Hagan has delivered a supple, confident, dispassionately reported and deeply well-written biography. It’s a big book, one that no one will wish longer, but its chapters move past like a crunching collection of singles and not a thumb-sucking double album. It’s a joy to read and feels built to last. Hagan is among those relatively rare biographers who keeps macro and micro in yin-yang balance ... Sticky Fingers is about promises and promises betrayed, and about how Wenner’s life — his increasing obsession with fame and a plutocratic lifestyle — reflected both ... Come for the essayist in Hagan, stay for the eye-popping details and artful gossip ... After Wenner himself, Annie Leibovitz is the most fully realized character in this biography. She comes across as an endearing wild child, sleeping with some of her subjects, abandoning rental cars in haste at airports and becoming, Hagan writes, a 'full-blown drug addict whose body was, more than once, unceremoniously dumped in front of a hospital by her dealer' ... In scorning Hagan’s work, Wenner’s editorial antennae have failed him. He had the nerve to select a writer and not a hagiographer, and the decision, at the end of his long career, looks good on him.
...remarkably well-written ... In between the fanboying and the betrayals, Sticky Fingers dabbles heavily in the salacious, though seemingly without a whiff of exaggeration. Wenner’s conflicted and obsessive relationship with Jane is examined intently, as are his efforts to reconcile his bisexuality while chasing after group sex ... In the end, it’s impossible to chew through Hagan’s delicious and meticulous retelling of the magnate’s life and come away unimpressed by Wenner’s sheer ambition or unmoved by his devotion to rock ‘n’ roll. It’s a shame Wenner couldn’t read it the same way.
Sticky Fingers may sell on the basis of its ample and sometimes ridiculous rock-world lore—Mick Jagger and Paul McCartney eagerly avail themselves for score-settling—but this is all incidental to the book’s grander purposes. Hagan’s most enviable feat is that he makes this harsh history readable not by portraying Wenner as a redeemable figure (there’s no goblin with a heart of gold here), but instead by centralizing the very ambitious women who made Wenner’s path-blazing possible … Hagan’s book is both highbrow cultural digest—a curious journalistic trip through the past fifty years of the (largely white) halls of music-biz power—and, thanks to the debauched nature of rock ’n’ roll’s coagulants sex and drugs, a gloriously trashy read. Wenner’s bad side seats thousands, making for some grade-A gossip and catty digs. That said, the rock-cultural deep dive Hagan provides is also crucial and compelling.
Although he is sometimes tough on Wenner, Hagan is more than fair. Ultimately, he seems to agree with former Rolling Stone editor Will Dana that Wenner, though torn between the virtues and vices of his generation, is '51 percent good' ... Hagan, to his credit, approached the book not as a rose-tinted 'authorized biography' but as a serious work of narrative journalism. As such, it largely succeeds, wending its way through the decades, the music and the personalities ... Hagan not only helps us understand how terribly much it seemed to matter, once upon a time. He also, through his nuanced portrait of Wenner, shows us how thoroughly the publication reflected its founder, warts and all.
Hagan’s portrait of Wenner is crisp and cutting: using Wenner’s own archive, and more than two hundred and forty interviews, he narrates the story of an indulgent and widely disliked man who is obsessed with celebrity and consumed by ambition ... For Hagan, the two institutions—Wenner and his magazine—are inseparable. He approaches his topic with an essayist’s instinct: dismantle, question, question again, and surmise. Though Sticky Fingers is, at five hundred and forty-two pages, a formidable read, it’s also terrifically smart and full of anecdotes that anyone remotely interested in rock and roll, publishing, or the legacy of the nineteen-sixties will find engrossing.
Joe Hagan knew, before he typed out the first word of Sticky Fingers, his new biography of Rolling Stone founder Jann Wenner composed of endless access to Wenner and his extensive archives, and interviews with 240 others, that it would receive little love from its subject upon publication ...is, if nothing else, a testament to Wenner's cruelty, self-mythologizing and narcissism ...a 507-page book, spends just upwards of 50 pages on the years between 1990 and 2017 (many of those examining the epilogue to the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame's founding and 1995 museum opening — surprise, backs were stabbed) is darkly illustrative of Wenner and his magazine's fading importance in the post-classic phase of rock ... Wenner, through Hagan and in his own estimation, was a surrogate for rock 'n' roll and a divining rod for its future.
...a disquieting and oddly arms-length portrait of a media mogul with almost no laudable qualities beyond his ambition. To the author’s credit, he paints a portrait of his subject’s unhappy childhood — an early divorce, self-involved parents — that helps explain Wenner’s desperation for acclaim. The problem is that, for the remainder of the book, Wenner comes off as an insecure fan boy with no true principles, journalistic or otherwise ... Alas, most of Sticky Fingers is dedicated to documenting what might be called The Groupie Legacy of Wenner. We get endless pages devoted to his flirtations and feuds with rock and roll illuminati (Mick Jagger, John Lennon, Bruce Springsteen et al). We hear about his coke binges, his workplace machinations, his deals and debts, his unhappy marriage, and his affairs. Which is to say: We hear a lot about what happened but not much about what it means.
Rolling Stone has managed to chronicle both — the substantial and the tawdry — consistently over its bumpy half-century journey. Hagan’s book manages both with a rich bounty of lively anecdotes ... It’s easy to see why Wenner might not be thrilled with the book. One of the first descriptive phrases Hagan trots out for the publisher is 'boy vampire' ... there’s plenty here that Wenner would admire were he not the man in the viewfinder.
...explains, in detail both exhaustive and fascinating, how Wenner went about defining rock stardom, and how he pursued a form of it himself, turning himself into the social equal of those his magazine covered ... Hagan’s book tells us more about rock stardom than plenty of actual rock biographies, because of its one-step remove from the music, and because Wenner kept every single scrap of paper, no matter how addled with cocaine or vodka he might have been (which was very, a lot of the time), and granted Hagan full co-operation on a book that hardly allows Wenner to emerge as a hero.
It’s not the easiest read—I had to Google often while trudging through all the names—and with all of the backstory provided for Wenner’s family, friends, ex-girlfriends, and their family members, I had a hard time deciding if my experience was more like reading a textbook or crawling down a Wikipedia wormhole … While the book doesn’t shy away from Wenner’s many unflattering angles, and the fact that his unshakeable arrogance often made him unlikeable, I could relate to and empathize with other aspects of his identity and vision … Though it’s a dense read, as an alt-journalist with a clear slant to her writing, learning about Rolling Stone’s strong ties to the Democratic Party and how it became an influential and respected beacon for intelligent, critical culture writing was well worth the slog.
Exhaustively researched and startlingly candid, Sticky Fingers proves flattery works and sycophancy pays off. Through interviews with numerous stars, mostly white men, this shows that for coverage in Rolling Stone, everybody who wanted to be somebody, even those who were somebody already—including such moral role models as Bono and Bruce Springsteen—pandered to Mr. Wenner. Fans of dish will enjoy Mr. Hagan’s stories ... Sticky Fingers is both a vivid ode to wretched excess and a tribute to durability ... Joe Hagan’s book, occasionally giddy but never fawning, puts Jann Wenner in his rarefied, wealthy and fundamentally lonely place.
Anecdotes about musicians, including Lennon, Springsteen, and Jagger, among others, abound as well as stories involving some of the magazine’s finest writers and photographers, including Hunter S. Thompson, Ben Fong-Torres, Cameron Crowe, Tom Wolfe, Richard Avedon, and Annie Leibovitz. Drawing from more than 100 hours of conversation with Wenner as well as interviews with musicians, writers, publishers, friends, lovers, and past and present employees of the magazine, Hagan has fashioned a fascinating biography of a controversial figure and the iconic publication he started.
Hagan provides the most complete portrait ever of the man who has firmly gripped the magazine’s helm the whole time, a man whose thumbprint on the American culture was matched only by a vacillating stew of ego and insecurity. For fans, newbies, and journalism junkies alike, the iconic stories are here ... To his credit, Hagan doesn’t trade on his access to his subject’s celebrity friends; when Mick Jagger or Michael Douglas pop up in the narrative, it’s because they’re substantive eyewitnesses to the scene at the time. Working with his subject’s full consent and participation, the author manages to create a far deeper portrait than many readers will expect. In capturing Wenner’s legend, Hagan creates a moving portrayal of a complicated, brilliant, flawed man who genuinely moved the needle on American culture.
...[a] searingly honest biography ... Hagan, who has written for Rolling Stone, chronicles Wenner’s fawning over Mick Jagger and aborted attempt to start, with Jagger, a British edition of Rolling Stone; Keith Richards describes Wenner and Jagger as 'very guarded creatures,' but wonders if 'there’s anything worth guarding.' Hagan has provided an entertaining insider’s history of a legendary magazine.