How Does It Feel?

By Peter Carlson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 4, 2006


Hunter S. Thompson is dead and the Capri Lounge is defunct, but Rolling Stone keeps rolling along. The magazine publishes its 1,000th issue tomorrow, complete with a neo-psychedelic, pseudo-Sgt. Pepper, holographic, 3-D cover.

At the entrance to Rolling Stone's offices in midtown Manhattan sits a guitar smashed by the Who's Pete Townshend. The shards of this artifact are embedded in a thick block of plastic, like some priceless relic of a prehistoric civilization.

Inside, it's clean and quiet -- not a murmur of rock-and-roll -- with fishbowl glass offices that were designed, says Managing Editor Will Dana, so that employees can't secretly snort cocaine, as many did at the old Fifth Avenue quarters in the 1980s.

In those days, the office included the infamous Capri Lounge, a dark den illuminated by a dim orange light, where staffers and guests inhaled powerful herbs and giggled at an album of Polaroids showing famous visitors inhaling powerful herbs in the Capri Lounge.

But now the Capri is just a memory fading from the minds of people whose memories aren't what they used to be.

"We don't have a Capri Lounge anymore, and the gentlemen who ran it are all gone, too," says Jann Wenner, who founded Rolling Stone in 1967 and is still the editor and publisher. "I shut that down. I said, 'We can't do this anymore. It's counterproductive to getting the magazine out on time.' It was a bad situation. And they had all those Polaroids there -- I have that book now."

He smiles. "Those were the good old days," he says.

Now 60, Wenner is sitting in his spacious office overlooking Rockefeller Center with one leg folded up on his chair. He's wearing a tie but no jacket, and his face bristles with a hip three-day growth of beard.

Jann Wenner, publisher of Rolling Stone magazine,
"I had no idea what I was doing," Jann Wenner says of his 1967 start of Rolling Stone. The 1,000th issue features 100 top covers.(Helayne Seidman - For The Washington Post)
His secretary appears, silently bearing a dose of his current drug of choice: espresso.

These days, Wenner is the kingpin of a publishing empire whose worth was estimated recently by the Wall Street Journal at between $600 million and $900 million. The counterculture icon who once inspired gossip about sex and dope now inspires gossip about . . . neatness. Scurrilous rumors allege that he periodically conducts inspections to make sure employees' desks aren't messy.

"True!" Wenner says. "I believe that a neat office is a good workplace and a neat desk reflects an orderly mind. So we clean the office up every year and everybody's required to go throw out all their old stuff. And the place looks great."

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