Life

This is how it felt to be the only female journalist at Rolling Stone

In 1970, Robin Green was the only female journalist at Rolling Stone. She tells Stylist’s Hannah Keegan about breaking into the boys’ club.

When Robin Green interviewed at Rolling Stone magazine, the year was 1970, she was 26 and had aspirations of being an assistant. She sent editor Jann Wenner a box of her cuttings and chocolate chip cookies. She wore a patchwork denim jacket and miniskirt to the interview. She wanted to type. She’d do anything just to be around the place, she told him.

“Write something for us,” he said. She was stunned. Green left with an assignment that would become her first cover story. In fact, her first printed article ever.

The magazine was in its heady, carefree beginnings and a sexually liberated, hippy San Francisco was the backdrop. Editorial assistants were offered lines of cocaine in the office and everyone was sleeping around. Her assignments, detailed in her debut book The Only Girl, which tells of her time at the magazine between 1970 and 1973, led her to stalking the Grateful Dead with photographer Annie Leibovitz, clashing with actor Dennis Hopper on a film set in the desert, and driving the Pacific Highway with her drug-addled colleague Hunter S. Thompson.

But Green’s shock at being there in the first place often left her floundering. She would turn up to interviews without having researched the subject, no questions prepared and no idea what to expect. She soaked up the absurdity of the situation like a sponge. 

Green honed her literary skills at Brown University, graduating in 1967

When she arrived at Hopper’s New Mexico film set, one of her first big assignments, she was met with an obnoxious, high Hopper and a pack of journalists who eyed her suspiciously. She, an unknown woman, had interview time and they didn’t. They were p*ssed off.

When the interview time came, Hopper grew grimmer. “Common trash superpigs,” he slurred at the publicity guys waiting on him. Green was in “her own personal nightmare”. She left without asking a question, but with an intact recording of his outburst.

“I was so shy,” she tells me. “[The writer] Joan Didion once said that she was so pathologically shy that people forgot to be afraid of her. It was similar for me, I looked harmless. People would say I seemed calm. But I wasn’t calm, I was scared sh*tless. So I would just let them talk, fill the silence.

“When I interviewed David Cassidy, for example, he just went on this self-pitying litany about all his hurt. When somebody is opening up to you like that, you just listen and record every word. Hearing people talk and seeing how they behaved was the story to me.” 

A percussionist with The Rolling Stones holding a copy of Rolling Stone magazine on tour in 1975

Over three years as a contributing editor at Rolling Stone, Green quickly became known for her biting, ironic tone. When the time came to write about her Hopper experience, she dryly reported how he didn’t believe in reading, considered himself a lesbian chick and referred to herself omnisciently as “the journalist”.

“I grew up in a family where we were rewarded for being funny,” she laughs when I mention this. The piece won her the admiration of Didion, who had a mutual friend phone her to pass on praise.

At the time, Rolling Stone had just 10% female readership; women, if they wrote at all, were expected to do so for exclusively female audiences at Mademoiselle or Vogue. In the office Green often felt like an outcast.

“Editorial meetings were not my milieu,” she explains, “the men would make their jokes and it was very much a boys’ club atmosphere. As a consequence, I didn’t really pursue the editorial room. I’d clam up.”

While her presence in those meetings was helping pave the way for a more gender inclusive media, Green, it turns out, was not fond of other women. “At college I probably knew three other girls,” she says, “and we weren’t friendly.”

She found their aspirations profoundly boring. “They all seemed to be looking for husbands, which, by the way, wasn’t a bad idea because there was a pool of them there at Brown,” she laughs. “But they were all straight. And I don’t just mean sexually – they weren’t beatniks, they weren’t hippies, they were straight arrows and I knew I didn’t want to be that.”

Green photographed in the early Seventies 

At the magazine the other women (the assistants) were one big, girly gang. She thought they hated her. “They all had each other and I was alone. I kept myself separate,” she says. “I was more at ease in the company of men, mostly because they were working at something I was working on. I could relate to them in that sense. I was wary of women, it took me a long time to learn how to be a girlfriend.”

When I ask if working in such a male environment ever presented a danger, she’s unsure of what I mean: in her book sex is presented under the veil of a free-loving Seventies. Do any of those encounters look different through the lens of #MeToo?

“No… er… no, no, no,” she says as if checking off each one mentally. “There were times I felt in danger, sure, but not in a #MeToo sense because it wasn’t coming from my employer. One time, I was in the elevator at work when a man I didn’t know came towards me, eyes rolling, as though he was going to faint. I mean, that [would have been] my rapist. You understand? That would have been my rape. But I got out of there quick.”

Green’s life was unstable in other ways, too. She had split up with her boyfriend and was often homeless, sleeping in people’s garages, and she was having an affair with her married editor. 

Her end at Rolling Stone came suddenly. She was taken off the masthead in 1973 for refusing to turn in a story: she’d slept with one of her subjects, Robert F Kennedy Jr, in his college dorm room and felt she’d compromised her ability to write the piece. She says it was a relief.

“I felt I was done with being a journalist, done with Rolling Stone,” she explains. “This is something I’ve barely even admitted to myself, but I had too much ego to always be interviewing other people. I wanted it to be about me. There was always a part of me that wanted to be the star. It sounds horrible to say, but it’s the truth. And now that I have it, I’m terrified. Ironic, I know.”

Green’s biting writing style won her many fans 

Looking back, her abrupt exit from the magazine could be seen as a stroke of fate: she went on to become an Emmy-winning screenwriter for TV series including Northern Exposure, The Sopranos and Blue Bloods. But the years in between were murky. Green went back to waitressing and was “alienated, lost and a little crazy”. Was she ever worried about herself?

“God, yes. I didn’t know what the hell I was doing,” she says. “Anxiety, discomfort and fear drove me: fear of being poor, fear of failing. If I could go back and give myself some advice, I’d say don’t be so anxious and worried, but if I hadn’t been, it might not have worked out.”

Among her Rolling Stone colleagues, the response to her book has been mixed. “Some thought it was, um, distasteful,” she says, “but Jann loved it.”

For Green, she believes that no matter how hard it was to share all the sordid details – and it was hard – it’s important to do so because she has no time for sugar-coating (“I hate when women cut out the gritty parts!”). Green carries the weight of being a trailblazer in her industry very lightly. “The thing is, when you’re a pioneer, one of the first, you’re not really thinking of it in that way. You’re just living.” And what of her legacy?

“When I hear that the millennial women at my publisher’s office enjoy my book, I just love that. That’s the whole point of what I do: to make people feel.”

The Only Girl by Robin Green (£18.99, Virago) is out now

Images: Robin Green / David Leach / Getty Images