Bruce Springsteen engaged Rolling Stone founder Jann Wenner in a wide-ranging interview for 92nd Street Y earlier this week. The longtime friends discussed Wenner’s early years as a reporter on through the birth of Rolling Stone.
“Jann and I have known each other a long time. We’re both old men attempting to gracefully face our extinction,” Springsteen joked. “Glasses, hearing aid,” he said, tapping his ear.
Wenner discussed starting a student newspaper while in boarding school and later working on the college newspaper at Berkeley.
He said during his time at University of California, Berkeley three elements came together. “It’s a hotbed of political protests. It was the beginning of the student protest movement in the United States” and the free speech movement was in full swing, and sit-ins and other early organizing was taking place.
“It became a kind of pivotal and galvanizing political moment on campus with the demonstrations, which was followed by my discovery of drugs, and was followed by my discovery of rock and roll.” He said he had an epiphany during a sit-in demonstration where he heard Joan Baez performing Bob Dylan’s “With God on Our Side.” He said at that point he was a “preppy sort of fratty type” but her beautiful singing and the ideas behind Dylan’s song “made me start to question everything and think I have to do something. You know? And I was hearing it in the music.”
“And you say that rock and roll and music was the glue that held the generations together,” Springsteen added. He said that Wenner had “your tribe” while he was at Berkeley, but for Springsteen “in Freehold there was no tribe, you know, the only tribe was the other tribe that was trying to kick your ass for the way that you looked,” Springsteen continued. “But the thing that was so important to me initially, was the day I walked into that first newsstand and saw that first copy of Rolling Stone, there was that tremendous feeling sort of, of like, ‘OK, I’m not completely alone out there.’”
They went on to talk about how the magazine’s vision focuses on covering all facets of the rock and roll ethos, encompassing issues such as social justice and human rights and bringing together political and cultural topics into the fold. They also talked about the many iconic writers who helped define the magazine.
Wenner also appeared on The Tonight Show last night to reflect on his career, explaining to host Jimmy Fallon how Rolling Stone impacted the way music was understood in culture.
“It wasn’t anything like today,” Wenner said of the perception of rock music before the magazine, which he founded in 1967. “And we just kind of helped bring it to the world [and] say, ‘Hey this stuff is great.’ … We were the first people to come along and really write about it as a kind of very artistic, very meaningful, very important thing that communicated with young people. And that was going to be the sound heard around the world.”