Tom Wolfe Rewrote Rules to Bring ‘New Journalism’ to Rolling Stone

'Bonfire of the Vanities' and more published in pages of music magazine

June 11, 2017 5:00 am
How Tom Wolfe Broke Ground in Rolling Stone Magazine
Author Tom Wolfe in his Upper East-Side apartment, New York City, 21st October 2004. (David Corio/Redferns)

Don’t let the white three-piece suit fool you: Tom Wolfe is not a member of the establishment. The author is to journalism as Timothy Leary was to mind-expanding psychedelics—a revolutionary, without question.

As Rolling Stone writer David Browne notes, Wolfe was the first to capture the counterculture in its truest form in his second book, The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, a work of absurdist nonfiction that helped carve out a corner for what would come to be called, “New Journalism.”

As Browne notes, at the time the book was published, Wolfe was already a highly sought-after magazine scribe, and Acid Test turned Rolling Stone publisher Jann Wenner onto Wolfe in 1969. That’s when the two first exchanged a number of letters.

Although Wolfe’s first few pitches didn’t stick, he was eventually commissioned by Wenner to cover the launch of Apollo 17 in 1972. The four-part feature, “Post-Orbital Remorse,” first landed in ’73, and introduced readers to a different side of the space race’s stars—the astronauts.

Then, of course, he produced one of his most famous works, the serialized epic, The Bonfire of the Vanities, which was initially turned down by Esquire and subsequently published in 5,500-word installments in Rolling Stone for more than a year. He hunkered down at the magazine’s Fifth Avenue offices in order to make his deadlines.

Listen to Wolfe talk about how The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test came together in the video below.

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