November 28, 2017

Jann Wenner "swears his bohemian mother once called him 'the worst child she had ever met.'"

From "The Licentious Life and Times of Jann Wenner," a NYT review of the book "STICKY FINGERS/The Life and Times of Jann Wenner and Rolling Stone Magazine." Wenner also said that when divorcing, each of his 2 parents fought to get the other to take this terrible child. The mother took the 2 daughters and the father got stuck with the boy.

From the book:
Weiner began a campaign to get his parents back together.... "Your demand that Dad and I be something to each other that we're not, is basically a child's demand," she wrote to him in 1959, when Wenner was thirteen. "One stamps one's foot and says, 'Change the world and I will be all right!" and it's a nice comforting thought to have, or rather, only one thing that you can change, and that is yourself." ("Maternally yours," she signed the letter.)
I haven't read the book, just that part. I don't know if Wenner's mother really did call him "the worst child [I've] ever met." He said she did, but he seems like a liar or at least someone who'd put his own gloss on a story, but I think the funniest word in the phrase is "met" — as if her own child was one of a large number of acquaintances. It fits with the idea that he is "the worst," as if the comparison to the other children had nothing to do with her. She's just looking on and observing that Jann is the worst of the bunch. If he is the worst, surely her role in his formation — however small — was enough to make him worse than the next-to-the-worst.

But he's responsible for himself, she told him in that "Maternally yours" letter she wrote when he was 13. It takes a lot of nerve for a mother to say that. Most mothers, I think, feel that any badness in their children is our own badness, carried out into the world and doing damage that weighs on our reputation even as it is beyond our control.

57 comments:

Inga said...

He may well have been a terror, but she is still his mother. He carries half her genes, that’s one reason to not absolve yourself of partial blame for your offspring turning out how they have.

CJinPA said...

"A riveting book that captures your attention and holds it. All the more compelling because it is totally true!"
- Sabrina Erdely, Freelance Book Reviewer

Rick Turley said...

Shades of Stephen Sondheim!

"When Sondheim was in his forties his mother was taken into hospital for a heart operation. Presuming, perhaps, that she would not survive it she wrote him a letter: 'The only regret I have in life is giving you birth.’ "

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/music/8022755/Still-cutting-it-at-80-Stephen-Sondheim-interview.html

glenn said...

See, this makes the fake UVA story OK. Got it.

jaydub said...

Should have sent him to live with Jimbino.

EDH said...

The Worst

Well I said from the first
I am the worst kind of guy
For you to be around
Tear me apart
Including this old heart
That is true
And never ever let you down

You shouldn't stick with me
You trust me too much, you see
Take all the pain
It's yours anyway
Yeah kid...

Oh, put the blame on me
You ought to pass, you see
Somewhere outside
I threw love aside
Now it's a tragedy

I said from the first
I am the worst kind of guy
For you to be around

Owen said...

Nasty selfish people. People adamant in avoiding any honest look at themselves. People proficient at dodging responsibility and moral awareness. People not worthy of the worst swamp of Limbo.

You're surprised by this?

Bad Lieutenant said...

See, we only ever hear the bad things about infanticide.

AReasonableMan said...

At least in the part quoted Wenner's mother comes across as quite sensible. Hard to beat this as advice:
"only one thing that you can change, and that is yourself"

richlb said...

If I had a dollar for every time my wife says "I must be a horrible mother" whenever our girls do something she disagrees with.

Meade said...

"He carries half her genes, that’s one reason to not absolve yourself of partial blame for your offspring turning out how they have."

Sure -- if you choose to be racist about it.

jwl said...

Philip Larkin - This be the Verse:

They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.

Nonapod said...

Had and still have a great relationship with both my parents, as did most of my friends growing up. I feel pretty blessed when I read stuff like this.

Freeman Hunt said...

I hope it isn't true because it's awful.

Etienne said...
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Etienne said...
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Mike said...

Wenner or Weiner?

Etienne said...
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Clyde said...

"'cause his mother made him what he is..."

Hmmm... Here's my favorite cover version of the relevant song:

Cracker - Up Against The Wall Redneck Mothers

Fernandistien said...

Inga said...
He carries half her genes, that’s one reason to not absolve yourself of partial blame for your offspring turning out how they have.


Genes matter a lot more than "parenting", which "has virtually no effect on children."

AReasonableMan said...

Freeman Hunt said...
I hope it isn't true because it's awful.


I'm taking Wenner's mother's side on this one. Not every child's a winner, even when they're called Wenner. Two out of three seems to be a good ratio, based on my own observations of children.

Jupiter said...

If they divorced before he was thirteen, I doubt he is a very reliable witness as to how the negotiations went. But it does seem that children who have had two parents prefer that arrangement to one, or a village.

Freeman Hunt said...

"Not every child's a winner, even when they're called Wenner."

Makes no difference. It's not the parents' job to say. Every person should have two people in the world who he is confident accept him no matter what. It's a faint but important echo of the love of God.

Bill Peschel said...

I believe in nurturing until I had kids of my own and saw how much our genes contribute to how they think and act.

The best I can do is tell them I love them (even if I have to add "I just don't like you at this moment because of what you did"), offer as much advice as they're willing to listen to (which isn't much), and tell them that you can counter your conditioning, but never "overcome it" or eliminate it, just use the tools you're willing to use to mitigate the damage.

While you can't condition them, you can teach them, and you can really damage them through abuse.

(Sometimes, abuse works. While riding with my daughter who was learning to drive, she blew through an alley intersection in our neighborhood without pausing to look. I lit into her, full anger mode, emphasizing she should never, ever, fucking ever do that again. And she never has.

I had a good reason to; her brother did the exact same thing, pulling out of an alley onto a street, T-boned a car and slammed into a converted garage. He had been driving on his license for nearly a year, and it never, ever occurred to me he would be capable of that boneheaded a stunt.)

Inga said...

“Sometimes, abuse works. While riding with my daughter who was learning to drive, she blew through an alley intersection in our neighborhood without pausing to look. I lit into her, full anger mode, emphasizing she should never, ever, fucking ever do that again. And she never has.”

That’s not abusive. That’s righteous anger and you did it for good reason. Parents who don’t get angry and correct their children when they do wrong are doing them no favors.

I Have Misplaced My Pants said...

A lot of good sense in this thread.

I think a big part of effective parenting, and this seems to be a particular challenge for mothers, is knowing where you end and your child begins. Mothers who overidentify with their kids, or take their kids' characteristics/choices too personally (either blaming themselves or taking credit) have always seemed narcissistic and maladjusted to me.

Makes no difference. It's not the parents' job to say. Every person should have two people in the world who he is confident accept him no matter what. It's a faint but important echo of the love of God.

Beautifully put. My very wise obstetrician, mother of five grown children, told me when I was lamenting the upcoming departure of my older daughters, words to the effect of, "Your kids will always come back to you, even when they're grown and have their own kids. They will always come back to you because you are their home, and they live in a harsh world that is always quick to judge them and home is where they can go and know they are accepted and loved without question and not judged." I remember those words all.the.time and strive to live up to them.

He carries half her genes, that’s one reason to not absolve yourself of partial blame for your offspring turning out how they have.

Genes matter a lot more than "parenting", which "has virtually no effect on children."


Can confirm. My adopted kid has been raised the same, of course, as the rest of them, and sometimes he seems like he's from Mars. No, not confirmation bias; when he was a newborn and I was younger and more naive I thought it would be a total blank slate all-nurture situation, but boy did life teach us otherwise. He is simply wired differently.

Bay Area Guy said...

Divorce in 1959 was very uncommon. So, it makes sense that young Wenner was "fighting" for his parents to reconcile to avoid a very big social stigma.

In the 70's, particularly in California, leftist feminist lawyers pushed hard for "no-fault" divorce, which opened up the floodgates to easy divorce.

Yes, an adult male and female who treat each other like crap, should divorce. But these societal engineers forgot about the harsh impact on the kids, and they totally miscalculated how hard it was to be a single mother. Tons of single women were consigned to poverty.

The societal distortions from leftwing policies never cease.

I saw all this from a child's perspective 45 years ago.

exiledonmainstreet said...

When the human genome was first mapped (not that long ago), scientists thought determining what genes did what would be much more straightforward than it in fact is. There is no one gene that determines height, for instance. The Dutch are now the tallest people in the world; they weren’t 60 years ago. What happened genetically to make them shoot up so dramatically? Did they always have the genetic potential to be tall, but those genetic mutations were somehow not activated until certain conditions were present? (Conditions like abundant food, for instance, rather than cooked tulip pedals, which is what the Dutch were reduced to eating by the end of the war.)

If certain mutations occur or are activated only under certain environmental conditions (I apologize if I am wording this clumsily; I am trying to summarize articles and books I read a while back and, not being a scientist, I fear I am not very good at it), then wouldn’t it be the case that nurture does indeed matter? I’m only a layperson, but I don’t think there is necessarily a huge divide between nature and nurture. Obviously, if a child has an IQ of 60, all the Baby Newton tapes in the world are not going to make him rocket scientist material. If you’re 5’5” an NBA career is unlikely, no matter how many hours you spend shooting hoops. But with other things, I think the waters become much murkier, the interplay of environment and genes becomes more complex and we are not yet close to understanding how much impact one has on the other.

Gabriel said...

@Inga:He carries half her genes, that’s one reason to not absolve yourself of partial blame for your offspring turning out how they have.

Except that you have no power to influence what genes you have to pass on, or which of the ones you have that you DO pass on. The child's genes came from you, yes, but it was not your "fault". You were the mechanism, and you had no choice in the matter. No one can control what genes they get or give.

Angel-Dyne said...

"Your demand that Dad and I be something to each other that we're not, is basically a child's demand," she wrote to him in 1959, when Wenner was thirteen. "One stamps one's foot and says, 'Change the world and I will be all right!" and it's a nice comforting thought to have, or rather, only one thing that you can change, and that is yourself."

[...]

It takes a lot of nerve for a mother to say that.


Or immaturity.

Mom sounds like she thinks there's something amiss with a 13-year-old making a "child's demand". To his mother. I'd say her response to this is "basically a child's" response: There are circumstances where it's correct to tell a 13-year-old (or a 6-year-old) that foot-stamping doesn't work, that the world isn't going to change to suit him, and that it's time to start learning the Stoic's lesson about "the only thing that you can change", but one's child pleading for an intact family isn't one of them.

It's bizarre to take such a peer-to-peer attitude with one's 13-year-old child on such a subject, as if he were another adult who would just have to adjust to the free choices of the other adults, as adults do. Regardless of whether it really was out of the question that Wenner's parents could have got back together and made a go of it, children do have expectations that parents should "change themselves" to conform to the needs of their children, and "changing oneself" for those other people is very much part of parental duty.

"Your demand that Dad and I be something to each other that we're not"? Childish framing. There will always be circumstances where conforming to that particular need for an intact two-parent family isn't possible. But this isn't about how Mom and Dad feel about each other. "Suck it, kid" isn't an adult response to a parent's inability to provide what a child naturally desires.

Gabriel said...

@exiledonmainstreet:then wouldn’t it be the case that nurture does indeed matter?

No one is saying nurture doesn't matter at all. It's a question of what provides the bulk of the outcome.

You starve a child, that child will never express the full development of whatever genes he or she has for height, intelligence, or what have you. And all the innate attributes in the world don't matter if you never have any nurturing of them--never let a child learn to read or talk for example.

But once the basics are met, then the bulk of the explanation comes from inheritance, and that goes for temperament and intelligence as well as height and build and skin color and hair, as little as we like to acknowledge it.

Bay Area Guy said...

The nature/nurture debate never interested me. It's obviously a combination of the two. The actual ratio? Not sure at all. If I had to guess, it would be 60% nature - 40% nurture.

mandrewa said...

If certain mutations occur or are activated only under certain environmental conditions...then wouldn’t it be the case that nurture does indeed matter?

My guess would be that for many things nurture matters mainly in it's absence. So for IQ for instance, there may be not much that can be done to increase it once a child is born, but there are lots of different ways that a child's IQ can be diminished. For example if a child doesn't get enough food or if a child is frequently hit on the head.

I would guess that's true for many things that are partly genetically determined. If people have a nice environment, one that consistently meets their needs, then genetics is basically the whole story. But if it's not a nice environment, and there is a significant risk that the child won't get something they need from the environment, then nurture starts mattering a whole lot. And in a bad environment, nurture may be main thing driving the different fates of different people.

Gabriel said...

@exiledonmainstreet:What happened genetically to make them shoot up so dramatically? Did they always have the genetic potential to be tall, but those genetic mutations were somehow not activated until certain conditions were present?

That they got taller is probably not be due to the creation or introduction of new genes, but rather the change in prevalence of different combinations of them. It's rare that a trait has to do with one gene--those are the ones that were discovered first and are easiest to demonstrate how they work.

Some genes do nothing unless they have other genes around to permit them to do something. Some genes influence which other genes get passed on.

Not my metaphor, but imagine a rowing meet. In each boat, you have crew members that speak different languages. These crews might not row effectively together. Now imagine that after each meet, you shuffle the crew members and have another meet. If you happen to get, by chance, a team where most people speaks the same language, that team is going to run away with the meet if the others crews are still mixed by language. Even if they are not the best athletes in the group, they will work together better as a team.

Something similar may have been happening with Dutch height.

George M. Spencer said...

From an NPR story:

"When Wenner threatened to run away from his well-off family as a boy, his mother, Sim Wenner, gave him a rucksack and nickel — "you'll need it," she told him. It was a definitional exchange. After divorcing his father, his mother Sim took custody of his two sisters, leaving Jann to an itinerant, workaholic father. The sharp barbs and detached disdain Sim openly expressed towards the young Jan (he later added the extra "n") osmosed into his own personality; Sticky Fingers is, if nothing else, a testament to Wenner's cruelty, self-mythologizing and narcissism. He wanted to prove himself — she never seemed to care."

I've read the book or as much of it as I could stomach. It is 500+ pages of relentlessly stupid, drug-addled behavior, including sexual harassment of his employees, male and female.

The best line from the book is "Wenner took to cocaine like an Irish poet to whiskey."

Second best line (sounds like a punch line): "Jann Wenner and Truman Capote walked into a gay bar in Key West." (He had assigned Capote to do a story on a Rolling Stones tour, even though Capote didn't know the music and didn't like the bank. Brilliant!)

Jupiter said...

"It's rare that a trait has to do with one gene--those are the ones that were discovered first and are easiest to demonstrate how they work."

The signature of multiple-gene effects is the bell curve. When a trait depends upon a number of factors, each with its own probability distribution, the combined distribution tends to a Gaussian. Height and IQ are the obvious examples.

But what many people fail to take into account is that the probability you will have a gene which neither of your parents had is essentially zero. That is why there is so much difference between races. They are not dealing from the same deck.

George Grady said...

The actual ratio? Not sure at all. If I had to guess, it would be 60% nature - 40% nurture.

Statements like this don't really make sense. It's not just a simple linear combination of the two, as if nature and nurture don't interact.

If you were (heaven forbid) to keep a child locked up all alone in a darkened room, just shoving enough food through a slot to keep them alive, nurture would dominate the outcome, nature mattering not at all.

On the other hand, if you give a child every opportunity to grow and thrive, you will see that nature dominates in how that child chooses to live their life.

Such complicated nonlinear functions don't lend themselves to percentage breakdowns.

Char Char Binks said...

I doubt his mother had much experience with children she never met.

mandrewa said...

I imagine the height of an adult is determined by his or her genes and by whether he or she gets enough food as a child. And the food is a minimum amount, and thus any child that gets that minimum amount will reach the height programmed by their genes. But consuming additional food will not add to the child's height.

With respect to food, America and Holland are nice environments, which means that food is available in such abundance that almost everyone gets the minimum amount. And thus for height in modern America and Holland it seems that height is almost completely genetically determined.

But we know this isn't really true because we can imagine a world where food is not abundant. And in such a world, ie. a bad environment, the nurture the child receives, for instance the care from the parents, may easily be more significant than the genes in determining what height the child will achieve.

Now addressing the subject of the thread, Jann Wenner, is his bad behavior more a product of his genes or what his parents didn't do? Well we have no idea. This is much more complicated than something like height.

I know how different children can be even within their first year of life, and it's hard to believe that these differences are caused by the behavior of the parents. But at the same time, that doesn't mean the parents aren't needed and that there isn't a long list of things, psychologically, that they need to supply to their children, for their children to reach their full potential. But saying that is very different from knowing what the things are that parents need to supply and identifying what is necessary that is missing.

AReasonableMan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
AReasonableMan said...

George M. Spencer said...
"When Wenner threatened to run away from his well-off family as a boy, his mother, Sim Wenner, gave him a rucksack and nickel — "you'll need it," she told him.

That's some old school mothering, right there.

There's more children where you came from. More fish in the ocean. More snowflakes in winter, and Winter is Coming.

buwaya said...

The older tradition is that outstanding members of a clan are cause for pride; so are eminent ancestors. Conversely worthless or evil members are a cause for shame.

Humans are communal by nature. This sort of behavior by the mother, and hands-off attitude in various comments, is inhuman, or would have been in a healthier and more natural social situation.

AReasonableMan said...

buwaya said...
The older tradition is that outstanding members of a clan are cause for pride; so are eminent ancestors. Conversely worthless or evil members are a cause for shame.


Which one is Jann Wenner?

buwaya said...

"Which one is Jann Wenner?"

He is clanless apparently.
Traditionally an orphan, an outsider, a rogue, an outcast.

So are many if not most people in modern societies.

Lewis Wetzel said...

There are two types of people in the world: those who think that Wenner is an interesting person worth reading about, and those who think that he is a creep.

William said...

Wenner didn't turn out so bad, especially when you compare him to Jeffrey Dahmer and Charles Manson. His mother sounds like she has a sense of humor. "Maternally yours" is a pretty good line, but thirteen year old kids in the middle of a divorce aren't the best audience for dry, ironic humor.......In Mumbai, mothers sometimes maim their children in order to make them more effective beggars. Perhaps the way he was maimed made him a more effective publisher.

George M. Spencer said...

William--

Re: Manson.

The biography says that Rolling Stone was going to run a positive profile of Manson (!) until someone talked Wenner out of it...

From The Guardian...

“I saw the Manson case as a fight for the life of the counterculture itself – one of our own was being martyred, our most cherished beliefs were being trashed by the cynical establishment and their lackies, the LAPD,” journalist David Dalton later wrote. He planned to write a piece for Rolling Stone (“We’ll put ‘MANSON IS INNOCENT!’ on the cover,” the magazine’s publisher, Jann Wenner, reportedly crowed), and even stayed on Spahn Ranch with his wife after interviewing Manson.



AllenS said...
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rhhardin said...

The best mothers are passive-aggresive.

Mark Daniels said...

Yeah, I'm wary of Wenner's versions of fact, generally. In the 70's, I read 'Rolling Stone' a lot. But over time, it became clear that Wenner liked to throw his weight around, defining which cultural expressions were hip and acceptable, while putting up roadblocks to ones he found wanting. The magazine has an historic importance, I think. But fame doesn't seem to be good for anyone, really.

Michael McNeil said...

No one can control what genes they get or give.

Yet. While that’s been true for basically forever over all human experience, we’re presently at or near a critical turning point — where we can see that the future will be quite different from the past in this regard. Genetic technology has now advanced to the point where it’s not unlikely that in not too many more years parents will be able to review the genetic alternatives present in their joint genomic heritage and select which specific combinations of genes and traits — from whichever parent — it is that they desire their offspring to inherit. Then particular eggs and sperm can be created (from stem cells now known) bearing those particular genes, whereupon they combine — and voila! an embryo bearing those inherent characteristics is launched upon its 9-month trajectory to human personhood.

urbane legend said...

... and voila! an embryo bearing those inherent characteristics is launched upon its 9-month trajectory to human personhood.

And, wonder of wonders, some of those persons will still be Mother Teresa, and some Hillary Clinton.

Rob McLean said...

Not every child's a winner, even when they're called Wenner.

Every 1's a Wenner, baby, that's no lie.

Assrat said...

>Dutch are now the tallest people in the world; they weren’t 60 years ago. What happened genetically to make them shoot up so dramatically?

Not growing up under Nazi occupation?

Rusty said...

And what mother hasn't?

mtrobertslaw said...

With single parenthood rapidly becoming as common as the weather, it's just a matter of time before the social scientist brigade prove to the rest of us that children are much better off living with just one parent than they are with two.

Cato Renasci said...

I don’t doubt that Wenner’s parents could have fought over who would not get him and that his mother said such cruel things: in the late ‘70s in Los Angeles, I knew a girl whose parents had had an extremely ugly divorce, in which then quite young only child was a major bone of contention in the same negative way Wenner reports, and was blamed by both parents for the divorce. When the girl was 9 or 10, in a fit of anger with her, the mother threw the trial transcript at here. The very precocious and bright girl took the transcript off into a hidey hole and read the whole thing, filled with descriptions of how awful she was and how she was the reason for the divorce. Needless to say, she was profoundly and lastingly affected, not least in her adamant refusal to even consider ever having children and in having almost no relationship with her mother. That, and some severe trust issues aside, she was a remarkably decent, thoughtful and kind young woman.