The first part of HBO’s new documentary on legendary rag, Rolling Stone, has a lot to offer in terms of content. Covering its early era (1967-80), all the greatest hits get a spin – Lennon’s famous interview, Hunter Thompson’s coverage of the ’72 presidential campaigns, Landau’s ‘I’ve seen the future of Rock’ Springsteen love letter, etc… Plus there’s a ton of nifty footage I’ve never seen before, mostly of the crew of intrepid journalists responsible for its success – Cameron Crowe, Ben Fong-Torres, Ralph Gleason, Jon Landau…and especially creator, Jann Wenner. A compelling story is certainly told here about the inception and execution of a new kind of magazine, committed not only to rock and roll but to a generation that would soon take over the world – the baby boomers.
There is, however, one major bum note which sort of casts a pall over the proceedings – an uncomfortably lengthy piece on the groupies of the late ‘60s – early ‘70s. In light of Weinstein and all the allegations in the news about the rampant sexual misconduct of players in the entertainment industry, to focus on the topic of young women sport fucking – many of whom were underage and on drugs – seems an odd choice at best. What’s most bizarre about it is, it was all presented in a way that essentially glorified not only the exploitation of these women, but Rolling Stone’s complicity in it. What was their back story? How did they get caught up in the scene? Was it empowering for them or were there negative repercussions in their lives? None of that is discussed.
It makes no sense to talk about these women without addressing the topic of sexual abuse. This elephant in the room took a major dump all over the documentary.
That being said, it was interesting hearing about Annie Leibovitz’s early assignments – the woman had a singular talent right from the jump – and Cameron Crowe’s initial efforts as a journalist, which according to Cameron were met with a lot of constructive criticism from Wenner.
Wenner. Yeah. That brings me to my main takeaway from this documentary. While I did appreciate learning about his back story, I couldn’t help but feel it was all a bit of a jerkoff. Jann Wenner the visionary…the mentor…the genius…the man who helped define a generation. All the compliments bestowed upon him from former colleagues about his sagacity, largesse and nurturing nature made me more than a tad queasy. There was one person, however, who didn’t seem all too thrilled about him – his ex-wife. You had to be quick to catch it, but when she said, “I say we started it…because we did,” you get the feeling that Wenner’s maybe not the dreamboat he makes himself out to be.
Ultimately, despite its flaws, it was an entertaining account of a once great publication – one of which I was an avid reader growing up. I’m eager to watch part two (1980-present) which I’m assuming will cover the magazine’s transition to a greater focus on film, pop culture and its eventual dissolution into total irrelevance.
Ultimately, despite its flaws, it was an entertaining account of a once great publication – one of which I was an avid reader growing up.