Excerpts from The Oral History of Rolling Stone Magazine

Rolling Stone editor Jann Wenner recently announced he would put the magazine up for sale. Here’s a look back at some moments from the former countercultural giant’s history.

Beginnings

Jann Wenner: In 1966 I had a dream that I was standing behind Bob Dylan in line for a waterslide, and he turned to me and said, “Ask me what I think about peat moss, I’ll tell you where you’ll meet your one true love.” Now, I’d always wanted to meet my one true love, but before I had a chance to ask Bob about peat moss a cicada came in through my bedroom window and woke me up by flying into my mouth. It was just a dream, but it haunted me. I decided I needed to meet Bob Dylan.

Bob Dylan: I spent a lot of the early ’60s invading folks’ dreams, making all kinds of cryptic comments. I got the power from this old hillbilly banjo picker I met in the woods behind a Howard Johnson outside Rifkin, Louisiana. Traded it for half a pouch of tobacco and $11,000. It was a lot of fun.

Jann Wenner: Opening a waterpark was very expensive, so I asked Ed Piskerello to join me as an investor in the project.

Ed Piskerello: Jann showed up in my office with a live cicada in his mouth, so I had a hell of a time figuring out what he was saying.

Jann Wenner: That was a different cicada.

Ed Piskerello: I got the feeling that he’d been carrying that cicada in his mouth for quite a while. The racket it made was deafening.

Jann Wenner: Ed said the liability insurance we’d have to pay to run a waterpark was prohibitive and suggested that if I really wanted to meet Bob Dylan, I should start a magazine instead. At first I wasn’t sold on the idea. If we started a magazine about waterparks and then interviewed Dylan about peat moss, waterpark fans would be totally confused. Same problem if the magazine was devoted to peat moss and we conducted the interview in a waterpark.

Ed Piskerello: At one point he coughed and the cicada escaped, and he spent a couple minutes frantically chasing it around my office until he caught it. I said, Don’t you dare put that thing back in your mouth, Jann. But he did.

Jann Wenner: Finally I decided I’d just do the interview with Dylan and we’d see how it turned out, then craft the rest of the magazine around that.

Bob Dylan: People would always come up to me, say they met me in a dream and want to know whatever I’d said to them was supposed to mean. I’d always play dumb. Like, it’s your dream, man. It was hilarious.

Jann Wenner: The interview was a bust, basically. He said he didn’t even know what peat moss was, just wanted to talk about his songwriting process. Dude, who gives a shit?

Ed Piskerello: Jann was so put off by the experience that he said he was going to devote the rest of his life to burning down waterparks. But the interview he’d done with Dylan was kind of interesting, and I still liked the magazine idea. I suggested we try a rock and roll magazine, and that he should try running it for one year. At the end of that year he could quit and burn down all the waterparks he wanted, if he didn’t like being an editor. He said he’s do it with one caveat, that the magazine “be like a rolling stone—no moss.”

Jann Wenner: To this day we’ve never done a story involving moss of any kind. The biggest fight Cameron Crowe and I were ever in was when I refused to run this 80,000-word treatise he wrote on the differences between moss and lichen. No way, man. Not happening.

Bob Dylan: I stopped invading dreams in 1969. It had nothing to do with any possible guilt over maybe feeling inadvertently responsible for the Tate-LaBianca murders. I don’t know why I brought that up. I just got bored with invading dreams. I don’t know why I even brought up the Tate-LaBianca thing, because I had nothing to do with it. But now it seems like I did, because I mentioned it. But I really didn’t.

Disruption

Jann Wenner: If I was going to run a magazine, I was going to do it my way. Do something different. Everyone knows magazines have lots of pages, so I thought—what if instead of many, many pages, our magazine had just one enormous page?

Patricia Irving: I told Jann that what he was describing was sort of a newspaper, but he said it was totally different because the one page would be really, really big. I said, How big are you thinking? And he said, Big as a motherfucker.

Tommy Hall: This guy comes into my print shop and says he’s thinking about starting a magazine that won’t ever mention moss, right away my ears perk up because… people don’t remember this, but in the late ’60s everyone was talking about moss all the time. Then he says he wants one big page instead of a bunch of pages, so I showed him a sizing chart and he said the size he wanted was “big as a motherfucker.”

Jann Wenner: The real Tommy Hall was the first printer we used when we got started, but he died in 1987. This guy Brad Chalk, he’s been posing as Tommy Hall ever since. I don’t know what his game is, I don’t know why he insists on… I don’t know. I don’t know.

Tommy Hall: He told you I’m Brad Chalk? Yeah, that’s an inside joke between the two of us.

Jann Wenner: If you confront him, he’ll say it’s an inside joke. But it’s not. Tommy Hall is dead.

Patricia Irving: Jann, for whatever reason, believes that Tommy Hall died and was replaced by an impostor named Brad. There’s no basis for this whatsoever. And get this—my name is actually Rebecca Garner. I murdered Patty Irving in 1980 and stole her identity, and I’ve worked side by side with Jann every day since and he’s never once said a word about it.

Image via Rolling Stone.

HST

Jeff Foxworthy: I had my dream job, scrapping barnacles at this marina when I met Hunter and he offered me twelve grand to get onstage and perform all these jokes he’d written. Turns out he always wanted to be a redneck comedian but had terrible stage fright. I thought the stuff was pretty lame, but wasn’t in a position to turn down all that money. Obviously the act was a huge success, but I had a hell of a time getting him to pay me. I finally tracked him down in 2005, and when I confronted him he blew his brains out so he wouldn’t have to pay up.

Success

Jann Wenner: The magazine was massively successful in the 1970s. Everyone was desperate to have their picture on the cover. And sure, I suppose I took advantage of that.

Patricia Irving: Jann said he’d put the Allman Brothers on the cover of the magazine if Duane Allman spent 48 hours locked in a haunted castle. After they signed the contracts, Duane suddenly decided he should have the right to pick the haunted castle. Jann wanted to pick the castle himself. Lawyers got involved, and it got ugly.

Michael Yamagoto: Jann and Duane ended up in court over the haunted house thing, and Duane—I don’t know what he was thinking, but he brought a snapping turtle along in his briefcase. Long story short, the snapping turtle ended up taking about a quarter-inch off the judge’s dick tip. The guy was furious, and as revenge he ordered that Duane spend fifty-four years in a haunted castle.

Jann Wenner: Duane’s been locked in a haunted castle since 1971, and it serves him right. I spread the story that he died in a motorcycle accident as an extra little fuck you. He’s had no contact with the outside world, so I guess he doesn’t know his brother died back in January. That’s actually kind of a bummer. Whatever.

The Digital Revolution

Jann Wenner: When my son was around six months old, his mother and I got into an argument over whether or not he had all his bones yet. She said babies are born with all their bones, I said that didn’t make sense. He was so small, if he had all his bones they’d be sticking out at angles and everything. She said to look up infant development on the computer. That’s the first time I thought, Wow. There’s a thing called computers.

The Future

Jann Wenner: Last year I got really into restoring old medieval catapults, which is extremely gratifying but very time-consuming. So I was already thinking about selling the magazine so I’d have more time for that.

Ed Piskerello: Last year, Jann spent forty million dollars hiring skywriters to write out cheatcodes for that “Simpsons Tapped Out” mobile game over his house every morning so if he was playing the game and forgot a code he’d only have to look up to find it.

He’s broke. That’s why he’s selling, but I told him he shouldn’t tell people that. I told him to say he’s interested in other pursuits.

Jann Wenner: When I look back at my career, and I wonder what it all meant, or what kind of legacy I’ve left behind… well, I’d like to say that Bob Dylan did lead me to my one true love, only instead of it being a human it was a magazine.

I’d like to say that, but I can’t. Because you can’t fuck a magazine.