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Jann Wenner Is Garbage. But Not Because He's a Boomer.
He's garbage because he erases boomers who aren't white men.
Jann Wenner, legendary founder of Rolling Stone magazine, has always been a racist, sexist ass. He decided recently that he wanted to make sure everyone still knew it.
As his venue for self-humiliation, he chose a New York Times Q&A with journalist David Marchese. Marchese asked Wenner why his new book of interviews with seminal rock figures, The Masters, consists entirely of discussions with white men. Wenner spun, spewed, and finally said “Insofar as the women, just none of them were articulate enough on this intellectual level,” and then added, “maybe I 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.”
Stevie Wonder and Joni Mitchell don’t measure up to Bono and Jerry Garcia on an intellectual and historical level according to Jann Wenner. Because, as I mentioned, Jann Wenner is a bigoted piece of shit.
Lots of people on social media and in just regular media have been mocking Wenner, as they should. In some cases, they sum up their dismissal in one word: boomer.
And I get it. Wenner is the embodiment of the aging bigoted boomer white guy rock canon.
But also…the interview is specifically about how the boomer white guy rock canon is bigoted because it ignores all these boomers who weren’t white guys.
Wenner no doubt would insult Beyoncé or Olivia Rodrigo if he had the chance. But in this interview he specifically dismisses the intelligence and articulateness of people of his own generation and “zeitgeist” who don’t happen to belong to that club of unending perspicacity, white men. He specifically and by name insults Janis Joplin (b. 1943) and Grace Slick (b. 1939). But he’s also dismissing, by implication and omission Diana Ross (b. 1944), George Clinton (b. 1941), and innumerable others.
“Boomer” is an easy insult because, in the US, there’s a good bit of stigma and prejudice against elderly people. Calling Wenner old and out-of-touch has a satisfying sting.
But the sting is less satisfying when you realize that conflating “boomers” with “white male boomers” reenacts the same erasure that Wenner himself is perpetuating. Wenner is trying to write Black artists and woman artists out of history. That’s an active choice, because Black and women artists—and very much Black women artists—were central to rock history and to the history of popular music.
“What didn’t the rock’n’roll generation do?” Wenner asks in an excess of self-aggrandizement. Anti boomers might point around at the world and say that the boomers left us a mess. And yes, some boomers did—like Newt Gingrich (b. 1943), George W Bush (b. 1946), and Bill Clinton (b. 1946) too. But other boomers—like, say, Angela Davis (b. 1944), John Lewis (b. 1940), Carol Leigh (b. 1951), and Kimberlé Crenshaw (b. 1959) dedicated their lives to making the country less bigoted, less cruel, less stifling and more free.
There’s little doubt which side Wenner was on. He spent his career trying to keep down critics like Ellen Willis and Cheo Hodari Coker and ensuring that only white men got boosted, promoted, and remembered in his shitty magazine. If there was progress, it wasn’t his fault. If Rolling Stone occasionally managed to acknowledge that Tina Turner existed, it was, The Masters assures us, only because Wenner was looking the other way.
We should make sure we’re not looking the other way, too, though. History often seems to be the story of white guys because white guys have the power and are able to tell the stories. But their monologues are always enabled by, and built on, the exclusion of other voices and other songs. Wenner is so vain he probably thinks the boomers are about him. They aren’t. We shouldn’t let him claim them.
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