HITS Daily Double


There’s been considerable chatter over stories in Penske-owned trade publications regarding former Rolling Stone chief Jann Wenner’s opposition to superattorney Allen Grubman’s induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, which Wenner formerly led, and Grubman’s selection as recipient of the Hall’s Ahmet Ertegun Award. Wenner’s displeasure was expressed most vocally in a contretemps with Grubman during a Zoom with the RRHOF board, and the acrimony on display shocked the heavyweights on the call. Wenner claimed Grubman contributed nothing to the history of rock, and the attorney reportedly shot back: “What have you done except sell some magazines?” Wenner’s animus toward the barrister, who was present at the founding of the Hall, appears to go back many years.

The Ertegun Award has previously gone to managers, agents, concert promoters, record execs and other industry players. Grubman’s client roster has included U2, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, Madonna, Elton John, David Geffen and other giant figures; his contribution to their careers has been vast and indisputable.

After Seymour Stein’s retirement and the deaths of Ertegun and Bob Krasnow, Wenner’s impulses were unchecked, and his rule at the Hall in some respects resembled a monarchy. His autocratic and arbitrary leadership often entailed using the Hall, much as he used the cover of his magazine, to reward and punish. He also enshrined his increasingly outdated, narrow vision of rock 'n' roll as dudes with guitars and has doggedly refused to recognize or celebrate the emergence of hip-hop as the torchbearer of rock’s insurrectionary youthquake energy. Wenner’s blinkered mindset also seriously blunted Rolling Stone’s impact over the last few decades and doubtless contributed to its devaluation as a brand.

Most in the biz agree that the Rock Hall was fading into irrelevance with Wenner as its pilot and has been significantly rejuvenated under John Sykes’ more judicious leadership, which has of course included bringing more top industry figures into the fold. Sykes has also quite conscientiously made the induction process more inclusive and diverse and has been outspoken about celebrating genres like R&B—from which rock was born—and rap, which is one of its truest descendants.

As for the Rolling Stone founder, who sold his publication to Penske in 2017 for a reported $51m (though it was once considered to be worth many times that amount) and holds no position there, he has lately cut something of a tragic figure. His high-dudgeon rant at Grubman—who remains one of the most powerful attorneys in the biz decades after first earning that sobriquet and is now to be feted by the Rock Hall, Wenner’s erstwhile cultural stronghold—provided the industry-heavy Zoom room with a close-up look at his abiding anger. He recently published a memoir with the on-the-nose title Like a Rolling Stone, so the story of his outburst may help move a few copies. But will the RRHOF’s current leadership continue to tolerate his bitter diatribes, or will it decide, at last, to turn the page?