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How Does It Feel?

"Everything had to be a little sensationalized and slightly over the top," says Will Dana, who worked under Needham, then replaced him.

Needham, who declined to be interviewed for this story, lasted only about a year. Today he runs Maxim.

Even in its darkest days, Rolling Stone still published some serious political and cultural stories. During the Britney era, Hirshey recalls, Wenner sent her out on the road for weeks for a profile of blues master B.B. King.

"Jann felt he had a responsibility to pay homage to those old guys, and I was happy to do it," Hirshey says. "Riding through Oklahoma, sitting at B.B. King's knee, it was like a mystical experience. I would forgive Jann anything, because it was his idea and he gave me 7,000 words. . . . The great thing about Jann is: He always had respect for the words."

Last month, Rolling Stone announced that it will collaborate with MTV this summer on a reality series in which college journalists compete for a job at the magazine. Wenner says he'll appear in the show, but promises that he won't be doing any Donald Trump-style firing.

"It's 'American Idol' for journalists," Zakim says, laughing. "Jann has always wanted to be an actor."

Zakim is a fan of the man who fired him twice. "People think I was insane to work for him twice, but there's something about the guy," he says. "He's a brilliant editor, he has a great eye for talent, and he has played a major role in pop culture. God bless him, he made it to 1,000 issues. Who would have thought it?"

Amped Up Again

"I think the magazine is better than it's ever been," Wenner says.

He has finished that espresso and now he's washing it down with a diet ginger ale.

"Starting in 2003, when I decided that Ed Needham wasn't going to work out and I took over the reins again, we got on a upward curve," he continues. "The election, the war, all that stuff really energized us. Those are big stories to cover, and you get amped up for big stories."

He touts Matt Taibbi, who holds Rolling Stone's unofficial Thompson-O'Rourke Chair of Gonzo Political Reporting. "He's a sharp writer -- as many laughs-out-loud as I've had with anybody since Hunter," Wenner says. "He's in Iraq right now."

Wenner's big, ballyhooed 1,000th issue is a nostalgic gallery of Rolling Stone's "100 greatest covers," along with inside info about them, including Leibovitz's revelation that at photo shoots in the '70s, etiquette required the photographer to bring "cocaine for everybody."

But right now, Wenner would rather discuss issue No. 999, which featured a cover cartoon of George Bush in a dunce cap and the question: "The Worst President in History?" The story was written by Sean Wilentz, a Princeton history professor who is also identified in the magazine as the "historian-in-residence at Bob Dylan's official web site."

Not surprisingly, Wilentz answers the cover question in the affirmative. So does Wenner.

"There's never been as incompetent and corrupt an administration in history," Wenner says. "He campaigned as a compassionate man, a healer, a uniter. He was the wolf in sheep's clothing. And on the slimmest margin -- a margin that wasn't even there -- he turned hard right."

Wenner describes himself as "a good old Democrat," and Rolling Stone has backed Democratic presidential candidates since 1972 when it endorsed George McGovern without much noticeable effect. This time out, Wenner has no particular preference.

"There seem to be several people who would make a fine president -- John Kerry, Al Gore, Hillary Clinton," he says. "You know who'd make a good president? Mike Bloomberg!"

He's excited to see rock-and-roll getting political again. "Neil Young has a record out that is really anti-Bush," he says. "Bruce [Springsteen] has put out a record called 'We Shall Overcome,' celebrating the songs and works of Pete Seeger. Green Day had the biggest record of last year, which was an anti-Bush thing. Pearl Jam has just put out a record, their best in 10 years, which is full of antiwar stuff. Once again, the rock musicians and the rap musicians are leading the charge."

Wenner is a 60-year-old man running a rock-and-roll magazine. Does he have any plans to retire?

"Not in the near future," he says.

A young woman pokes her head in the door and says a photographer has arrived to take Wenner's picture.

Walking out of his office, Wenner pauses at a big black-and-white photo of himself. It was a gift from Thompson, who fired a bullet through the photo at chest level, then added a splash of bloodlike red paint.

"He thought it was a masterpiece of art," says Wenner, who isn't sure he agrees. "I didn't like being shot in the heart."

On his way to meet the photographer, Wenner ducks into his bathroom, then sends out word that he can't be photographed today. Sorry, but he'll have to reschedule.

The problem: He has a sty in his eye.

Huh? The guy displays a picture of himself with bloody hole in his heart but he can't be photographed with a sty in his eye? Does that make any sense?

Maybe not. But that doesn't matter.

Call him vain or egomaniacal, but Wenner does what he wants to do when he wants to do it. He's been working that way since 1967, and now, after 1,000 issues of the magazine that made him rich and famous, he's not about to stop.


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