Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Surprise: Rock Hall of Fame Chairman Jann Wenner, Who Ran It Like His Private Fiefdom, Steps Down at Age 73


Jann Wenner is stepping down as chairman of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He invented the RRHOF with Atlantic Records chief Ahmet Ertegun and Sire Records founder Seymour Stein in the mid 80s. Wenner ran it, along with Rolling Stone magazine, as his private fiefdom for the last 30 years.

That he’s leaving his post is sort of shocking. I thought he’d stay with it until he keeled over. Wenner has wielded unprecedented power, especially since Ahmet died and Seymour has semi-retired. Wenner has been disloyal to friends, ripped up ballots he didn’t like, campaigned for his pals. It’s been quite a ride.

The good news is that his successor is John Sykes, who helps run I Heart Radio, co-invented MTV, and has worked as a rock manager. John is universally liked, he’s a great choice, and may be able to get some people into the Hall of Fame whom Wenner blocked for years.

Jann Wenner winding down is surprising. In the last couple of years he sold all his magazines including Rolling Stone. He hasn’t been seen much in public lately. His last pictures on WireImage were from October 2017, and he’s walking with a cane. There are no photos of him from this past spring’s RRHOF induction ceremony.

Jann’s withdrawal from the Hall added to his business retirement is quite a signal. He certainly loved rock and roll when Rolling Stone launched in San Francisco in 1967. But he became rock’s Napoleon, first with the magazine and then with the Hall of Fame. Power corrupts, as they say, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Jann’s heyday was the 60s and early 70s, that’s for sure. Rolling Stone was never a place for black acts (except for those Ertegun pushed in). When New Wave and punk came around in the mid 70s, Rolling Stone ignored them and doubled down on groups like Fleetwood Mac and the Eagles. Wenner was addicted to West Coast soft rock. As an east coast reader, I knew it was time to deplane for the NME and Melody Maker early on.

Those tastes influenced the Hall of Fame inductions once the true pioneers of rock were safely inducted. The Hall really eschewed the trailblazers of the mid 70s to 80s unless they were on Stein’s Sire Records, or the chorus of endorsements was too strong to avoid. And Wenner seemed to enjoy keeping certain 70s acts out as long as possible. Sykes, I hope, will fix that.

So the baton is passed. I hope Wenner’s exit isn’t a sign of ill health. He survived Joe Hagan’s book a couple of years ago.  It would be too bad if we didn’t get the Uncensored Wenner in hardcover before the game is over.

Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

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