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How Does It Feel?
Rolling Stone covered rock with tough love. In an early issue, critic Jon Landau panned guitar god Eric Clapton's hot supergroup, Cream: "Clapton is a master of blues cliches . . . a virtuoso at performing other people's ideas."
Clapton read the review and agreed. "It was true!" he told an interviewer years later. "I immediately decided that that was the end of the band."
Rolling Stone killed Cream! Such was the power of Wenner's brainchild.
In 1970, a writer wearing shades and a bad wig over his shaved head showed up in Wenner's office carrying two six-packs of beer and pitching a story idea about his campaign for sheriff of Aspen, Colo., on the "Freak Power" ticket. His name was Hunter S. Thompson, and soon he was Rolling Stone's biggest star.
After the piece about his campaign -- he lost, but not by much-- he did a story on Latino activists in Los Angeles. In 1971, he wrote a long, rambling, hilarious piece about a drug-fueled trip to Las Vegas to cover a motorcycle race and district attorneys convention.
"We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold," it began -- an opening line that soon became nearly as famous as "Call me Ishmael."
"Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" caused a sensation, first as a two-part story in Rolling Stone, then as a best-selling book. Wenner dispatched Thompson to cover the 1972 presidential campaign in his wild "gonzo" style, and his "Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail" made Rolling Stone a must-read for political junkies.
Soon Rolling Stone was America's hot mag, filled with amazing stories: Joe Eszterhas on crooked cops and hippie murders; Timothy Crouse on the Washington press corps; Howard Kohn revealing the inside story of the Patty Hearst kidnapping; Tom Wolfe on the Mercury astronauts, rough drafts of what later became "The Right Stuff." Plus great rock profiles by a teenager named Cameron Crowe, who later went on to direct "Almost Famous," a movie about his experiences as a teenage writer for Rolling Stone.
Wow! All that, plus eye-popping photos by the soon-to-be-legendary Annie Leibovitz.
He'll Take Manhattan
In 1977, Wenner left funky old San Francisco and moved the operation to New York, center of the publishing world.
Ensconced in fancy Fifth Avenue digs, he expanded his empire. That same year, he founded Outside, a hip outdoors magazine, then sold it. In 1979, he briefly ran Look magazine before it folded. In 1985, he bought a piece of Us -- a poor man's People magazine -- and lost millions until the new millennium, when editor Bonnie Fuller turned it into a huge moneymaker.
In 1992, he founded Men's Journal, an outdoorsy lifestyle magazine that has been a modest success. In 1994, he started Family Life, which soon expired. By then, Wenner had changed the name of his enterprise from the cheeky Straight Arrow Publishing to the plain Wenner Media.