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‘Real origins here on this campus’: Rolling Stone founder Jann Wenner discusses magazine, career

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Wenner discussed the beginnings of Rolling Stone and the experiences that inspired it.


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JANUARY 25, 2023

Music and culture magazine Rolling Stone founder Jann Wenner spoke in discussion with music journalist and former campus faculty member Greil Marcus on Tuesday night as part of the Chris Boskin Deans’ Speaker Series.

Wenner and Marcus met while students at UC Berkeley and went on to collaborate throughout their professional careers, with Marcus also acting as the first records editor of the music and culture magazine Rolling Stone.

Wenner and Marcus’ conversation covered topics ranging from the Free Speech Movement to current journalism and Bob Dylan.

What’s really fortuitous is that when we walked in, Bob Dylan’s ‘Like a Rolling Stone’ was playing,” Marcus said. “And even with all the static coming through the speakers and noise from the crowd, the force of that song, the just overwhelming vehemence of that performance just shot right through.”

“Like a Rolling Stone” is the name of Wenner’s recent memoir and a topic of Marcus’ writing.

Wenner and Marcus further reflected on the impacts Berkeley had on their creative endeavors.

“Rolling Stone, its real origins are here on this campus, and the things that happened on this campus, and the things I went through while living on this campus — the beginning of my acquaintance with drugs and with rock-and-roll,” Wenner said during the discussion.

He added that it was at 1841 Ashby Ave. in Berkeley that he “planned and plotted” the magazine.

Marcus noted how the Free Speech Movement, which he cited was a possible catalyst for Berkeley Alice Waters’ restaurant Chez Panisse, perhaps spurred similar inspiration for the magazine.

“There was always a moment of growing up and going to college when you feel independent and on your own,” Wenner said during the discussion. “But that moment and that time of (1963-64), there was a whole other realization coming that was more intense than any earlier people who were turning 18. Now you weren’t buying into the system anymore.”

Towards the end of the event, audience members asked questions.

When asked about his motivation to start Rolling Stone, Wenner noted that it was “some other catalyst,” and not necessarily his time as a columnist at The Daily Californian, that inspired him, particularly noting music magazines and the San Francisco Chronicle.

Wenner also discussed how recessions and economic downturns impacted the business of Rolling Stone. He said the magazine had mostly done well through these times, but that the internet has posed problems for Rolling Stone and print journalism overall, adding that it should be “more regulated.”

“The founders of this country gave privilege and rights to the free press for the reason that the press would create an informed public, which would guide public policy and be a guardrail for democracy,” Wenner said. “And the government has learned to regulate (the press) … no such restriction applies to the internet, yet (it is) the major avenue of public discourse.”

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JANUARY 25, 2023