Above him looms the building, and in it his offices, high, high overlooking Central Park and a thousand lovely lights that cost him $5 million to gaze on these next 15 years. There is a post card, a Rolling Stone post card, of the monument by night, right next to the GM building and all that . . .
Jann Wenner cranes his neck and, yes, it is all there, all that he has leased for rolling Stone, which has at last brought him, West to East, hip to staid, outside to inside, and he says a tinge of awe mingling, with a touch of mockery:
"Doesn't it look like the Daily Planet? I should put a sign up there - DAILY PLANET."
His hands, pale under the night lights, trace the rectangle of the phantom sign.
In the beginning the lights were dimmer. Rolling Stone, with its early constituency of pale children, belonged to the cruelty deformed world of rock music, its lonely perspective both wrecked and enchanced by drugs.
It's been 10 years since Jann Wenner brought out his first issue, and now the settled have embraced the outcasts, and the outcasts are thereby transformed. At Regine's, at Studio 54, solid patrons turn up with the vacant look of sated hermaphrodites, patched together with safety pins, wasted and punk. Rock has laid waste to fashion. And fashion has laid waste to rock.
And Jann Wenner dines at the Sherry Netherland.
But even in the Sherry Netherland restaurant, his neighborhood joint, with the waiters fawning all over him, he is not at ease. I have every nervous tick known to man," he says by way of explaining, the chewing on the swizzle stick, the shifting in the chair, the flinging back of hair, and the eyes - the eyes that swivel always toward the restaurant door, as if any minute now someone will glide through it, someone very, very important who will alter Wenner's life in some grave and wondrous fashion.
"Some people," says Wenner, "are jealous of my success, I'm sure. A lot of people are jealous of success. It's not new. I can't help it. I don't think about it. I don't let it worry me. I find it sad, actually. It's really lucky to be happy."
Jann Wenner knows.
He knows that people are saying, as one staffer does, "I think it's lamentable that Rolling Stone, which was once on the outside looking out." He knows how people snicker when they see the founder of that impertinent hippy-dippy rock mag now photographed by the side of Jackie O. Or Caro K. Or Rod Stewart before whom, some weeks ago at Regine's, the editor and owner of Rolling Stone stood cooling his heels, until he finally managed to jockey a seat next to the rock star and his entourage.
"If someone has a big party," Wenner says impatiently, "It's nice and polite to show up at that party. No? Don't you think? I wanted to discuss the TV show. Rod wanted to do the show so badly, and that's what's so sad. That is all fell apart."
Yes, it's all true. After 10 years of existence, Rolling Stone magazine is launching a two-hour CBS special and the list of those who declined to be on it is even more impressive than those we will see tonight at 9 o'clock.
Lily Tomlin, Rod Stewart, Richard Pryor, Mick Jagger, Jack Nicholson, Buck Henry - all these people, for one reason or another, said no to Jann Wenner.
Instead we will be seeing Bette Midler, Leslie Ann Warren, a slew of lesser-knowns (The Rubinoos, The Harlettes) Keith Moon giving lessons, in the opening skits, Steve Martin bribing Jann Wenner into putting him on the cover of Rolling Stone. There are two things to be said about that, the first being that the role of Wenner will be played by . . . Donny Osmond. The second that Wenner walked out on the show three times.
No, actually, there's a third thing, and it is being said by associate editor David Felton. "I think it's a horrible show," is his assessment. And he should know. He helped write much of it.
"But then we left the show, and they put in a lot of empty-headed stuff . . . Jann wasn't there enough. That's my feeling."
But Wenner was busy juggling the materialization of his dreams: the big movie from San Francisco where Rolling Stone was born, to New York where it's supposed to be reborn, the debut of "Outside," his outdoors publication. And - for the past three months - the big, glossy, $1.50, rotogravure, special 10th Anniversary edition of Rolling Stone.
More than anything, this issue is indicative of what Rolling Stone (and - by extension - Jann Wenner) once was, as well as what it can no longer bc.
It is - true to its roots - full of music ads.
It is self-congratulatory, something that is manifested most clearly in a piece by David Felton in which he demonstrates questionable taste with a fairly ugly crack about Robert Sam Anson. Anson is a journalist who once happened to have written a devastating article about Jann Wenner.
The anniversary contains an article by Wenner's maniacally gifted writer, Hunter Thompson - the first in a long time, since the two had a falling out.
And that article is a loud and anguished funeral wall for the '60s, for the treasure trove of ineffable liberties some of us tasted for ourselves - and others did not. Thompson writes:
"Then Sandy Thompson's wife) came back from the store with the mail and the latest issue of Newsweek, the one with the photo of Caroline Kennedy rolling Jann through the door of Elaine's on that custom-built dolly from Neiman-Marcus . . . She thought it was a photo of Caroline and Bella Abzug on the campaign trail."
At the outset he was the child of parents who owned a baby formula company - "A source of great embarrassment to me as a child," he remembers uncomfortably. Now that he is almost 32, he still looks, with his pudgy cheeks and smooth forehead, like an advertisement for their product.
After not graduating from Berkeley, it all started. Rolling Stone and its founding father tugged at the ragged outskirts of publishing on chutzpah and a $7,500 investment - 32,000 of it put up by the mother of his wife, Jane Wenner. Borne aloft on the ravings of rock music, the poignant death-of-love that began as San Francisco and ended as Altamont, Manson and love-of-death, Rolling Stone was the faithful chronicler of the underside of America.
It would then have been ideologically inconceivable for this clumsy-hip publication to have translated itself even figuratively into a prime-time variety show or a rotogravure special issue, for Rolling Stone was then the antithesis of all that. People now speak of its genius, of Wenner's genius, since 10 years ago he was only 21, but "genius" is in America a tiresome and convenient euphemism for success - Rolling Stone now gets about 38 million a year in advertising revenues. So if there was any genius involved it was this: Wenner has - and had - brilliant timing. ('Jann," Truman Capote once told a reporter, "thinks like a water moccasin."
"Am I a genius?" Jann Wenner demurs, an engaging smile on his lips. "I don't have the objectivity to answer that question. I mean that's for you to decide." Conspiratorially, he leans forward, revelling in the suggestion while mocking it with his own version of newspaper-ese. "Did he think nobody KNEW he had stolen every idea he had from Mick Jagger? Or was this boy with the 168 IQ . . ."
The waiter interrupts this litany with an apologetic request that his client put on his jacket.
Complying, Wenner continues, "In the beginning I assumed yoy publish a magazine and somehow - miraculously - we'd appear on every news-stand in the United States.
"I thought we'd get 1 million in circulation in six months. That's what I thought of as success - 1 million. Well, ha-ha."
Rolling Stone's circulation, now at 600,000, is the result of minute gradations of change - Wenner's as well as society's. "The question is," says Felton, "how do you deal with the problem that rock 'n' roll is not making the news like it once was?" Well, like any good businessman, Wenner dealt with it by diversifying. Hunter Thompson brought national politics to the magazine, a subject he found as kinky, sick and surreal as rock. Timothy Crouse, Joe Esztechas all guided Rolling Stone away from its earlier, more limited rock constituency.
None of these people is there any more. None of a lot of other people is there any more.
Some left for better opportunities elsewhere; but others departed with real bitterness toward Jann Wenner.
"I have very rigorous and high standards about who works at Rolling Stone," says Wenner. "I want honesty, high quality and to really like the person. People who've left don't meet all those standards. Hunter hasn't left. Eszterhas is writing screenplays."
But Wenner's mercurial temperament is well known. In January '76 he let go six employees in an economy measure. Later $30,000 to $40,000 was spent when he decided to switch Peter Frampton cover photos while the presses were rolling.
But none of this is the main complaint.
The main complaint is articulated by Wenner, himself, when recalling Rolling Stone's origins, he says, "What I considered success then had nothing to do with all this celebrity b...s...."
The main complaint as articulated by some staffers is that Wenner now wants assured success, well-known Names in his magazines. Jack Ford and Will Hearst on the masthead of "Outside"; and on the pages of Rolling Stone: Gail Sheehv vindicating the trials and tribulations of her boyfriend, Clay Felker; Richard Avedon; Lillian Hellman; Caroline Kennedy, who ran to him with her description of Elvis' funeral.
"Caroline's a very nice little girl," Wenner maintains stoutly. "And I would have published the piece no matter WHO wrote it . . . If it had been Francis Nurd, saying 'I went to Memphis.' She was the one person who got inside."
And as for Jackie . . . "First off, she's fascinating. People don't understand her. She's an absolutely tireless worker in the cause of New York City. She absolutely works her little butt off. It's easy to say all this *&c% about her, but she's one of the most dedicated, hardworking people in this city."
He pauses a second for her final vindication. "When we announced we were moving here, she was good to us. Introduced us to people and took a real interest in us."
No. Jan Wenner doesn't look at his special passion for upper-case recognition the way many others do - the way Garry Trudeau who draws Doonesbury does, for instance. Just as Jann Wenner doesn't look at his endorsement of Jimmy Carter's candidacy as a sellout.
"Well, Jimmy Carter endorses rock 'n' roll," he says, deadly earnest. "When he has Allman at his inauguration, he's endorsing rock 'n' roll. I prefer a President who knows something about Dyland than Montovani."
Ask not what Jann Wenner is doing with Kennedys and Carters. Ask what they are doing with him.
For it is entirely possible that that amorphous, mythical beast we call the Establishment knew exactly what it was doing when it offered Jann Wenner its dry," sunken cheek for a light peck.
Wenner responded effusively with a hyped-up, disastrous party for Jimmy Carter's nomination. The Carters responded by giving Rolling Stone inferior seats at the Democratic Convention.
David Felton says, "It's very easy to be 'Us and Them' when 'Them' are such bastards and easily defined . . . Jann can talk to you a lot about how he feels the culture and the establishment have blended. Rock 'n' roll has gotten very rich and that never seems to have bothered him that much."
Jann Wenner says, "I don't think rock 'n' roll has sold out. Any steps rock 'n' roll has made toward the Establishment, the Establishment has made toward rock 'n' roll."
Rapidly he ticks them off. "Vietnam was America's first rock 'n' roll war. 'Star Wars' was a rock 'n' roll movie. Mick Jagger is more important than Dustin Hoffman, and, yes, 'The Graduate' is a rock 'n' roll movie. I'm a rock 'n' roller. I love rock 'n' roll. That's what Rolling Stone is all about. Rock 'n' roll is here to stay. Do you see any signs of its death.?"
Why, yes - especially when it is used as a metaphor for all the discontents of civilization. Rolling Stone these days is no more of a rock 'n' roller than Jimmy Carter. It's just that - like our President - Jann Wenner finds that particular constituency useful.
"Jann doesn't want things on the walls of his new office," says a staffer. "Oh, because he knows they'll put up all those glunky psychedelic posters."
"The backwater" of talent is what Jann Wenner was quoted as saying of San Francisco. Unwittingly, that city had its revenge, when one of its dailies identified a photo of Caroline Kennedy and Wenner as "Caroline Kennedy and escort."
Well the paper later corrected that heartless bit of amnesia; and Wenner says he never did call San Francisco a "backwater" of anything. But he is, nonetheless, clearly proud of the move East.
"I wanted to live here. I wanted to move here personally to Fun City. It's nice . . . New York is the communications capital of the world."
He smiles to himself secretively, fixing his eyes on the white tablecloth. "I'm having fun. Rolling Stone could be so much better. If we could just stop [WORD ILLEGIBLE] around, it could be really good."
Jann Wenner leans back and thinks about it all, "For 10 years I've been in a position of doing nothing I didn't want to do. Am I happy? Very. I'm extremely lucky. I got my own magazine. I got to do what I want to do. The people there are fantastic."
A person there is asked if Rolling Stone will die out soon.
"No - if only because of the record advertising," is the reply. "It will be like a tree in Central Park. In need of help but still standing. Finally, we won't know it's there."
Jann Wenner shrugs. "If you stick your head above the ground trying to do something, somebody's always trying to attack you."
It is almost midnight - time to leave the Sherry Netherlands, to nod to the smiling waiters, to greet the streets of Fun City.
"Leave a big tip," he orders. "This is my hangout."