Bob Dylan made a rare public remark from the stage during his show at the Beacon Theatre in New York on Thursday night (Nov. 16) in which he offered up unequivocal support for his embattled friend, Rolling Stone magazine founder Jann Wenner.
“All right, like to say hello to Jann Wenner who’s in the house. Jann Wenner, surely everybody’s heard of him,” Dylan can be heard saying in a recording tweeted out by Dylan.FM Podcast of his comments to the crowd at the show. Billboard has confirmed the accuracy of Dylan’s quote. “Anyway, he just got booted out of the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame – and we don’t think that’s right, we’re trying to get him back in.” At press time a spokesperson for the RRHOF Foundation had not returned Billboard‘s request for comment.
Dylan, 82, was referring to Wenner’s removal in September from the board of directors of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Foundation after the organization’s 77-year-old co-founder made remarks in a New York Times interview that many labeled racist and sexist. While Wenner is still a member of the RRHOF as a non-performer, the organization’s board removed him from the Foundation after a Times interview to promote Wenner’s The Masters book in which the interviewer asked why there were no conversations with women or people of color in his collection.
Wenner, the former chairman of the RRHOF Foundation, conducted interviews with all white men for the book, including Bono, Bob Dylan, Jerry Garcia, Mick Jagger, John Lennon, Bruce Springsteen and Pete Townshend. In the introduction, Wenner explained that women and POC 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 NYT writer 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 attempted to clarify his stance, saying he was not suggesting 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.”
Shortly after his removal from the board — and an unsuccessful plea to remain on it during an emergency meeting — Wenner issued an apology in which he noted that his comments in the Times, “diminished the contributions, genius, and impact of Black and women artists and I apologize wholeheartedly for those remarks.”
He said the book is a collection of interviews he’s done over the years that seemed to him to be 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 apology and walk-back, however, did little to calm the fury over Wenner’s original comments, with few, if any, artists or friends speaking out publicly to support him. Wenner left Rolling Stone in 2019 when the publication was acquired by Penske Media Corporation, which is also Billboard‘s parent company.
The magazine, whose president and CEO is Wenner’s son, Gus Wenner, issued a statement amid the controversy distancing itself from the RS 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.”
Listen to Dylan’s comment below.
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