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Bob Keyes

Bob Keyes has written about the arts in Maine since 2002. He’s never been much an artist himself, other than singing in junior high school chorus and acting in a few musicals. But he’s attended museums, theaters, clubs and concert halls all his life, and cites Bob Dylan as most influential artist of any kind since Picasso. He lives in Berwick.

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Posted: January 30, 2018

UMaine alum talks about ‘Sticky Fingers,’ his popular portrayal of Rolling Stone and its publisher

Written by: Bob Keyes

“A lot of the rock ‘n’ roll I talk about in this book, it was all introduced to me while I was in college in Maine,” Joe Hagan says.

Photo by Samantha Hunt/Courtesy of Penguin Random House

Pretty much everything Joe Hagan learned about rock ‘n’ roll, he learned in Orono.

Hagan, 46, author of “Sticky Fingers: The Life and Times of Jann Wenner and Rolling Stone Magazine,” graduated from the University of Maine in 1993 and developed most of his music and cultural sensibilities during his college years, which he spent traveling from campus to the music stores and bookstores of Portland.

“A lot of the rock ‘n’ roll I talk about in this book, it was all introduced to me while I was in college in Maine,” he said. “The DNA of my interest in the subject came out of my years at UMaine, no doubt.”

Hagan will talk about the book at 7 p.m. Saturday at Print: A Bookstore in Portland. Aimsel Ponti, content producer and music writer for MaineToday, will lead the discussion.

Image courtesy of Penguin Random House

The book is the talk of the music world. Wenner, Rolling Stone publisher, recruited Hagan to write the book and offered him access to rock history. The book portrays Wenner as a cultural force and music world icon, and also exposes his ego, narcissist tendencies and selfish excesses. Wenner was incensed when the book came out, calling it “deeply flawed and tawdry.” But Hagan has received rave reviews, The New York Times praising him for delivering “a supple, confident, dispassionately reported and deeply well-written biography.”

The journalist has earned wide respect for having the guts to bury his hero. Growing up, he said in a phone interview, he devoured the magazine, reading the album reviews first, the Random Notes column second and then the feature stories. He considers Wenner a genius editor who was at the forefront of converting counterculture into mainstream culture.

As a journalist, he was obligated to tell a complete story of Wenner, including the dark side of his genius. The response to the book has been gratifying and difficult, he said.

“The fissure with Wenner was stressful. There was a lot of turbulence when the book came out. I knew it would be hard for him and divisive among some of his friends. It was complicated for a lot of people,” Hagan said.

Hagan met Wenner years ago, when he was an intern at Rolling Stone. (“He would never remember me from back then. But he remembers me now.”) They later got to know each other when Hagan worked as a media reporter for the Wall Street Journal. Wenner invited Hagan to lunch in 2013 and recruited him to write for Rolling Stone. Hagan declined. He liked his job and didn’t want to leave.

“He then asked me if I wanted to write his biography,” Hagan said. “He proposed it to me. I was flattered and surprised as could be. Then I had to figure out how that would work. One thing I knew, if you could write an independent book on him and have access, you would have a lot. His life was full of all kinds of wrinkles and had many thorny aspects to it. If you could get to that, I knew it would be a secret history of the rock ‘n’ roll age.”

Hagan got access and interviewed many of his heroes, such as Paul McCartney. “I did that in person, in England. I got to spend time with him. He was very candid,” Hagan said. He also loved getting to know Art Garfunkel. “He’s a very smart guy who I hadn’t known much about. Great interview.”

He interviewed dozens of others. He’s looking forward to coming back to Maine and expects to meet up with a lot of his college buddies who still live here. Hagan lives in New York’s Hudson Valley. He was born in Rhode Island and grew up an Army brat. He came to Maine when his dad worked for the Coast Guard in Portland after living in south Texas. “You can imagine the culture shock, moving from near the Mexican border to about as far north as you can get. But I loved Maine. I fell in love with the state, and it’s a huge part of my life,” he said. “I remember my first time in Portland and walking down those cobblestone streets and going into bookstores and seeing cool people. I always thought of Portland as a really smart, cool place to hang out and be.”

His life changed at UMaine when he fell under the spell of the late Welch Everman, an English professor and inspiration. After graduating, he worked as a deckhand on a schooner. He kept a journal that summer, and it set him on the path of becoming a writer. “That was a big, life-altering experience, as well. That’s when I started thinking about actually being a writer,” he said.

He moved to New York in the mid-1990s, became an intern at Rolling Stone “and clawed my way into the journalism business.”

Joe Hagan: In Conversation

The author will talk about “Sticky Fingers: The Life and Times of Jann Wenner and Rolling Stone Magazine” with MaineToday’s Aimsel Ponti at 7 p.m. Saturday at Print: A Bookstore, 273 Congress St., Portland. The talk is co-hosted by Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance. For more information, visit mainewriters.org.

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