Just days after Rolling Stone magazine founder Jann Wenner was removed from the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Foundation’s Board of Directors following an interview with the New York Times in which he addressed criticism of the myopic scope of his new book, The Masters, the members of Living Colour weighed in on the controversy in a pointed statement.
The pioneering 1980s “Cult of Personality” funk metal band — whose guitarist, Vernon Reid, helped form the Black Rock Coalition in 1985 — said the fact that Wenner would title his book The Masters without including a single woman or Black artist is absurd on its face. “The very idea of a book called The Masters‘ which blatantly omits the essential contributions of Black, people of color and women to Rock & Pop Culture speaks to a much larger and more systemic problem,” wrote the band, whose members include singer Corey Glover, bassist Doug Wimbish and drummer Will Calhoun.
“His New York Times interview statement that African American and female artists are not ‘articulate’ enough to express themselves about their own work is absurd on its face,” it continued. “For someone who has chronicled the musical landscape for over 50 years, it is an insult to those of us who sit at the feet of these overlooked geniuses.”
In the Times interview, Wenner, 77, discussed the book that collects interviews he’s done over the years for the magazine, comprised of only white men, including U2’s Bono, Bob Dylan, Jerry Garcia, Mick Jagger, John Lennon and more. No women or people of color are included in the book, with Wenner noting in the introduction that neither made the cut because they were not in his “zeitgeist.”
“When I was referring to the zeitgeist, I was referring to Black performers, not to the female performers, OK? Just to get that accurate,” Wenner told the Times’ David Marchese. “The selection was not a deliberate selection. It was kind of intuitive over the years; it just fell together that way. The people had to meet a couple criteria, but it was just kind of my personal interest and love of them. Insofar as the women, just none of them were as articulate enough on this intellectual level.”
Wenner then attempted to clarify his views, saying, “It’s not that they’re not creative geniuses. It’s not that they’re inarticulate, although, go have a deep conversation with Grace Slick or Janis Joplin. Please, be my guest. You know, Joni [Mitchell] was not a philosopher of rock ’n’ roll. She didn’t, in my mind, meet that test. Not by her work, not by other interviews she did. The people I interviewed were the kind of philosophers of rock … Of Black artists — you know, Stevie Wonder, genius, right? I suppose when you use a word as broad as ‘masters,’ the fault is using that word. Maybe Marvin Gaye, or Curtis Mayfield? I mean, they just didn’t articulate at that level.”
Wenner, who founded the magazine in 1967 and was its editor and editorial director until 2019, was removed from the board of the RRHOF on Saturday after an emergency vote in which all the board members except for one chose to oust him; hours later he issued an apology for his comments.
“In my interview with The New York Times, I made comments that diminished the contributions, genius, and impact of Black and women artists and I apologize wholeheartedly for those remarks,” he said in a statement provided to The Hollywood Reporter. “The Masters is a collection of interviews I’ve done over the years that seemed to me to best represent an idea of rock ‘n’ roll’s impact on my world; they were not meant to represent the whole of music and it’s diverse and important originators but to reflect the high points of my career and interviews I felt illustrated the breadth and experience in that career. They don’t reflect my appreciation and admiration for myriad totemic, world-changing artists whose music and ideas I revere and will celebrate and promote as long as I live. I totally understand the inflammatory nature of badly chosen words and deeply apologize and accept the consequences.”
The Living Colour statement said that as far as the band was concerned, the apology did not temper the original comments by Wenner. Futher, the said the book’s lack of diverse voices, especially from someone who chronicled the rock music landscape for half a century, was an affront on multiple levels. “It is an insult to those of us who sit at the feet of these overlooked geniuses. To hear that he believes Stevie Wonder isn’t articulate enough to express his thoughts on any given subject is quite frankly, insulting,” they wrote. “To hear that Janis Joplin, Joni Mitchell, Tina Turner, or any of the many Woman artists that he chooses not to mention, are not worthy of the status of Master, smacks of sexist gatekeeping, and exclusionary behavior.”
The statement concluded, “Mr. Werner’s [sic] apology only solidifies the idea. That his book is a reflection of his worldview suggests that it is narrow & small indeed.”
Wenner was inducted into the RRHOF as a non-performer in 2004 and was one of the founders of the Foundation in 1983; her served as the Foundation’s chairman from 2006-2020. He left Rolling Stone in 2019 when the publication was acquired by Penske Media Corporation, which is also Billboard‘s parent company.
RS — whose president and CEO is Wenner’s son, Gus Wenner — issued a statement on Monday (Sept. 18) distancing itself from the magazine’s founder. “Jann Wenner’s recent statement to the New York Times do not represent the value and practices of today’s Rolling Stone,” the publication tweeted. “Jann Wenner has not been directly involved in our operations since 2019. Out purpose, especially since his departure, has been to tell stories that reflect the diversity of voices and experiences that shape our world. At Rolling Stone‘s core is the understanding that music above all can bring us together, not divide us.”
See Living Colour and RS‘s statements below.