Tuesday, July 5, 2011

RIP Jane Scott

Posted By on Tue, Jul 5, 2011 at 10:24 AM

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There’s probably no rock & roller in Cleveland over the age of 25 who doesn’t know who Jane Scott is. The tireless reporter wrote about pop music for the Plain Dealer for nearly 40 years, starting in 1964 when she covered the Beatles because no one else wanted to. Scott passed away Monday at the age of 92. She was living at Ennis Court in Lakewood and had Alzheimers for the past few years.

The Cleveland native came to her métier late. She graduated from the University of Michigan and served as a WAVE during World War II. She landed at the Plain Dealer in 1952, following a stint with a Chagrin Valley community paper. During the ’50s and early ’60s, she handled the few beats then open to women: society news, and teen and “golden age” columns.

When the Beatles hit the U.S. in 1964, most newspapers covered them at a distance, usually in the form of a condescending, bemused column by some middle-aged writer who compared them unfavorably to Tony Bennett and Benny Goodman and opined that they would be forgotten by next year.

Scott approached them instead — like she approached all stories — without preconceived attitude. Those who criticized her coverage because she didn’t write high-flown analyses of the music and criticized rarely and only gently missed the point. She was first of all a reporter, aiming to get the story of who, what, where, when and why. It wasn’t that she didn’t know some of the music she was writing about was mediocre. But her attitude was that if a band or musician cared enough to be making the music, and someone cared enough to listen, they deserved respect.

The only thing that turned her off was a musician’s blatant disrespect and rudeness, especially toward fans, and she had a sly way of working it into a story without being nasty. She also encouraged younger reporters, including me (I was the freelance second-string rock writer for the Plain Dealer for more than a decade in the late ’70s and ’80s). She didn’t have an envious bone in her body and didn’t feel threatened by those who might have wanted to be in her position, perhaps because she knew how much work and dedication were involved.

Few newspapers in the ’60s covered rock music regularly. Scott’s writing made the Plain Dealer exceptional. By the ’70s, when such coverage became routine and “serious” rock journalism was rampant in publications like Rolling Stone, she stood out as one of a handful of women writing about rock & roll. That didn’t change much until well into the ’90s. And her dedication to her “beat” was extraordinary. There was almost nothing of any significance — and much of dubious significance — that she didn’t cover. She was everywhere, with a work ethic that it’s likely no one on her beat has ever matched — or ever will. Her work was her life, and she’d go anywhere for a story.

Yet without her encyclopedic coverage of virtually every band, concert and character in Cleveland rock and roll, much of that history would be gone for good. She covered the World Series of Rock at the Stadium, but she also showed up at hole-in-the-wall venues to check out a local punk band someone told her about. She listened to fans — she had a network of people she relied on — and got tips from everywhere.

When it came to the local music scene, she covered it all, from the popular copy bands that played dance clubs like the Agora, the Utopia and the Corral, to experimental underground bands playing to 20 people at short-lived venues like the Clockwork Orange. She covered opening night at the Phantasy Niteclub and the Agora’s disastrous attempt at going disco. Her weekly Friday Happenings column documented the ebb and flow of the local music scene. Her firsthand observations leave us with a record of people, places, and events that in other cities would be lost in the sands of time.

Scott was a canny operator, and relentlessly persistent in pursuit of a story. Nicknamed “the world’s oldest teenager,” she was an older woman in a youthful field, and some dismissed her as out-of-touch. But she made it work for her, finagling her way backstage and snagging interviews no one else could have gotten. Because she was such a character, it can be hard to get perspective on how crucial she was to the area rock scene and what an important figure she was in the history of rock writing.

Known for her quirks — her red glasses, her straw hats, and her oversized bag stuffed with records, band bios, and peanut butter sandwiches — and her scattered, fluttery mannerisms, she was in fact a sharp reporter with an open mind and limitless curiosity. Her desk at the Plain Dealer, piled several feet high with records, bios, books, magazines, and newspapers, was legendary at the paper, but Scott could dive into that towering stack and find exactly what she was looking for.

She was beloved by musicians that got to know her, including Bruce Springsteen, Lou Reed, and her number one favorite, Lyle Lovett. Local rockers Beau Coup showed their appreciation for her in the late ’80s with their song “Jane.” When they performed it at a concert she was attending, she glowed.

In the late winter of 1987, the Plain Dealer got the idea that Scott, then approaching 70, needed to cede the rock beat to a younger writer. When this leaked out, area musicians organized and bombarded the paper with letters, calls, and petitions. The blowback got national coverage, and the paper reversed its decision. However, that summer, it hired Michael Heaton to take over the beat, attempting to relegate Scott to secondary status. She bemoaned that Heaton would be taking over the Happenings column. Somehow, that never happened, and Heaton soon rotated off the rock beat. Scott had outlasted him.

After retiring from the Plain Dealer in 2002, she continued to attend concerts, stop by clubs, and take copious notes when she ran into one of her trusted informants. She slowed down a bit after breaking her hip, but continued to get out with the help of friends. The last concert she attended was Lyle Lovett’s 2008 appearance at the Lakewood Civic Auditorium.

Scott’s brother died in 2005; she is survived by nieces and nephews. Following a private family service in Michigan, there will be a tribute in Cleveland. Details will be announced shortly. —Anastasia Pantsios

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