Granderson: After Jann Wenner's gaffes, rock music's famous white men should speak up

FILE - The Rolling Stones perform live onstage at BST Hyde Park festival, in London, on June 25, 2022. Mick Jagger and his dancer girlfriend Melanie Hamrick have put their Florida home up for sale. A listing on on Friday, June 16, 2023, says the lakefront home with four bedrooms and 5.5 baths is listed at $3.499 million. (Photo by Vianney Le Caer/Invision/AP, File)
Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones said he would never forget Tina Turner. Let's see whether he meant that. (Vianney Le Caer / Invision via Associated Press)

When Tina Turner died in May, the podcast “Rolling Stone Music Now” paid tribute, calling her “one of the greatest rock and soul singers who ever lived.” The publication’s admiration is not recent.

Although John Lennon was the first cover boy, Turner was placed on the cover for the magazine’s second issue ever in 1967 and continued to find the cover over the course of four decades. Mick Jagger, whose band’s name influenced the one selected for the magazine, posted in May: “she helped me so much when I was young and I will never forget her.”

You know who did forget her?

Jann Wenner, co-founder of Rolling Stone magazine.

In promoting his upcoming book about great rock artists, Wenner included Lennon and Jagger. He did not include Turner or any other woman. In an interview with the New York Times, he tried to justify the decision, saying “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 also didn’t include any Black people, though he later said “maybe I should have gone and found one,” adding “maybe I’m old-fashioned and I don’t give a (expletive) or whatever.”

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He has since backtracked and has been removed from the board of directors of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Foundation. Perhaps now he gives a (expletive) or whatever.

But while it’s fun to pick on Wenner for being whatever it is you would like to call him, I’m more curious about the response from “The Masters” in the book. The white men who made the cut. The ones Wenner considered good enough to be in his club. Including anyone who, for instance, said they would never forget Tina Turner.

So, guys ... are you comfortable being given safe passage by whatever it is you think Wenner is?

Because the Tina Turner snub is not an isolated case. When Sinead O’Connor died in July, the Rolling Stone podcast paid tribute to her as well.

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The guests spoke of her bravery, the breadth of her catalog, her voice. They counted Shirley Manson of Garbage and Alanis Morissette among those who were influenced by her work and even pointed out she was among the first rock artists to embrace hip-hop. Her 1987 debut album, “The Lion and The Cobra,” included a remixed single featuring MC Lyte.

She was a force. A rock star. NBC banned her after she tore up a picture of the pope during her "Saturday Night Live" performance, in protest of the Catholic church’s handling of pedophilia. Later she was booed off Madison Square Garden’s stage during a tribute to Bob Dylan. He made Wenner’s list.

O’Connor did not. Dylan is not responsible for that, of course, but I do wonder whether he's OK with it, considering the criteria Wenner laid out in the New York Times. I wouldn't be.

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I don’t know whether Wenner is just trolling us to draw attention to his book. It wouldn’t be the first time controversy was used to drum up interest in a new release. But regardless, there is an outcry now — and I want to know why the loudest voices are coming from outside the music industry.

Are the artists whom Wenner considered worthy, the ones behind the gate that he’s keeping, all OK with being granted entry when Turner and O’Connor and Aretha Franklin and Prince and so many others were turned away?

These famous white men aren't powerless. They could speak up.

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In fact it's fairly common for a recording artist to issue a "cease and desist" to political candidates who use their music but don't share the artist’s values. Neil Young told the Trump campaign to stop using “Rockin’ in the Free World” at rallies. The Rolling Stones and others objected to their music being used at the Republican National Convention in 2016.

Why not object to their legacy being attached to a book written by a man who did not think Black people or women belonged in his rock 'n' roll club? If someone like Jagger said he’ll never forget what Tina Turner did for him, is he comfortable with Wenner first ignoring her, and then insulting her too? We'll find out. I hope he's not.


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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.