Remembering legendary Cleveland rock critic Jane Scott
She was like Andy Warhol: iconic blond hair set in a most determined pageboy that never moved. That, and red oversized glasses. You couldn’t miss her at shows -- be it the Dead Boys, Pearl Jam or Neil Young. Paul McCartney serenaded her; the often prickly Lou Reed adored her, and young people in Cleveland had a better sense of the bands they loved because Jane Scott worked so hard to show stars as human beings.
Scott, known as the “World’s Oldest Teenager” for the almost half-century she covered rock music, died this morning. The enduring critic for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, whose first assignment was reviewing the Beatles' Sept. 15, 1964, concert at Public Hall, was 92.
Though her work life began as a Navy code cracker, Scott’s greatest translation was the onslaught of rock music as America found itself in the midst of seismic generational and social shifts. Her legend was forged accompanying Jimi Hendrix to buy a blue Corvette at Blau Chevrolet in Cleveland Heights, sharing beers with the Doors' Jim Morrison and writing “His name is Bruce Springsteen. He’s going to be rock’s next superstar” long before Time and Newsweek caught on.
But she was also a champion of smaller bands and local talent. She’d write about the Dead Boys, Devo, Joe Walsh, Chrissie Hynde and Rocket from the Tombs (which went on to become Pere Ubu). She celebrated Eric Carmen’s band the Raspberries and followed his solo success.
“When we finished the 10 nights at the Front Row Theatre,” recalls Cleveland icon Michael Stanley on the run that finished the Michael Stanley Band’s record-shattering live career, which included selling out two nights at the Richfield Coliseum faster than Led Zeppelin and four consecutive nights at Blossom Music Center. “It was over… and I had to face it. When I went back into the dressing room, after everyone was gone, there was Jane.”
There was Jane. Indeed, and always. Woodstock 94. Lollapalooza. Live Aid. She covered the broadest spectrum of music: R.E.M. to the Captain & Tennille, Nine Inch Nails to Aerosmith, Mott the Hoople to the Plasmatics, Prince to John Prine.
What set her apart was her willingness to be a fan. In a milieu of jaded critics, Scott wanted to believe in the possibilities of rock and the passion of the fans. In a 2002 interview with Plain Dealer critic John Soeder, she explained, “What I like about rock music is that you can’t sit around, feeling sorry for yourself… the blues perpetuates your feeling of despondency. Rock gets you up on your feet, dancing, and you forget about it. The beat gets you going.”
Not merely a cheerleader, she was an avid supporter of U2, Blondie, the Doobie Brothers, the Doors, any Beatle or Rolling Stone, but tried to embrace all artists. Over her 40+ years covering the genre, exhaustive as her knowledge was, there were still holes, but she believed the stories needed to be told.
“It always seemed like she never quite knew what to ask us,” remembers dB Peter Holsapple. “She was very firm with us, very businesslike. But when you’re going to Cleveland, just talking to her made you feel like you’d made it there… and you knew that.”
If Jane Scott leaves a legacy, beyond thousands of stories filed, it’s the artists who knew they were somebody because she turned her notebook toward them. As Reed enthused for her 80th birthday, “I love Jane Scott. I always have, I always will. When I was in the Velvet Underground, Jane was one of the only people I can remember who was nice to us. Interested in the music, the styles -- a very smart, guileless lady who loved music and musicians and had unbiased attitudes towards the evolving culture.”
(Growing up in Cleveland, I devoured every word she wrote: about Jackson Browne, Gil Scott Heron, Springsteen, the Ramones, the Stray Cats and Heart. She made me feel like I knew them, because she did. Not only did she, she got the very best out of exhausted, often cranky, certainly entitled stars. Because she could -- and did with unwavering dignity -- I believed I could too.)
Jane Scott loved rock and roll until the end. She still went to concerts, still knew what to ask. In 2008, Lyle Lovett flirted with her from the stage of the State Theatre where he was playing with Guy Clark, Joe Ely and John Hiatt.
Her writing gave music deeper context for generations in the city hailed as the “Rock & Roll Capitol of the World.” She captured the essence of rock coming of age, growing into maturity and finding its way into the 21st century. Her mark will be felt for years to come.
-- Holly Gleason, writing from Nashville
Photo: Jane Scott. Credit: Courtesy: The Benjamin Rose Institute