In those early days, Jann Wenner was the star of his own magazine. For people who first got their hands on Rolling Stone, in 1967, the editor with the Swedish-sounding name — or was Jann a girl? Not many knew (it was pronounced Yahn) — was their avatar in print, their gate-crasher at the Fillmore, a superfan as attuned to pot humor and art school nudity as they were, as versed in antiwar rhetoric, as hot to get his sticky fingers on a new Stones LP. Rolling Stone arrived on newsstands like a secret handshake: In a canny bit of salesmanship, Wenner offered a complimentary roach clip with every subscription, the “handy little device,” each one lathed by his future brother-in-law, sculptor Bob Kingsbury.
With the name, the vision had snapped into focus: Rolling Stone, the first mainstream paper for the rock-and-roll generation. Now everything that was ambiguous about Jann Wenner’s life — his hidden sexuality, his contradictory interests in both hippie culture and high society — was made clear: to become an editor and publisher, as big and important as Hugh Hefner — no, bigger than that. Henry Luce! William Randolph Hearst! Keeping such company made sense to Wenner, even if others rolled their eyes.
Who did this guy think he was? “Motherless, fatherless, sisterless, in the closet, starting a newspaper that nobody thought was going to go anywhere,” said Jerry Hopkins, one of the first writers for Rolling Stone. “He was out there.”
What Wenner understood clearly from the start was that rock and roll was about sex. “All of rock and roll is sex, defined,” said Wenner. And no one proved this point more than rock’s foremost provocateur, Mick Jagger, the ur-Rolling Stone. Jagger and Wenner would become fellow travelers in the rock revolution — both of them pragmatists and opportunists — but the shared name, Rolling Stone, put them in a kind of uneasy shotgun marriage from the start. When he first saw it, Mick Jagger was startled by the audacity of Rolling Stone — to name a newspaper after his band and not even put the Rolling Stones on the cover of the first issue? It was an affront that would stick with Jagger for the next fifty years. “Why did Jann call it that, when there was a band called that?” asked Jagger. “You could have thought something else, to be honest. I mean, I know it arised from a song name, but that’s not really the point.”
Keith Richards put it more succinctly: “We thought, ‘What a thief!’ ”
From the start, there was confusion over the name. “Because Rolling Stone was brand-new,” said Jerry Hopkins, “I was constantly saying to people, ‘No, not the group, the newspaper.’ ”
Wenner benefited from the confusion, a fact not lost on Allen Klein, the band’s manager, who immediately sent Wenner a cease-and-desist letter. “Your wrongful conduct constitutes, at the very least, a misappropriation of my clients’ property rights in the name Rolling Stones for your own commercial benefit,” wrote Klein’s lawyer. “It is also a violation of my clients’ copyright to the name ‘Rolling Stones.’ ”
The lawyer demanded Wenner retract and destroy all copies of Rolling Stone or suffer “immediate legal action including an injunction and a suit for treble damages.”
Wenner, whose friendship with Stones press secretary Jo Bergman had emboldened him to promise “an interview with Mick Jagger” in a Rolling Stone press release, began living in quiet terror. In November 1967, he wrote to Jagger directly, hoping to circumvent a lawsuit. “Greetings from San Francisco!” began the letter. “My feeling is that you haven’t got any idea that this action has been taken on your behalf,” he wrote. “ ’Cause it just doesn’t seem like it’s where you and the Stones are at.”
Wenner asked Jagger to call him for an interview so Rolling Stone could publish something positive about the Rolling Stones. “That would be a groove,” he said.
“It just looks like a great mistake,” he concluded. “We love you.”
Silence followed and Wenner squirmed, telling Bergman he was “very edgy” waiting for Jagger to exculpate him from legal action. Meanwhile, Mick Jagger could not help but observe how the Beatles were using Rolling Stone as a handy promotional vehicle. Indeed, Jagger could use a guy like Jann Wenner in America, especially after his last album, Their Satanic Majesties Request, was so poorly received. Jon Landau ripped it in Rolling Stone as an insecure Sgt. Pepper’s knockoff and declared the production and Jagger’s lyrics “embarrassing.” A full nine months and fourteen issues into the existence of Rolling Stone and the Rolling Stones had yet to appear on the cover, while their archrivals, the Beatles, had already appeared three times. If the lawsuit threat was a “great mistake,” it was also a convenient bit of leverage, and Mick Jagger liked leverage. “I don’t think Mick lets anyone off the hook for anything,” said Keith Richards. “He’s never let anyone off the hook, once he’s got one in.” That summer, Jagger learned that Wenner was hoping to start a British version of Rolling Stone in London. Jonathan Cott, Rolling Stone’s London correspondent, wrote to Wenner to report rumblings of legal hassles from the Stones if he attempted to publish in England.
Wenner had met Rolling Stones producer Glyn Johns through his neighbor Boz Scaggs, late of the Steve Miller Band, and over dinner one night in San Francisco asked him to invest in Rolling Stone. Johns declined but offered to broker a meeting with Jagger. The moment arrived when the Stones were mixing Beggars Banquet at Sunset Sound studios in Hollywood in the summer of 1968. Wenner arrived bristling with bonhomie, eager to win Jagger over for an interview and to broach the sticky issue of the Rolling Stone trademark. After Wenner scribbled detailed notes about the new album, Jagger invited him back to his rented house in Beverly Hills, where they listened to an acetate of the first album by the Band, Music from Big Pink, ate pizza, and talked business. Wenner was in heaven, basking in Jagger’s luminous stardom. Jagger proposed that Wenner come to London to discuss the possibility of publishing the British version of Rolling Stone, with Mick Jagger as half owner.
Everything was falling into place: Jagger had already been toying with the idea of starting a magazine and now here was Jann Wenner, who already had a successful one named Rolling Stone, and was thereby poised under Jagger’s thumb. “Jann and I thought it would be good to make one that was partly the same thing but would be localized in some way,” Jagger said.
To show his appreciation, Wenner went back to San Francisco and wrote up a song-by-song preview of Beggars Banquet for Rolling Stone, comparing Jagger’s lyrics to those of Bob Dylan and declaring it “the Stones’ best record, without a doubt.” Wenner’s studious annotation of the album included the story behind the iconic “Sympathy for the Devil,” the album’s most “significant” song, with its famous reference to the Kennedys:
The first version of the song — then called “The Devil Is My Name” — contained the lyric, “I shouted out, who killed Kennedy? After all it was you and me.” The next day Bobby was shot. The second version of the song, the one which will be on the album, recorded the next day, had this line instead: “I shouted out, ‘Who killed the Kennedys? After all it was you and me.’ ”
Wenner described Jagger as “a thin, modish Oscar Wilde figure” trailed by “bizarre” groupies. What separated Jann Wenner from the other groupies, of course, was Rolling Stone. And the week of August 10, 1968, Wenner put Mick Jagger on the cover for the first time, the singer pouting and slithery in a tank top, a pair of headphones on his head. “The Return of the Rolling Stones,” declared the headline.
“The first sign for me that Jann had audaciously grand ambitions,” said Pete Townshend of the Who, “was his desire to create a U.K. version of Rolling Stone. He came to London on his first fact-finding mission, and we hung out together a couple of times.” On his first visit, the guitarist picked him up in his gigantic Mercedes 600 and squired him to his Georgian house near the Thames. Townshend was struck with how quickly Wenner had embraced the role of press baron. “He assumed I would be comfortable with the scale of his business ambitions,” he said, “and I suppose I was, but I remember feeling that he must have amassed a relative fortune fairly quickly.”
He hadn’t quite yet, but why wait? The next day, Townshend said, he and Wenner went to Olympic Studios to see the Rolling Stones record songs for a forthcoming album, Let It Bleed. They sat in the booth while the Stones played, both ogling Mick Jagger. “It turned out that he, like me, harbored an adoration of Mick Jagger that was not entirely heterosexual,” said Townshend.
Afterward, Wenner accompanied Jagger to his apartment in Chelsea, and they sat by a fireplace with a moose head over the mantel to discuss their joint venture. They hadn’t gotten very far when Marianne Faithfull, Jagger’s then lover, showed up after a bad day on the set of a film production of Hamlet, in which she played Ophelia. “She came home, hysterical and histrionic, and he had to comfort her and I left,” recalled Wenner. (She would overdose on sleeping pills not long after.)
By the spring of 1969, Rolling Stone and Mick Jagger were officially in business together, with Jagger as “chairman” of the joint venture they decided to call the Trans-oceanic Comic Company Limited. Having staked some of his own money on British Rolling Stone, Jagger insisted on hiring the editor, a young woman named Jane Nicholson, whose awe of Jagger tended to render her stammering and shaking with nerves. They set up an office in Hanover Square, where Wenner reminded the rambunctious staff during their first meeting that “we’re not here to drink Mick’s wine,” prompting Jagger to correct him: “Hold it, that’s exactly why we’re here. To drink my wine.”
Wenner could hardly argue. Once British Rolling Stone launched in June 1969, with Pete Townshend on the cover, each new issue arrived in San Francisco like a fresh offense, a mutant version of Wenner’s own Rolling Stone, trussed up with political diatribes, overly groovy prose, and egregious misspellings of rock star names on the cover. “There were two appalling incidents where we spelled Ray Davies’s name wrong, and we called him ‘Ray Davis’ in a big headline,” recalled Alan Marcuson, who was hired as the advertising manager and later became an editor, “and then we spelled Bob Dylan’s name wrong, ‘Dillon’ as I remember. As bad as it can fucking get, really. Wenner hit the roof, rightly so.”
Wenner flew to London to try bringing order to the unruly staff, whose priority seemed to be enjoying Jagger’s wine as well as copious amounts of marijuana. “Wenner came over, and we had a very fractious, uncomfortable meeting with him,” said Marcuson. “And he very quickly became the enemy of London Rolling Stone.”
Jagger gave the staff carte blanche to ignore Wenner, which they were all too happy to do. “We said, ‘Fuck it, the Stones are paying for this, we’ll do whatever we like, he’s not our boss,’ ” said Marcuson. After two months of frustration, Wenner sent a twelve-page letter to Jagger calling the British Rolling Stone “mediocre” and run with “unbelievable incompetence.” Wenner insisted to Jagger that the British magazine come under the boot of the American Rolling Stone.
By this time, however, Jagger had lost interest entirely and flown to Australia to film an art-house outlaw movie called Ned Kelly (which Rolling Stone would later describe as “one of the most plodding, dull and pointless films in recent memory”). Meanwhile, Jagger’s British Rolling Stone staff threw a record industry party in which the punch bowl was spiked with LSD and several attendees were hospitalized. One victim was Marc Bolan of T. Rex, who freaked out and locked himself in the bathroom until he was talked out by a gynecologist (and aspiring country music singer) who happened to be present. “I think that party was one of the big nails in the coffin,” said Marcuson.
Wenner was desperate to pull the plug on British Rolling Stone but frightened by the prospect of letting Jagger down. “It took me a while to screw my courage up to do it, to write him a letter or call him,” said Wenner. “I said this thing is awful, it’s not working, they’re spending your money at an incredible rate, and you’re going to have nothing to show for it.” For Wenner, it was a grand embarrassment, undermining the credibility of his paper and leaving a taste of bitter disappointment over Jagger’s failure to uphold his end of the bargain. “I was upset and I said that to him,” said Wenner. “There was never any reaction from Mick.”
For Jagger, it was an expensive boondoggle, nothing more. “I didn’t have that much money at that point,” said Jagger, “because I was in all these disputes with Allen Klein.” (Jagger felt Klein had ripped off the Stones.) Mick Jagger’s staff implored the Stones’ singer to reconsider shutting down British Rolling Stone, writing a long and heated telegram to Jagger explaining that it was the rock star’s God-given right to use the name Rolling Stone, regardless of what Jann Wenner said. Marcuson remembered the precise date of the telegram. It was the weekend of December 6, 1969, the eve of a free concert an hour south of the Rolling Stone offices: the Rolling Stones at Altamont Speedway.
Altamont would end up being a gigantic mistake. That it represented the sudden and untimely death of Woodstock Nation is a truism that happens to be true: a precisely crafted Hieronymus Bosch mirror image of the heaven at Max Yasgur’s farm, Altamont was a botched festival overrun by “every meatball in the Western Hemisphere,” as Bob Neuwirth had warned of free concerts, and marred by violent fisticuffs and bad acid trips, including a man who declared he was pregnant and jumped off a nearby highway overpass. While drug-addled and seminude hippies desperately groped for pleasure, members of the Hells Angels, the hired “security” in wolf pelts and leather, swilled the $500 worth of beer the Stones gave them, beat concert goers with pool sticks, and, finally, stabbed an eighteen-year-old black fan named Meredith Hunter to death while the Stones played “Under My Thumb” fifteen yards away.
The concert was to be the big finale to the Stones’ first American tour in almost three years, which started in September 1969. The band had been barred from working in the States because of drug busts, and they were returning to a brave new rock scene defined by the mammoth Woodstock festival, a media extravaganza that was filmed for a documentary and recorded for a triple LP. The Stones were feeling insecure, and competitive. So Jagger cooked up a sequel, a West Coast answer to Woodstock, this time in the hometown of his business partner Jann Wenner and featuring local heroes the Grateful Dead and the Jefferson Airplane. The first thing they did was hire a documentary film crew, Albert and David Maysles, to create a movie and promote their next album, Let It Bleed, in hopes of beating the Woodstock movie to the theaters in the spring of 1970. News of a free festival first leaked in November 1969, at the precise moment that British Rolling Stone was dissolving. “Yeah, there is going to be one,” Richards told the Los Angeles Free Press. “But I don’t want to say where or when right now. We’ve still got to get ’round the country and get things together. At the end, we’ll get it all together and do the free show.”
By December, the plans for a Stones movie were in place, but the festival itself was still in shambles. Jagger had called Wenner for help, desperate to secure a venue. “That’s why Altamont became so charged,” said Wenner. “Mick calls me and he wants to do this big concert.”
Wenner gave Jagger the number of a local lawyer, Melvin Belli, who after a false start with the Sears Point Raceway (the owners demanded the film profits go toward Vietnamese orphans) arranged for the Stones to take over the Altamont Speedway and gamely posed for the Maysles brothers’ cameras as he worked the phones, outfitted in a three-piece suit and garish tie. This was twenty-four hours before showtime.
Privately, Wenner was still smarting from the failed venture with Jagger only a month before. When Wenner arrived at Brannan Street one afternoon to discover employees of the Stones using his private office to make phone calls, he yelled at his secretary for allowing them in. (The Rolling Stones ran up $140 in long-distance phone calls, and Wenner promptly forwarded them the bill.)
Even after the dissolution of British Rolling Stone, Jagger expected Wenner to remain his loyal scribe. Wenner put Jagger on the cover of Rolling Stone the month of the festival, headlined “The Stones Grand Finale.” But there were signs of a creeping skepticism. Ralph Gleason, the jazz critic and Wenner’s co-founder in Rolling Stone, excoriated the Stones in the Chronicle, complaining that their ticket prices were extortionary (“Can the Rolling Stones actually need all that money?”). This “free” concert looked to Gleason like a cynical ploy to make money off a movie, with San Francisco as the Stones’ picturesque set. And indeed, Jagger was hard up for cash on the brink of the Stones’ divorce from manager Allen Klein, not to mention the $40,000 Jagger had blown on British Rolling Stone. When Rolling Stone buttonholed him about why he wanted to spend $100,000 on a free concert, his flip reply was “Well, I wanted to do the whole tour for free, because, you know, I’m richer than the other fellas, and I can afford it.
“I’m just joking,” he added.
Wenner had nearly joined the Grateful Dead’s Jerry Garcia and Phil Lesh on a helicopter to the festival but opted out while still standing on the landing pad. “The helicopter was crowded, and I had no plan to get home,” he said. “I was a Stones fan, but I’d seen enough of them.”
During the show, Jagger blithely advertised his diabolical reputation by performing “Sympathy for the Devil,” in front of 300,000 shivering fans in an unlit and sprawling field at night. It immediately set off a violent melee in front of the stage. “We always have something very funny happen when we start that number,” he told the crowd, as if part of a script.
Fifteen minutes later, there was a dead man in front of him, which was not part of the script.
Over the weekend of the concert, Wenner began hearing from his staff. The writers Greil Marcus and John Burks were both sickened by the depravity they’d witnessed, and even more so after they read the headline in a San Francisco paper the following day, “300,000 Say It with Music,” clearly pre-written without any eyewitness accounts. “Those of us who had been there were so dispirited,” said Marcus, “both by what had happened — it was so awful, in so many ways — and then by the press coverage.”
Before the murder took place, Marcus and Burks considered burying the story along with the rest of the press because the festival was so bleak. “I remember John [Burks] saying, ‘This is so awful. Maybe we should not even cover it,’ ” said Marcus. “I said, ‘Well, we have to cover it.’ He said, ‘Well, what if we just ran a column saying, “Stones Play Free Concert,” and ran a couple of paragraphs.’ I said, ‘Yeah, that would probably be good.’ ”
But after the murder, there could be no denial. Burks called Wenner over the weekend demanding they “tell people what these fuckers did,” but Wenner remained skeptical until Gleason called him from Berkeley and urged Wenner to face Jagger down. If Rolling Stone was a professional newspaper about rock and roll, the moment of truth was nigh. What did Jann Wenner really stand for? Was he a groupie or a fucking journalist? He told him to cover the Altamont disaster “like it was World War II.”
The following week, Wenner, according to Marcus, sat before his editors over lunch and declared, “We’re gonna cover this story from top to bottom, and we’re going to lay the blame.”
“Everybody knew I was friends with Mick,” said Wenner, “and everybody was walking around on tender toes, wondering is Jann going to let this happen. All our integrity was on the line with that. Me, in front of my staff, and me, in front of the world. And I just said, do it.”
For Wenner, deciding to confront Altamont head-on was a moment of bravery, tinged though it was by the contretemps over British Rolling Stone, and not without Wenner’s characteristic calculation. It was a risk worth taking. “I remember explicitly thinking this thought, that whatever we did, my relationship with Mick would survive,” Wenner continued. “If it took a year or two to repair, it would take a year or two to repair… I had to be true to this.”
Wenner deputized Burks to stitch together the reportage of eleven different writers into a master story in the style of a Newsweek presidential campaign exposé. Even the record critics, like Lester Bangs and Marcus, were conscripted into service. Marcus was tasked with the most difficult assignment of all: interviewing the family of the murder victim, Meredith Hunter. “So I did it,” said Marcus. “I knocked on the door. I sat and talked for two hours with his sister. His mother was in the hospital. That was just a complete revelation for me.”
Hunter’s distraught sister told Marcus that the Stones were “responsible” for her brother’s death: “They don’t care, they don’t care.”
Wenner treated the events of Altamont like a personal betrayal. When he discovered that Hunter’s family had never even been contacted by the Rolling Stones Organization, he wrote a personal check to the family for $500.
The conclusion of witnesses and local scenesters was that the Stones had hired the Hells Angels as extras in their grand cinematic homage to themselves and their expanding bank accounts. (After learning that the murder was captured on film, Universal Studios bid more than $1 million to release it, Rolling Stone later reported.) David Crosby, a staunch defender of the Hells Angels, told Rolling Stone he considered the concert “a grotesque ego trip” for the Stones. Burks, in his reporting, channeled the wrath of the Angels: “What an enormous thrill it would be for an Angel to kick Mick Jagger’s teeth down his throat.”
“Is Mick responsible for the killing?” ran a caption under a photo of Jagger, who was described in the story as a smug dandy in “a red velvet cape and red velvet cap,” demanding “the best of hotels, limousines, cuisine.”
As his story went to press, Wenner did try getting Jagger to respond, sending a telegram to Maddox Street in London. “There is no attempt to fix blame,” he wrote to Jagger. “It was a cosmically preordained celebration for the end of the 60s.”
But that was Wennerian obfuscation. Laying the blame was the point. With a dozen reporters at his back, notebooks bristling with incendiary quotations from every boldfaced rock name in San Francisco and L.A., Wenner had to know he was baiting the hook for the former chairman of the Trans-oceanic Comic Company when he said, “We certainly don’t blame you but your continued silence is making other people uptight and suspicious and I think if you will make a statement in Rolling Stone it will go a long way towards straightening matters up and putting people at ease.”
Jagger didn’t reply. But when the story was finished, it left zero doubt that Rolling Stone was “attempting to fix blame.” “Altamont,” said the story, “was the product of a diabolical egotism, high ineptitude, money manipulation, and, at base, a fundamental lack of concern for humanity.”
Wenner had never betrayed his heroes quite like this before. He had slammed a record or two, angered a few record executives, made Eric Clapton faint. But through an alchemical mix of petty business grievance and self-preservation, Wenner nailed Jagger’s hide to the wall with vindictive aplomb. For a generation of readers, the story of Altamont was the one printed in Rolling Stone, seared into history like a cattle brand held in Jann Wenner’s grip.
Forty-five years after Altamont, Mick Jagger was still aggrieved by Rolling Stone’s virtual crucifixion.
“The problem with having relationships with people in the press, it’s like politicians in a way,” he mused. “They name their magazine after you. And they become friends with you. But then when something happens and goes wrong, you feel that they should be more sympathetic. Sympathetic, meaning evenhanded. You don’t expect them to take your side against the world, and stick up for you when you’re wrong, but you expect to get a fair crack at the whip. And I’d obviously felt at that point that that didn’t happen in this case.”
For Jagger, the Altamont story was a betrayal; for everyone else, it was an inflection point for the youth culture. Afterward, Jerry Rubin, the antiwar radical of the Yippies (Youth International Party), wrote a letter to Gleason warning that Rolling Stone had a choice to make, lest it be lumped in with the capitalist record companies that, in addition to selling records, sold “electronic equipment to help kill Vietnamese kids.” “The connection between the company’s advertising and the way Jann Wenner feeds his kids and keeps a roof over his head is not just ‘incidental’!” he wrote. “Rolling Stone magazine has a vested interest in the business of rock music.” He urged Rolling Stone to acknowledge that “the trip is over.” (Rubin also admitted he was angry that Rolling Stone didn’t print his writings.)
As the media narrative calcified around the idea of Altamont as the death of the 1960s — with the murder weapon in Jagger’s hand — the “visibly shaken” singer told Gleason, who was reporting on Altamont for Esquire, “If Jesus had been there, he would have been crucified.”
Rolling Stone continued to chew over the story for months on end. By spring, the Stones’ own tour manager, Sam Cutler, was pointing the finger at Jagger, his barbed quotation printed big and bold on the inside cover of Rolling Stone: “The Stones Have Not Acted Honorably.”
On February 25, 1970, Jagger finally responded to Wenner’s queries with a civil if curt retort:
DEAR JANN YOU WANT TO ASK ME MANY QUESTIONS ABOUT ALTAMONT WHICH I WOULD NORMALLY BE ONLY TOO PLEASED TO ANSWER AND HAVE INDEED ANSWERED TO MANY OTHER PEOPLE STOP HOWEVER UNFORTUNATELY RIGHTLY OR WRONGLY WE NO LONGER TRUST YOU TO QUOTE US FULLY OR IN CONTEXT STOP I HOPE OUR FRIENDSHIP CAN FLOURISH AGAIN SOME DAY.
Almost immediately, Wenner began secretly campaigning to repair the relationship. After all, he couldn’t very well publish a newspaper called Rolling Stone and not have the Rolling Stones in it. There was also the matter of the unresolved trademark issue. Wenner’s reading of Jagger was accurate: He was nothing if not pragmatic. Asked why he trusted Wenner again after the Altamont story, Jagger said, “It’s not the trust, or distrust. They have an agenda and you have an agenda. It might not meet.” Their agendas, of course, were destined to meet again and again. Jagger was a budding film star and entrepreneur. While Rolling Stone flogged him over Altamont, Jagger was dreaming up ideas like selling Rolling Stones albums on magazine newsstands, starting with the soundtrack to Altamont.
The truce finally came in the late summer of 1970 with the arrival of Jagger’s film acting debut in Performance, in which he played a bisexual former rock star named Turner, his hair slicked back like a mobster. In a memo, Burks reported to Wenner the “big news” from Rolling Stone’s New York bureau: “Mick’s extending a token of reconciliation in your direction. Namely, he wants you, of all people, to see Performance before anyone else in the Western world.”
Wenner promptly put Jagger on the cover of Rolling Stone in September 1970, a black-and-white film still from Performance, Jagger’s lips hand-painted pink by Bob Kingsbury. Wenner’s staff was outraged that he bent his knee to the man Rolling Stone virtually implicated in a local murder. The rapprochement was especially upsetting because Wenner had canceled plans for an ambitious book on Altamont by Burks and Marcus (which Burks had hoped to title Please Allow Me to Introduce Myself and which was later translated and published as a paperback in Germany). Instead, Wenner was proposing to Stones publicist Marshall Chess that they publish a Rolling Stones lyrics book.
However hypocritical he appeared, Wenner wasn’t interested in further alienating Jagger. It was an astute business decision. Jagger would be the most important and iconic face in Rolling Stone’s history, appearing on more Rolling Stone covers than any other artist (thirty-one times), always a consistently high seller. Jagger benefited, of course — years of being mythologized and glamorized by the best writers and photographers in the country, with Wenner’s personal guarantee of editorial control over his own image in a magazine conveniently named Rolling Stone. Chess, who spent much of the 1970s with the Stones, said Wenner fawned over Jagger like any female groupie he’d ever known. Jagger “knew he had him wrapped around his finger,” said Chess, who speculated, as many would, that the two slept together. (Asked about this, Wenner laughed and said, “I neither confirm nor deny.”) When Jagger brought up Wenner’s name, said Chess, it was always with a dismissive wave of the royal hand: “He’ll do whatever I want.”
But as Wenner became more successful, it would become less clear who was getting the better of whom, the star or the starfucker, the rocker or his groupie. Their symbiotic relationship even came to include the talents of Annie Leibovitz. Leibovitz had badly wanted to cover the 1975 Rolling Stones tour, just like Robert Frank in 1972, but Wenner was reluctant to send her, fearing she would get sucked into the notorious drug vortex of the Stones caravan.
Keith was a full-blown heroin addict, but even Jagger was overdoing it, once falling unconscious on a couch in Marshall Chess’s apartment at East Sixty-Ninth Street in New York in 1975. Recalled Diane Chess, “I was upstairs in the bedroom when I heard this slapping and Marshall yelling, ‘Mick! Mick!’ enough times for me to go see what was going on. He was blue, lips purple. And the poor, helpless, heavyset chauffeur just standing there almost made the whole thing comical.” (While a panicked Marshall Chess tried giving Jagger mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, Ahmet Ertegun showed up with Peter Wolf and wife Faye Dunaway, who tried bringing order to the chaotic scene until Jagger could be rushed to the hospital in an ambulance. Jane Wenner called the next morning, fishing for details, but the whole thing was kept out of the press.)
Wenner believed Leibovitz was susceptible to this sort of excess. “And I was right, of course,” he said. But he was overruled by Mick Jagger, who hired Leibovitz as the official Rolling Stones tour photographer for a few hundred dollars a week. As Richards recalled, “She was in our pay. Only because we liked the work that she had done with Jann and said, ‘We need a really good photographer. You got a free pass to take any picture you like.’ ”
During the ’75 tour, Leibovitz captured Jagger alone in an elevator after a concert, a white towel on his head and creviced face fallen in exhaustion. The intimacy of the image wasn’t accidental: Annie and Mick had become lovers, an affair that began in Montauk and allegedly inspired the song “Memory Motel” from Black and Blue. Leibovitz listened to Jagger work on the song every night in hotels. And Jagger later told Rolling Stone the girl in the song was “actually a real, independent American girl.” According to Jann Wenner, Jagger confessed to him that the girl whose “eyes were hazel” and nose was “slightly curved” was Annie Leibovitz.
After a time, Jagger came to feel exploited by Wenner. “They liked each other; they didn’t like each other,” recalled Diane von Furstenberg, the fashion designer and entrepreneur who befriended both men in the early 1970s. “Mick always thought that Jann took advantage of him.”
When the Stones returned to San Francisco in 1972, Jagger and Wenner could share a laugh and some dope and rarely mention the little Altamont debacle. Why make things unpleasant? They could even put off the trademark issue — for now. In the cosseted back rooms of the rock-and-roll business, where ambition and self-interest casually tangled in stoned grins and idle flattery, this sort of thing was simply called being “friends.” “They’re very similar people,” observed Keith Richards. “They’re both very guarded creatures. You wonder if there’s anything worth guarding.”