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Rolling Stone Founder Says Black & Female Artists Not 'Articulate Enough On This Intellectual Level'

16 September 2023 | 10:06 am | Mary Varvaris

Jann Wenner defended the lack of diversity in his new book, 'The Masters', arguing that "The people I interviewed were the kind of philosophers of rock."

Jann Wenner

Jann Wenner (Source: screenshot via YouTube)

Rolling Stone magazine co-founder Jann Wenner has made waves with a new interview in The New York Times that was conducted to promote his new book, The Masters.

Speaking with David Marchese, Wenner was asked to address the seven white men who make up the interview subjects in his new book: Bruce Springsteen, Mick Jagger, Bono, Bob Dylan, Jerry Garcia, John Lennon, and Pete Townshend.

Defending the lack of diversity in The Masters, Wenner argued that Black artists and women in music “just didn’t articulate at the level” compared to the white men interviewed in his book.

Marchese listed just a handful of names that could have been featured in his book – “Janis Joplin, Joni Mitchell, Stevie Nicks, Stevie Wonder, the list keeps going”, “Carole King, Madonna. There a million examples”, Wenner responded that Black performers were not part of his “zeitgeist” while writing The Masters.

Wenner said, “When I was referring to the zeitgeist, I was referring to Black performers, not to the female performers, OK? Just to get that accurate.”

Elaborating on the choices of artists, Wenner explained that it wasn’t “a deliberate selection” and “intuitive over the years”, revealing that his interview subjects – who are his friends – were chosen based on his “personal interest and love of them”.

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“Insofar as the women, just none of them were as articulate enough on this intellectual level,” Wenner added, “Joni 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.”

While he called Stevie Wonder a “genius” and criticised the use of a word as broad as “masters”, Wenner went on to say that examples such as Marvin Gaye or Curtis Mayfield “just didn’t articulate at that level.”

When Marchese argued that Wenner’s choices were about artists he was interested in rather than the musicianship of the artists themselves, Wenner replied, “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. Which, I get it.”

Jann Wenner co-founded Rolling Stone in 1967 and left the magazine in 2019. Since his departure, Wenner has written two books, The Masters, which will be released on 26 September, and his memoir Like A Rolling Stone which was released last year. The book was a New York Times bestseller.

New York Times contributor and author Jody Rosen responded to the interview with Wenner on Twitter, writing, “Why poptimism happened: read this wild NYT Jann Wenner Q&A, in which JW argues that Black & women artists aren't as "articulate on an intellectual level" as white male rockers. Poptimism was a corrective to a critical consensus that hallowed white dudes w/guitars above all others”.

Music journalist Jeremy Gordon added, “Maybe not surprising, but it's just a little crazy that the founder of the most influential music publication of all-time straight-up admitted he didn't take music made by women and people of color [sic] as seriously as the white guys”.