Saturday, May 31, 2008

Jann Wenner, shmuck

Re-reading Gonzo, the Jan Wenner-Corey Seymour oral biography of Hunter S. Thompson, I just read this Wenner quote from pp. 137-138, about Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas:
Then we were haggling over expenses. The magazine was on a shoestring at the time, and I had to say, 'No, you can't rent a Cadillac.' . . .
His first book of letters is consumed with correspondence about money and expenses. It's embarrassing. . . .
He was really trying to maximize the money coming in. I guess as a young and struggling writer with a wife and kid, he had to do it. . . . Hunter loved to live well, so he was constantly spending money. He was always in debt to four or five or six people. He was always in debt to me.
What a selfish, cheap bastard you are, Wenner. Thompson was out there doing genius work, some of the finest writing of the decade, work that helped establish Rolling Stone as a first-class publication, and what did you do?

"Haggling"? That's not "haggling." A journalist incurs expenses during an assignment for your publication, those are your expenses, plain and simple. You were cheating Thompson out of expense money. And then you claim that he was "in debt" to you!

1 comment:

  1. As a fan of both Thompson's and Wenner's, I have to entirely disagree with you. Wenner's writing in Gonzo, as well as many other interviews that he has done lay strong testament to the fact that he truly appreciates Hunter as a person as well as a writer.

    If you are familiar with Thompson's life, you know that he can be very volatile and even selfish or childish at times. The point of Gonzo is not to glorify every aspect of Thompson's life, it is to show us EVERY aspect of his life from those who knew him best.

    The passage that you are referring to occurred in the wake of Hell's Angels, when Thompson had established a name for himself among certain counterculture groups, and maybe further as the book did reach topseller lists, but he was by no means exposed as the verbal Midas that he would later become. It is very Hunter-esque to demand a cadillac and a penthouse room, and to destroy multiple fax machines and entirely disregard deadlines. This is part of his personality and his style, and part of what made him so amazing.

    Thompson's career was fueled and enabled by Jann Wenner, not to say that he wouldn't have found another route if he needed to, but Rolling Stone offered the perfect venue and audience for his work to prosper.

    Throughout his life, Thompson had debts to people that he often ignored. Many of those people (in Gonzo and elsewhere) hold no grudge because they feel that they were repaid in friendship and good times.

    You call Wenner a schmuck, but I think he is a saint for putting up with all of Hunter's guff, because he knew, like you said, that Hunter was "doing some of the finest writing of the decade." Wenner is a businessman, and he built an incredibly successful business, but he would not have been able to do if he were just handing out free money, like you seem to think he should have been doing.

    If you honestly think that the bills Hunter used to send to Rolling Stone in those days were invariably legitimate and reasonable journalistic expenses, then cannot possibly be familiar with Hunter or his life.

    Lastly, if any other writer working for Rolling Stone tried to pull even a fraction of the stunts that Hunter pulled, they would have been gone. Hunter was given an incredible amount of leeway, and in a very Gonzo way, he took it as far as he possibly could.