Jann Wenner’s ‘The Masters’ Flops After Disastrous NYT Interview
Jann Wenner is no stranger to controversy, but the disgraced Rolling Stone co-founder was unable to parlay his latest press debacle into better sales for his new book, The Masters.
The media magnate’s new tome, released on Tuesday, compiles interviews he conducted with seven “masters” of rock ’n’ roll: Bob Dylan, John Lennon, Mick Jagger, Jerry Garcia, Pete Townshend, Bono and Bruce Springsteen. In an interview with The New York Times to promote the book, Wenner defended his decision to feature exclusively white men by arguing that female artists and artists of color “just didn’t articulate” at the same “intellectual level” as their peers.
The fallout was swift and severe, with Wenner promptly removed from the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame’s board of directors and eviscerated on social media. It wasn't quickly forgotten either: Nearly two weeks after Wenner’s calamitous interview was published, The Masters is sitting at No. 7,594 on Amazon’s book sales list as of Thursday morning.
What Did Jann Wenner Say in his ‘New York Times’ Interview?
When asked why he included no female or Black artists in The Masters, Wenner said, “The selection was not a deliberate selection. It was kind of intuitive over the years; it just fell together that way. The people had to meet a couple criteria, but it was just kind of my personal interest and love of them. Insofar as the women, just none of them were as articulate enough on this intellectual level.”
When challenged by interviewer David Marchese, Wenner dug himself deeper into a hole. “It’s not that they’re not creative geniuses. It’s not that they’re inarticulate, although, go have a deep conversation with Grace Slick or Janis Joplin. Please, be my guest,” he said. “You know, Joni [Mitchell] was not a philosopher of rock ’n’ roll. She didn’t, in my mind, meet that test. Not by her work, not by other interviews she did. The people I interviewed were the kind of philosophers of rock.”
Wenner was similarly dismissive of musicians of color. “Of Black artists — you know, Stevie Wonder, genius, right? I suppose when you use a word as broad as ‘masters,’ the fault is using that word,” he mused. “Maybe Marvin Gaye, or Curtis Mayfield? I mean, they just didn’t articulate at that level. You know, just for public relations sake, 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.”
Jann Wenner’s ‘New York Times’ Interview Fallout
After Wenner’s comments were made public, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame — which he co-founded — announced his dismissal with a terse statement: “Jann Wenner has been removed from the board of directors of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Foundation.”
Several artists publicly criticized Wenner for his comments as well. Among them was chart-topping singer-songwriter Janis Ian, who wrote on Facebook, “Gee, guess I was never articulate enough for Jann. Guess [Joan] Baez wasn't. Certainly, Liz Phair, Dolly Parton have no way with words."
Even conservative rocker Ted Nugent, a master of right-wing hate speech and conspiracy theories, blasted Wenner for his “racist and misogynistic attacks that said that Black and female artists are not articulate enough to reference in his book about rock 'n' roll history, which is so clearly biased and so clearly racist and so clearly misogynistic. And those are the things that he has always accused me of.”
Amid the backlash, Wenner issued an apology for his remarks, insisting that his interviews in The Masters “don’t reflect my appreciation and admiration for myriad totemic, world-changing artists whose music and ideas I revere and will celebrate and promote as long as I live. I totally understand the inflammatory nature of badly chosen words and deeply apologize and accept the consequences.”