ROLLING Stone, the magazine which has chronicled popular culture for five decades, celebrates the 50th anniversary of its first edition today.

It was on 9 November, 1967, that publisher Jann Wenner — then just 21 — brought out the first edition of a magazine that has long since achieved legendary status.


REMARKABLY, the 71-year-old Wenner is still in charge of Rolling Stone, though his son Gus now does most of the ‘hands on’ work that includes the magazine’s expanding digital products.

Born in New York, Wenner was a student at the University of California in Berkeley during the era of flower power. Wenner was noted for the ‘Something’s Happening’ column he wrote for the student newspaper.

He dropped out of university, moved to San Francisco and began working on Ramparts, a left-wing magazine where his mentor was Ralph J Gleason, a contributing editor who doubled as the jazz critic of the San Francisco Chronicle.

The two men decided that a new bi-weekly magazine containing news and features about the music scene might sell well, and they decided to call it Rolling Stone after the band, as well as Muddy Waters’ blues hit Rolling Stone and the Bob Dylan song Like a Rolling Stone. The first major article was on the Monterey Pop Festival.

Wenner borrowed $7500 from the family of his future wife, Jane Schindelheim to get things started and she was to prove a massively valuable collaborator as the magazine took off.

They were married for 28 years until Wenner came out as gay and moved in with a male model,

though she knew he had affairs with men during their unconventional marriage.


FROM the first edition its mix of solid journalism, gossip and features on the musical figures of the day saw Rolling Stone sell well and marked it out as a distinctive voice in the media.

Its cover photographs were to become famous — not least because Wenner discovered brilliant photographers such as Annie Leibovitz who got her first commission on the magazine at the age of 21.

Appearing on the cover of Rolling Stone is often said to be the recognition that someone has arrived on the music or film scene. John Lennon was the first star to be on the cover and the Beatles collectively hold the record for most cover appearances.

The magazine has gone through several formats and the range of subjects it has covered has varied with the times, but the mix of news, interviews, and features on modern popular culture such as rock music and films has stayed a constant thread throughout the past 50 years, though older readers lamented the magazine’s lurch into celebrity coverage from the 1990s onwards.

After Gleason’s death in 1975, Wenner moved the headquarters of Rolling Stone to New York, and while the punk movement dented the magazine’s circulation and reputation — Wenner thought it would be a short fad — it was still profitable.

Wenner’s own larger-than-life approach to sex, drugs and rock n’ roll coloured the magazine’s ethos, but he was also very shrewd in seeing that the youth of the late 1960s and 70s also wanted some serious writing and journalism, though not the usual dry forensic kind that American newspapers specialised in.

He employed several writers who went on to write novels and film scripts such as Joe ‘Basic Insinct’ Eszterhas and Cameron Crowe who wrote Jerry Maguire and who still writes for Rolling Stone. Oh, and Hunter S Thompson.


BY some way, the most famous writer on the paper was Hunter S Thompson, credited as the founder of gonzo journalism in which the writer eschews objectivity and becomes part of the story.

Thompson’s seminal work Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas was published in its entirety in Rolling Stone and he became both a political reporter of note and someone who was not afraid to chart his own adventures with drugs. He remained part of the magazine’s team until he killed himself in 2005.

In many ways, Hunter S Thompson made Rolling Stone, and in turn it made him.


HAVING once reportedly been offered $500m dollars for the magazine, Wenner resisted all offers even when the magazine’s circulation reached a peak of 1.5m copies in 2006.

It has suffered a decline in common with a lot of the print media but its digital revenues had been among the American publishing industry’s leaders. It has also had some superb exclusives in recent years, including its expose of the Libor financial scandal and the American forces’ difficulties in Afghanistan and also interviews with Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, though its journalistic reputation suffered a blow when a patently error-strewn story about an alleged gang rape at the University of Virginia saw the magazine sued for tens of millions.

Always one with an eye to the market, Wenner diversified into other publications, buying US Weekly and starting Glixel, the online publication that covers video games and other non-mainstream culture.

Last year Wenner sold a 49 per cent share for a reported $50m to a Singaporean invester and in September he announced that the remaining 51 per cent was up for sale.

After 50 years of Rolling Stone, it appears that Jann Wenner has finally decided to let his baby go.