Star power burns bright in Rolling Stone founder Jann S. Wenner's memoir "Like a Rolling Stone"
Rolling Stone magazine founder and influential editor Jann S. Wenner's memoir exudes Baby Boomer aspirations, arrogance and delusions.
"Like a Rolling Stone" gives a blow-by-blow account of Wenner's career in the rock and roll fast lane, from the founding of Rolling Stone on a shoestring in 1967 to his giving up control of his Internet-challenged media empire after Donald Trump's election shocked Wenner's cohort of celebrity progressives.
Like images flashing past in a video game, Wenner beams out a dizzying array of famous names, dinner parties, cruises, ski trips. concerts, power lunches and drug-drenched bacchanalias.
While Wenner gives an impressive roll call of of Rolling Stone's scoops and journalistic innovations, his hedonism, egoism and thirsting for celebrity validation exhibit the worst excesses of his generation.
He breathlessly chronicles what he characterizes as close friendships with superstars John Lennon, Bob Dylan, Mick Jagger, Bono, Bruce Springsteen and Pete Townshend, closely linking his magazine to promoting their careers. He also boasts of friendships with recording industry executives, a bit close for a music journalist.
Never resting from the social swirl, he also recalls close relationships with Jackie Onassis, John F. Kennedy Jr., Al Gore, Bill Clinton, Tom Wolfe, Bette Midler and Michael Douglas.
The rapid-fire collision of names, gossip and events makes for an exciting narrative, much more captivating than Joe Hagan's lackluster biography "Sticky Fingers."
As the magazine rises in power and influence, and he launches new magazines like "Us Weekly," Wenner veers further and further away from the modest communal values of co-founder Ralph J. Gleason.
Rolling Stone star writer Hunter S. Thompson's rise and sad decline is the book's tragic centerpiece. Fans of Rolling Stone's classic days will again thrill to Thompson's emergence in the magazine with "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" and his coverage of presidential campaigns. Wenner poignantly expresses the despair and heartbreak of Thompson's mental and physical downfall, culminating in his suicide.
Wenner nearly met a similar fate. He recounts his recovery from a terrifying health crisis that almost caused his death. But he came back to write his memoirs.
On his last issue of Rolling Stone, he placed young environmental activist Greta Thunberg on the cover.
At 75, he's forever young.
All's Not Korrect in spelling today
Dear Benjamin Dreyer: Okay is not OK.
The esteemed grammarian violated the Associated Press Stylebook this week, using the variant spelling "okay" in a witty Washington Post column on "contronyms," words like cleave that have opposite meanings, an apt subject for January, the "two-faced month."
"Okay "would be proper for addressing someone named Kay, such as Katharine Graham, the late Washington Post publisher.
Dreyer, Random House's executive managing editor and copy chief and the author of "Dreyer's English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style," surprisingly doesn't know the AP Stylebook's preferred OK, also recommended by Webster's dictionary.
A Washington Post copy editor should have saved Dreyer from the error. But such misspellings are common these days, even in esteemed publications like The New York Times and Times Literary Supplement.
I often see advisor instead of adviser, protestor in place of protester.
Confusion reigns over the proper use of rein. Principle/principal, capital/capitol, forego/forgo and discrete/discreet are often misapplied.
Spell check gone awry causes some of the errors. But declining editing standards are mostly to blame.
Sally Jenkins covers San Francisco 49ers for Washington Post
While layoffs loom at the Washington Post, the newspaper's star sports columnist Sally Jenkins covers the San Francisco 49ers' playoff run.
Jenkins, the daughter of the legendary golf and college football writer Dan Jenkins, displayed old-school sportswriting grandiosity in a Post column describing the 49ers' workmanlike victory Sunday over the hapless Dallas Cowboys to advance to the NFC finals against the Philadelphia Eagles.
In her lengthy sojourn in California, nearly 3,000 miles away from the newspaper's hometown, Jenkins also chronicled the 49ers' opening-round playoffs win over the Seattle Seahawks. Displaying her father's descriptive gifts, she gave a vivid picture last week of California rainstorms drenching the famed Pebble Beach golf course.
I enjoyed Jenkins' impressionistic column in Monday's Post about the 49ers tight end George Kibble's juggling catch of a pass from rookie sensation Brock Purdy to subdue the Cowboys.
But after all of the turmoil about the Washington Post layoffs, Jenkins' extensive 49ers coverage seems strange. Like other sports columnists, she's likely ringing up a sizable expense account.
Jenkins' following a team on the other side of the continent from Washington recalls the glory days when the Post and other newspapers sent big-time writers to important sporting events. But the newspaper's imminent job losses expose the perilous state of once invincible papers like the Post.
The newspaper recently laid off Pulitzer Prize-winning dance critic Sarah Kaufman. Jenkins makes pro football a ballet.
Stephen Sondheim interviews give engaging portrait of theatrical giant
New Yorker writer D.T. Max conducted a series of interviews with Stephen Sondheim for a magazine profile that never appeared, except for a couple of Talk of the Town pieces.
Intially receptive to the extensive New Yorker piece, Sondheim eventually turned against its publication, fearing it would expose too much of his private life.
But Sondheim fans can glimpse the late composer's generally warm yet prickly personality in Max's "Finale: Late Conversations with Stephen Sondheim," a compilation of interview transcripts, along with Max's commentaries.
Recorded at Sondheim's townhome at New York City's Turtle Bay and his home in Connecticut, where the musical theater giant died at age 91 in late 2021, the casual interviews reveal a generous, urbane man who fiercely defends his artistic standards.
Sondheim as if talking to the reader gives engaging recollections of his career as a major figure in musical theater, recalling producers, librettists, actors and the production of shows such as "Sweeney Todd," "Company," "Follies," and "Sunday in the Park With George."
Along with theater lore and gossip, Sondheim discusses his composing techniques, fascinating even for those with little understanding of musical theory. Those in a variety of creative fields can benefit from his artistic practices.
In the most entertaining chapter, Max presents a journalistic account of accompanying Sondheim to a PEN writers organization event where Sondheim received an award, presented by Meryl Streep. In the piece, Streep and Sondheim talk about their long friendship, which began when Streep was a drama student at Yale.
Opening a curtain on the sophisticated social life of theatrical artists, Streep and Sonheim look back on enchanted evenings playing charades and other parlor games, some invented by Sondheim. The interviews disclose that Sondheim delighted in puzzles, and once wrote crossword puzzles for New York magazine.
He also loved old movies, classical show tunes, literature and Broadway plays. He was devoted to working each day. At the time of the interviews, he was working on several projects.
While Sondheim comes across as mainly genial and open, he bristles a few times when defending his rigorous standards, such as always using exact rhymes instead of slant rhymes. He even castigated celebrated lyricists like Lorenz Hart for their inexact constructions. In one interview, Sondheim criticizes Cole Porter for what he considers an egregious line in "The Taming of the Shrew."
Sondheim didn't even like his own lyrics written for Leonard Bernstein's "West Side Story," believing they were too artificially theatrical.
Max's conversations with Sondheim reveal a man who sought the best in his daily life and his illustrious work. Sondheim's music was his gift to the world.
Discovering Woody Allen's "Interiors"
Fruitlessly searching through streaming land for the Robert Gottlieb-Robert Caro documentary "Turn Every Page," I instead clicked upon "Interiors," Woody Allen's first "serious" drama.
Allen wrote and directed the moody 1978 film, not appearing in the production as he had in his previous comedies. The movie mixes Ingmar Bergman-flavored angst and New York intellectual despair. Not a lot of laughs, except for the unconscious self-mockery of the self-indulgent characters.
The film like Allen's later "Hannah and Her Sisters" explores the wounded love of sisters. Allen's wonderful cast mirrors the generational family dynamics: Maureen Stapleton, Geraldine Page and E.G. Marshall from the old guard and the then new generation of Diane Keaton, Mary Beth Hurt, Kristin Griffith, Richard Jordan and Sam Waterston.
Stapleton's appearance late in the movie as the raucous, earthy Pearl brings a welcome shot of energy to the film after long stretches of pretentious New York intellectual dialogue.
Marshall as the patriarch of the family, a successful New York attorney ready for an adventurous retirement, and Page as his mentally fragile ex-wife, an interior designer, give a masterful performance. Keaton, Hurt, Griffith, Jordan and Waterston rise to match their classical acting. .
Keaton, Allen's paramour and muse, stands out as the reflective Renata, perhaps named in homage to the New Yorker film critic Renata Adler. Her implausible success as a poet contrast with the career disappointments of her sister, Joey, played by Hurt, who resembles another winsome star of the time, Carrie Snodgress. Their conflicted relationship is the film's main dramatic fulcrum.
Waterston's performance as a long-haired counterculture radical amusingly displays the same mannerisms and vocal inflections exhibited in in his long-running role as the district attorney Jack McCoy in "Law and Order." Now 82, Waterston is again playing McCoy in a revived "Law and Order."
After unveiling the film's human relationships with dialogue and restricted settings, Allen impressively shifts to film's visual power with images of the sea, a homage to Bergman. Allen's imagery - a vase, flowers, the beach - complements his theatrical language.
The film ends with Keaton and her sisters looking out the window of their childhood home to a calm sea. They are at last ready to move on with their lives.
Allen was more European than other Hollywood directors. "Interiors" opens a different path for American cinema, sadly rarely followed.