With a publication date of November 9, 1967, the first issue of Rolling Stone hit the streets of San Francisco and beyond exactly 50 years ago. The world of rock music and cultural journalism as well as the counterculture would never be the same after the publication of the first issue. Under the leadership of youthful editor Jann Wenner, and guidance from music critic Ralph Gleason, Rolling Stone would soon become a media force that would transform the music and media industries and help catalyze an American youth culture as a distinct and powerful cohort with its own mores, interests, language and priorities.
Published a month after the ‘Summer of Love’ unofficially ended in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury neighborhood, Wenner’s publication’s bold mission stated that the publication was “not just about music, but also about the things and attitudes that the music embraces.” With offices in an industrial building in San Francisco’s SoMa District, Rolling Stone would remain a California-based publication until Wenner moved the magazine’s offices to New York in 1977.
Coinciding with the 50th Anniversary of the publication, a new biography on Wenner and documentary on Rolling Stone have focused attention on many aspects of the publication (and its editor) and its influence on American culture. Of particular note, the new book on Wenner brings attention to the magazine’s own history and how it was inspired by two California publications that get less attention than Wenner’s magazine: Mojo Naviagtor R&R News, the West Coast’s first rock and roll publication, and Ramparts, an aggressively political magazine published in Berkeley.
The debate on the legacy of Rolling Stone will surely continue on in the weeks, months and years to come, especially since the publication has been put up for sale. What is undeniable is that the publication brilliantly captured a particular moment in California culture and history, and its distribution helped shape American popular culture starting in the late 1960s and 1970s. In some ways, it remains one of the most influential California exports over the past 50 years, and stands as yet another example of the Golden State’s transformative influence on the culture of the United States.