlier,
who lived here in Berkeley
and was with Chronicle of San Francisco.
And he used to write this column three times a week
and once on Sunday in the pink section
about what was going on in rock and roll or on the campus
or poetry or something like that.
And it was kind of an imitation of…
Not really imitating him,
so I would just write a comment
of my experiences over the weekend,
taking drugs and going to the Fillmore Auditorium
and sitting grateful there with my friends.
And that was about that.
The direct inspirations
were working at Sunday Rampart,
the influence of Rampart
and the reading English music magazines,
the Melody Maker and Music Express
and a great influence in San Francisco Chronicle
for just quirky bullshit.
I mean, every weird story there was,
the Chronicle wouldn’t run it.
I remember once there was an LSD bust
in 1965 or something like that,
and that was a front page headline.
Central “Mr. Big busted.”
I had some money in that deal by the way,
but the idea that a major city newspaper
which has a page one headline across banner headline
about the address of an LSD dealer, I liked that.
[Geeta] Yes, a question back there.
Hi, Don Gammon.
I’d never thought about this before tonight
and I don’t know that the timeline maps perfectly,
but it occurred to me that the rise of Rolling Stone
somewhat coincided or overlapped with Playboy.
My question to you is,
did you have a relationship with Hugh Hefner?
There’s a big free speech theme,
there’s a big overlap in influence to the culture.
Did you ever have a moment where you sat in a room
and laid out the future of the culture
and figured out who was tackling what?
And I would be curious to hear.
- “Hef, you do sex, I’ll do music.”
Hef says, “I’ll make all the money,” and he did.
“I’ll have the Mansion.”
Playboy predated Rolling Stone,
substantially predated Rolling Stone.
But when I started Rolling Stone,
Playboy was one of those magazines that everybody read then.
And it was one that had a great deal of influence
on Rolling Stone indirectly
because it was liberal, crusading.
It was clearly a really fine piece of magazine craft.
I know people remember Playboy then,
but it was thick like this.
And also had different papers and cutouts and artists
and ran major writers on stuff.
And it had one particular feature, the Playboy interview,
which was so much better than any other profile interview
you’d get in any other magazine in the United States
‘cause they went and spent a lot of time
in a one on one conversation with the artist or the writer
or the politician that they were trying…
It was the only in-depth interview
you’d ever see anywhere with anybody.
They didn’t run professors
and we adapted that feature out of him.
Many years later, I ran to Hef a couple of times.
Once he sat in front of me
at the Ali-Frazier fight at the Garden.
That was kind of cool.
And Bob Dylan was there too.
And then later in later years, I did finally meet him.
I met Christie Hefner, his daughter,
about 10 or 20 years ago,
and she had taken over Playboy that time
and was having a really struggling time with circulations.
By then, it was obviously a diminishing thing.
She wanted me to take it over in partnership with her.
And I said, well, I mean, but your old man,
Hef is having a great time.
I said, well, meet him.
So I went out and had lunch with him at the Playboy mansion,
which was fantastic.
We spent the afternoon together and had a lot to talk about.
And he’s a grand old man to my whatever I was then.
And somebody deserving an enormous respect.
And well, we shall all be grateful to him.
And I mean, he played this great part
in the liberation of the ’60s and the country.
Anyway, after all this time…
Anyway, so we met and chatted.
When I went back, I met Christie,
she says, well, Hef has…
I said, you’re not gonna change this thing unless Hef goes.
It’s all his stuff ‘cause you just have to monitor.
She said, “well, would you tell him?”
I said, “no, I’m on his side.”
I don’t wanna go.
- [Geeta] Next question back there,
and this will be our last question.
- Oh, no pressure.
Hi, I’m Laura.
I’m a student at the journalism school.
[Jann] Ah okay.
Nice to meet you.
If “Like a Rolling Stone” and the Free Speech Movement
helped to define your life then,
what song and movement helped define your life now?
- Good question.
On that note, in terms of songs before movements,
I think, like everybody, I’m most partial to the music
that I heard when I was growing up,
when I was young in my 20s, maybe into my 30s.
But before you start getting professional,
starting a family and all these things
that start to take priority over music.
So I’m most partial to that.
And that’s the kind of music I go to most.
Still, you listen to Bob Dylan
and it’s still a revelation,
his voice, his lyrics, who he was at the time, his attitude.
I mean to win the Nobel Prize for literature
was beyond justifiable and long overdue.
And in it, interestingly, I found when he won the Nobel,
they not only cited his writing,
but they also cited the form
in which he was writing rock and roll music,
rock and roll song.
They cited that particular thing as a validation of poetry
to say that this is also an award for rock and roll music.
But today, there are certain things that inspire me.
I mean, I look at what Bob is doing,
I look at the same people still.
Then I take a lot out and get a lot out of YouTube
and particularly out of Bruce Springsteen
and Bob still with the new albums
‘cause Bob is dealing with contemporary problems
that we all have.
For us, our age, dying, getting older,
what’s becoming of the world, this kind of stuff.
So he is still engaged with that
which makes him sort of compelling.
Bruce and U2 are so engaged still
with what’s going on around them today
and writing about these things and these themes.
And Bruce particularly again,
about aging and certain internal truths.
And that still speaks to me so much,
but all this beautiful music does.
The thing I like the most lately in contemporary music
is Bruce did a record
in which he covered a bunch of ’70s, ’80s soul classics.
Things like the Gamble and the Huff tunes,
things like Hey, Western Union Man, Only the Strong Survive,
some Motown stuff, 7 Rooms Of Gloom.
And it is brilliant.
I mean, he sings this stuff so well.
The arrangements are the same,
but they’re all brought up and they’re (indistinct)
larger and broader and bigger sound.
And it is so much fun.
And I take out of that
the idea still that rock and roll is so liberating still
and so great to hear and so much fun to hear
and so full of energy that it just lives forever
and that inspires the hell out of me.
And so what currently gets me,
politically is when I think about it,
I think about most is the energy crisis, climate crisis.
Obviously, fun following politics.
I think we’re in a pretty good position now.
I think Biden’s gonna turn out to be a great president.
We’re moving forward.
I believe that my heart, my soul, that there’s no doom.
And the political situation in America,
history goes in cycles
and it all comes back and goes around again.
And everything we’ve seen with Trump and all those people,
we’ve seen it before in different stages.
And we’ve had the McCarthy era,
we’ve had the Palmer era in the ’20s,
and we’ve had the Ku Klux Klan
and Father Coughlin, all this stuff.
And that comes around
and then we become very liberal and international
and it depends what side of that cycle we’re on right now.
I think we’re on the right side of cycle.
I think things have come together in such a way
that the public really strongly feels convinced
about a certain set of things that must happen.
And some people see there’s an opportunity ahead of us
to have a really better world.
There’s dangers in the political system,
frustrating that, but I think they can overcome them.
But it’s the climate crisis.
Going back to taking LSD,
will we come around to a point
where we can triumph over greed
that is represented by the people who own oil,
own all these companies, the greed of individuals,
the greed of billionaires
who are taking all this private capital.
All this capital is being taken out of society
and stuffed away in bank accounts and yachts.
And the most useless form of wealth there is in the world
is private wealth stuffed away,
when we need this money
to redo the energy system in the world.
And I’ll go with them saying it’s gonna take about
four and a half trillion dollars a year for next 20 years.
That money is out there.
You could get that out of any number of oligarchs, sheikhs,
venture capitalists, bankers…
I mean, it’s there, we need it.
And unless we can take that money,
we will not make it in our current form.
Yeah, there will only be like 600 million of us left,
most of us at the North Pole, some at the South Pole.
- [Geeta] Well, I see why you love “Like A Rolling Stone”
and that life is cyclical and the world is cyclical.
So let’s end on a hopeful note.
(audience laughs) (audience applauds)
- [Geeta] Thank you so much.
(audience applause continues)
I wanna make sure you all know
there’s a reception afterwards.
Please join us.
I wanna thank again Michael and Chris Boskin
for your incredible generosity.
And Jann and Greil, for this very real conversation
that makes me grateful
that we had Michael polling at the Journalism School
and the center for psychedelics
lies at the journalism school.
Thank you all.