The zeitgeist is white and male, I guess

It’s rather discouraging to wake up every morning to the news that old white men are pieces of shit, since that’s my demographic. I’ve been trying desperately to convince the universe that I belong to an entirely different clade, the spider kind, but so far medical science has failed to provide a mechanism to make my transformation at all convincing.

So, Jann Wenner. That piggy-eyed asshole is looking at me this morning.

He has a new book out, The Masters, a collection of interviews with famous musicians who are all “masters,” however that is defined, and who, coincidentally, are all white men. An interviewer noticed that peculiar distribution and asked about it.

Asked by The Times how he chose the musicians to feature, Wenner replied: When I was referring to the zeitgeist, I was referring to Black performers, not to the female performers, OK? Just to get that accurate. 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, he said.

The Times reporter David Marchese, a onetime online editor at Rolling Stone, pushed back on that claim by citing Joni Mitchell.

It’s not that they’re not creative geniuses,” Wenner replied. 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 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.

I appreciate that it was kind of intuitive, not based on reason or evidence, he’s just a racist sexist ass deeply at a gut level. I mean, how can you write about the inspiration and founding figures of rock ‘n’ roll and forget to include black people and women?

I think back to my early years, and who got me excited about music, and it was Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin — who I had a crush on in 8th grade, and would love to meet and talk to, but hey, Jann, she died of a heroin overdose in 1970. I’m pretty sure she’s deeply inarticulate now.

Isn’t the whole thing about rock is the passion? If you’re looking for articulate philosophers you’re going to miss the majority of the people who made the genre work. He disregarded Joplin and Joni Mitchell and Nina Simone and Bob Marley and James Brown and Aretha Franklin and Prince because he thought only people like Mick Jagger were smart and philosophical enough to meet his standards. You know, the guy who said this:

You start out playing rock ‘n’ roll so you can have sex and do drugs, but you end up doing drugs so you can still play rock ‘n’ roll and have sex.

Profound, man. A true intellectual.


  1. birgerjohansson says

    Mick Jagger has never tried to pass himself off as an intellectual, unlike his countryman Jacob Rees-Mogg (one of the worst tory ministers).

  2. birgerjohansson says

    Since Fiji just wiped out Australia in Rugby, we might speculate the future zeitgeist looks like The Rock.

  3. StevoR says

    He has a new book out, The Masters, a collection of interviews with famous musicians who are all “masters,” however that is defined, and who, coincidentally, are all white men.

    I wonder if that means they’ll be a companion volume coming out soon called The Mistresses or The Madames with an equal number of women musicians? Actually, no, I don’t. (Nina Simone, Janis Joplin, Bette Midler, Madonna, Joan Baez, etc..,..) But there easily could and arguably should be..

    The people had to meet a couple criteria, but it was just kind of my personal interest and love of them.

    Kinda reaosnable there – if only he’d stoppe and left it at that – this is my personal faves, okay, not by itself a n issue as longa snotuing personal biases .. But then that second sentence.. NO.

  4. lotharloo says

    It’s rather discouraging to wake up every morning to the news that old white men are pieces of shit, since that’s my demographic.

    I’m sorry but I really don’t like attitudes like this. You don’t need to bring “white maleness” or show off you lack of pride in your demographics. I know you are not being actually serious here, but imagine me, a middle-eastern brown man, writing something similar: “It’s very discouraging to wake up every morning to read the news from Afghanistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia about brown middle-eastern men being pieces of shit, doing terror attacks, throwing acid on women, doing modern-day slavery. I guess that’s my demographic.”

    Obviously, we know race or age has nothing really to do with it because humans are actually unintelligent and cruel creatures who despite free and ample access to information are capable of electing some idiot like Donald Trump.

  5. raven says

    Oh Cthulhu, there is so much wrong with Wenner’s claim.

    Of course, there were and are great musicians and singers who were female, Black, or both.
    Diana Ross of the Supremes, Tina Turner, etc..
    Both Jazz, the Blues, and Rock and Roll itself had a lot of their start in Black music.

    One thing he missed being an old white male is where they came from.
    The Black and female musicians all had to deal with racism and misogyny from their start, through their whole lives, until…5 minutes ago.
    It would be an interesting story to tell what they had to deal with from our society and how they overcame it.

    For example, Diana Ross was born and raised in a public housing project in Detroit.

    The white males never had to deal with that.
    They were born already with a major advantage just being white and male.

  6. UnknownEric the Apostate says

    One of the major problems with Wenner is that he never left the late 60s behind. He spent his whole career kissing up to Jagger, McCartney, Crosby, Stills, Nash, etc. because he was convinced they were the “most important” musicians ever. Meanwhile, the world kept turning.

  7. moarscienceplz says

    Sorry, Yawn Wenner, but I find your justification for your “Masters” collection to be inarticulate as well as boring, so I’m afraid I will just have to ignore you until you die, which will be fairly soon, I hope.

  8. hemidactylus says

    I think Smashing Pumpkins were amongst the greatest ever and that Billy Corgan can be a jackass.

    Rolling Stone magazine didn’t seem to be very fond of Canadian power trio Rush so they are a fish wrapper IMO. I do recall having a subscription to the mag in junior high and being very fond of Stevie Nicks in articles featuring her.

    The sixties are over the incoming memo says.

  9. UnknownEric the Apostate says

    I had a subscription to Rolling Stone for most of the 90s, but it was never the “cool” magazine I most waited for. That was always Spin, or Magnet, or The Big Takeover. Rolling Stone was kind of the boring, middle-of-the-road magazine that would occasionally cover something interesting (and occasionally would contain a Greil Marcus essay).

  10. birgerjohansson says

    Imprinting is a real thing.
    I have myself never really internalised the miracle of rap and hiphop, no matter how I try.
    But I realise the issue is in the flexibility of my neural system.

  11. says

    PZ, it’s time to create the ‘Arachnid Silk and Fang Force 9’ to bring the ‘spider apocalypse’ down on the heads of the smug bigots like this Wenner. I’m an old white dude, too, And, I just finished listening to Booker T and the MG’s, and the Four Tops; great stuff. What about Cyndi Lauper, fun stuff, too.

  12. redwood says

    Speaking of rock musicians, I find it fascinating that a lot of the best around these days are international women groups, especially those from Asia. From Japan, check out Band-Maid, Lovebites, Nemophila, Baby Metal (headed by women, though they don’t play instruments), Gacharic Spin, Trident, Aldious, among many others. From Korea, Rolling Quartz and DIH are worth listening to and from Indonesia, the all-women trio called Voice of Baceprot can rock your socks off. From Mexico, the three sisters who make up The Warning are great. If you are a fan of rock music, these groups are worth checking out.

  13. wzrd1 says

    I’d counter with one quip, to set him into mental meltdown.
    Ozzy, the intellectual, OK, gotya.

    That should properly eject his eyeballs from their sockets and his brain from his rectum.

  14. hemidactylus says

    IMO two of the most important acts now are Wet Leg and Nilüfer Yanya. Again the sixties are over.

    I won’t base my views of Jagger based on what Jann Wenner thinks but given PZ’s quote maybe Jagger’s stint at London School of Economics didn’t stick.

  15. says

    The polite, being-patient-with-ignorance-and-antiintellectualism short version:

    What I always found appalling about RS — all the way back to the mid-70s — was that it was a magazine “about” music and musicians that paid almost zero attention to musicianship. Live or recorded. Putting it in serious-classical-musicianship terms, the standard for guitarists was advanced-student-level imitation of Rimsky-Korsakov’s “The Flight of the Bumblebees” without even a nod over at Mussorgsky and Balakirev (let alone Tchaikovsky or Prokofiev, and that Stravinsky guy was right out). Sort of ironic for a magazine “headquartered” near Julliard and NYU’s music program, but entirely unsurprising; it entirely explains the preference for Eddie Van Halen and Yngve Malmsteen over Richard Thompson (even before Thompson converted to Islam) and Mark Knopfler (even before Dire Straits directed all of their royalties in South Africa during apartheid to the African National Congress, since funds-export restrictions kept them from being repatriated). That’s just one instrument; they praise Bob Dylan’s albums,† don’t they? And when they did condescend to pay any attention to women, it was to Ann Wilson and Nico (and not Pat Benatar and Annie Haslam).

    tl;dr RS and its empire have always been more about image and The Lifestyle‡ than the substance. It’s only rock and roll, but they like it… and they never did actually listen to Quadrophenia. Which explains a lot about Mr Wenner’s “currently acknowledged difficulties.”

    † Go ahead: Name a Dylan song for which the best-known version isn’t a cover by better musicians. Songwriting/composition is a distinct skill/talent-set, but it doesn’t necessarily indicate performance competence in either the studio or in live performances. And Jimi was very definitely right about the singing.

    ‡ Salacious implications entirely intentional.

  16. says

    The musicians I mentioned earlier are musicians, not philosophers. If you want deep thinking in music, you go to Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention or some of the deep lyrics of Tom Paxton, etc. I realize they are both white guys, but right now I don’t have time to go through my library to find black and female musicians that are heavy intellects as whiny Wenner talks about.

  17. says

    Marvin Gaye and Bob Marley, just for starters, were a lot more articulate and coherent than Wenner was spouting that self-important gibberish.

    And you know who else was more articulate than Weiner Wenner? Linkin Park.

  18. wzrd1 says

    The very first song I heard in my head with his bullshit was…
    “Billy don’t be a hero, don’t be a fool with your life”…
    One tin soldier rides away follows.
    Utterly vacant concepts, as murder-death-kill is how life rules and drools or something.

    May I have permission to meet him and punch him once in the head?

  19. Cris Waller says

    Amy Ray said it best in her song Lucystoners:
    “Janny Wenner Janny Wenner
    Rolling Stone’s most fearless leader
    Gave the boys what they deserve
    But with the girls he lost his nerve…
    Testing 1 2 3 in the marketplace
    But its a demographic based disgrace
    And a stupid secret white boy handshake
    That we’ll never be part of
    So when its DJ Blow and the morning show
    I give you one hundred reasons to just say no
    And I said come on girls lets go right now
    Oh girls lets go right now
    Oh cause Lucystoners don’t need boners
    Ain’t no man could ever own her
    With the boys she had the nerve to give the girls what they deserve”

  20. says


    As a nerd (even though vector calculus is work, not fun), I am deeply offended. There’s nothing nerdy about Wenner: He’s long been so antiintellectual, so anti-thought, that he and his empire have repeatedly trashed songwriters for an “inadequate grasp” of history — even when those songwriters are interpreting material from their own masters’ theses at name-check institutions. The less said about literary riffs and how RS treated/treats them, the better.

    The appropriate Weird Al song is perhaps a bit too on-point for Wenner to recognize.

  21. wzrd1 says

    Jaws, want a true offense, hear my works with a violin.
    It fully qualifies as domestic or greater violins.
    Artillery is superior to the production.
    And in the real world, I’m a keyboard player, pretty much utterly mute while playing.

  22. mooskaya says

    Thanks for posting this, PZ. (I’m in awe of how you keep up with current affairs AS WELL AS your demanding job AND your family life.)

    Wenner’s full comments, and the article, are so depressing. Look at this:
    —“Wenner went on to acknowledge that he could have included a Black musician and a female musician “just for public relations’ sake” to avoid criticism. “… I wish in retrospect I could have interviewed Marvin Gaye. Maybe he’d have been the guy. Maybe Otis Redding, had he lived, would have been the guy.”

    Wenner led Rolling Stone for five decades before stepping away in 2019. He also is a co-founder of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.”—

    NO WONDER he couldn’t think of any female ‘philosophers’. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy and a vicious circle. Women in the public eye are mostly asked about their relationships and whether they think they can Have It All. How many highly intellectual interviews did Rolling Stone conduct with female musicians during his 50-year tenure? How much did he push his reporters to explore what the women thought and how they viewed the world. Seriously, fuck this dude. And the worst thing is, he’s one of multitudes.